Picture: Professor Soni Lacefield (middle) poses for a photo with Caren Jepchirchir (left) and Ibrahim Habib (right). Caren and Habib were recruited from Moi University (Kenya) for laboratory research internship at Indiana University Bloomington in 2022.

When you visit a research laboratory or a research campus in the United States, you quickly notice the international makeup of the American research workforce. From students to research professors, the American outstanding research enterprise has attracted researchers from all over the world. Take a closer look, however, and you will recognize the severe underrepresentation of Africans among researchers in the United States. This is not surprising, given that Africa lags behind in global research performance. Through interactions with African students, Afrisnet continues to observe that many of those students have a burning passion for research, but they lack access to critical opportunities that would allow them to participate in globally competent research. The lack of research experience is the primary factor that decreases the African students’ chance of getting admitted into research-based graduate programs in the United States. Since its inception, Afrisnet has made significant efforts to help African students gain direct hands-on research experience through summer research internships in the United States.

Initially in 2018, Gabriel Muhire Gihana, co-founder of Afrisnet, successfully negotiated research internships for African students at Indiana University Bloomington. With a generous financial support from Indiana University, two students were recruited from Nigeria that year. To sustain the internships, Professor Soni Lacefield, a member of Afrisnet’s Board of Directors, successfully incorporated the internship program into her research grant application and secured funding to recruit two African students each year for the subsequent four years. Since 2018, eight students have been trained through this program, now named the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) at Afrisnet. Three of the trained interns have returned to the United States as PhD students, attending Indiana University, Dartmouth College, and the University of Pennsylvania. Three of the SURE alumni are currently preparing their applications for graduate schools the United States. Therefore, this program not only provides a life-changing research experience to African students but also inspires African students to apply to American graduate programs. In addition, the graduate students and postdoctoral researchers who train the African interns gain a unique training experience.

Afrisnet continues to reach out to research professors and universities in the United States, asking them to consider hosting African research interns. At the same time, the organization continues to expand its strategic partnerships with African universities and faculty. In 2023, more research faculty at American universities expressed strong interest in participating in the SURE program. The professors who have committed to hosting African research interns in their laboratories this year include Mark Peifer at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, Florentine Rutaganira at Stanford University, Lesley Weaver at Indiana University, and Soni Lacefield at Dartmouth College. These professors have worked tirelessly to raise funds to cover the internship expenses, which include the students’ flight tickets, health insurance, as well as room and board. Hosting universities have also been engaged financially and logistically to make this program a reality. For the past four years, SURE interns have been recruited solely from Moi University in Kenya. This year we have expanded to Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana and to the University of Ibadan in Nigeria. We hope to recruit at least five students for research internships in 2023.

As the interns perform research in laboratories, Afrisnet provides them with intensive professional training. This training is intended for helping the students integrate successfully into the American culture and make the most out of their internship experience. Furthermore, this training is geared towards improving the students’ professional and research communication, both oral and written. Students gain a wide understanding of the academic research landscape in the United States, and they are encouraged and prepared to apply to graduate programs in the country. The professional training is run by dedicated postdoctoral fellows and a research scientist, who are part of the Afrisnet Research Training Committee. Currently, this committee is composed by Dr. Christina Hueschen (A Postdoctoral Fellow at Stanford University), Jonathan Van Vranken (A Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard University), and Rugema Ngango (A Scientist at Shattuck Labs). 

Afrisnet seeks to expand the SURE program even further, with a goal of reaching 15 interns by 2025. The establishment of the Afrisnet Research Training Committee was an important step towards this goal. This committee, made entirely of volunteers, is currently making efforts to raise funds to alleviate the logistical and financial pressures off the hosting universities and laboratories. Afrisnet invites individuals and organizations who are capable to consider supporting this transformative initiative that is providing the critically needed research experience to African young people and contributing directly to the advancement of research in the United States and in the world. Likewise, we invite university faculty in Africa and in the US who wish to participate in this program. Postdoctoral researchers, scientists, and faculty, please consider joining the Afrisnet Research Training Committee. If you would like to learn more or support the SURE program, please reach out at research@afrisnet.org. You can also visit our donation page to support the mission of Afrisnet, including the SURE program. Every donation, no matter how small, counts and will be far-reaching. Afrisnet is immensely grateful to all the individuals, private companies, faculty, and the universities in Africa and in the US, who are contributing to this life-changing program.


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