UCU Covers Ground in Science Education Thanks to Uganda Partner’s Equipment
Originally posted at: https://www.ugandapartners.org/2018/10/ucu-covers-ground-in-science-education-thanks-to-uganda-partners-equipment/
Okot Francis, laboratory attendant, with liquid limit cone penetrator
By Alex Taremwa
Uganda Christian University (UCU) started out as a theological college. Slowly, the university transformed into one of the predominant arts and humanities’ institutions of higher learning in Uganda and produced the best lawyers, journalists, business leaders, teachers and social workers.
Over time, however, a vision was born to integrate the Christian spiritual values into sciences to better meet the needs of the country and as such, a Faculty of Science and Technology (FOST) was created with two departments – Civil and Environmental Engineering and Agriculture and Biological Sciences. These are housed in a new storied building in the Technology Park area of the UCU Mukono campus.
The need then was to build state-of-the-art laboratories and equip them to the standard that would allow students to create groundbreaking discoveries to improve the community, the graduates’ career opportunities and the university’s brand.
Making science real
Hellenah Dushime, a third-year student of Food Science and Technology says that ever since the Chemistry and Biology Labs were fitted with equipment from UCU Partners, her studies took a new twist.
“Before we were always told in theory what the equipment was and how it worked,” she said. “With the equipment, I can now do my practical assignments here and learn firsthand how things are done. This is what I call science. You can’t teach it like history.”
Her most used equipment are the deep freezer, where her samples are safely stored, and the analytical balance donated by contributors to UCU Partners.
Reaching beyond students
Okot Francis, the laboratory attendant since 2015, has noticed a great increase in the use of the equipment. He says that besides the students who are now a permanent fixture in the labs, the external community users such as researchers doing independent experiments have expressed interest in using the laboratories.
He believes if the university could secure accreditation for the labs from the Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) certifying that they were of great standard and quality, the equipment could earn the university money that would in turn help in purchase of laboratory supplies, paying for routine servicing among others.
“I can comfortably say that UCU Partners has given our department a huge boost,” he says. “If you look at what the students have been able to do practically, you see great value. Some are already making bread jam, mayonnaise, waste purification; it is simply amazing.”
Okot says student instruction has significantly improved and so have skills and application to the local community. The university has made it mandatory for students to use their class groups (four students) to work on a project that solves a problem in the local village of Mukono.
“They have done water harvesting – a model that the university is currently using – waste management, crop clinics among other projects,” he says. “And even as they graduate, we are more certain of sending out all around graduates with great skills to create jobs.”
Equipment peaking interest
The relevance to learning and real-world application that the new equipment provides has not only increased enrollment in science programs but has enhanced partnerships with humanitarian organizations. World Vision, for example, uses the equipment to test the quality of water in boreholes and streams in the communities.
Going forward, Okot says the science laboratories will be further divided off so students can have dedicated spaces to work under controlled environments for better results.
“We shall partition the labs so that students in dairy production, micro-biology, and biotechnology can have more dedicated spaces to work with the equipment best suited for them. This also will improve the safety of the equipment,” he adds.
Rodgers Tayebwa, a lecturer in the Civil Engineering department says that his students have been more involved since they received the turbidimeter –equipment for measuring the cloudiness of water.
His students use the new liquid cone penetrators to determine the moisture content at which clay soils pass from a plastic to liquid state and to determine the undrained shear strength necessary for the longevity of civil structures such as roads, bridges and buildings.
In the laboratory, you can see the toil of students. The specimens are carefully placed in the room temperature spaces, some still under study labeled with tags “Do not touch,” and others already out being recorded.
Students at both undergraduate and post-graduate levels use the four laboratories. Tayebwa notes that strict standard operating procedures for equipment use were designed to ensure safety of both the students and the equipment.
“This equipment is expensive. We can’t just let it be used without precaution. It is basically a portable laboratory that a student carries to the field and does the tests on the spot,” he explains.
Like Okot, he acknowledges that the faculty still needs more equipment especially for new courses such as Food Science and Technology, Nutrition and Dairy Technology. There is hope and prayer that this, too, will be forthcoming.
For more information about how you can help support equipment to make a difference in UCU education, contact Mark Bartels, UCU Partners executive director, at email@example.com.