Kris Wernstedt first traveled to Africa as a young child, spending a few days in Djibouti with his family. He also spent long periods of time in parts of the developing and transitioning world when his parents’ Fulbright grants took them to Malaysia and the Philippines.
In August, Wernstedt, an associate professor in Virginia Tech's School of Public and International Affairs in the National Capital Region, heads back to the continent — this time to Tanzania in East Africa — supported by his own award from the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program.
He will spend 10 months teaching at Ardhi University in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania’s commercial capital. Wernstedt will also conduct research focusing on solid waste practices in Dar at the university’s Institute of Human Settlements Studies and promote incentive-based approaches that can improve the urban environment in the informal, unplanned settlements that contain more than two-thirds of Dar’s population.
“While I have been privileged to travel during my life, this really represents my first opportunity to spend an extended period doing research and teaching in a radically different setting from the world in which I have lived,” Wernstedt said. “Professionally, I can’t imagine a more intriguing setting. I get to tackle the kind of urban environmental problems that I’ve worked on in the U.S., but venture into new practical and conceptual territory.”
Wernstedt said that in Dar es Salaam — an urban area on track to become one of the world’s megacities in the next quarter-century — the issue of household solid waste generates some pretty significant public health concerns.
“While the disposal of trash in waterways and on vacant land might have caused what just seemed an aesthetic blight 20 years ago, with nearly 5 million people today it just won’t work for Dar residents to keep doing the same old thing with trash,” he said.
His work in Tanzania fits within a memorandum of understanding that Virginia Tech and Ardhi University have negotiated, under which Sarah Stamps, assistant professor of geophysics, will also conduct research in the country.
“We would like to grow connections between Virginia Tech and Ardhi University and hope to successfully promote and initiate more engagement among both faculty and students,” Wernstedt said.
The Fulbright Program, celebrating its 70th year, is funded through an annual appropriation made by the U.S. Congress to the U.S. Department of State. Participating governments and host institutions, corporations, and foundations around the world also provide direct and indirect support to the program, which operates in over 160 countries worldwide.
Recipients of Fulbright awards are selected on the basis of academic and professional achievement as well as record of service and demonstrated leadership in their respective fields.
The Global Education Office manages the program for the university.