Parks and People is a cooperative Penn State / African partnership that integrates teaching, research and service across the multiple disciplines relevant to the management of protected areas, the economic development of communities surrounding or located within those areas, and public education in ecosystem services and natural resource management.
The program encompasses disciplines ranging from earth sciences, ecology and land use management to community relations, livelihoods assessment, indigenous knowledge systems and entrepreneurship. It brings together the natural and social sciences in projects that address issues of community and human development, environmental protection, and health, water, food and energy security as these relate to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. Finding solutions to these problems also involves insight from engineering, education, agriculture, medicine, management and communications. In cooperation with university researchers, national parks services and other public and private sector organizations, the program integrates these areas of expertise through applied education, research and outreach projects in multiple parks and conservancies in sub-Saharan Africa. Penn State currently has projects underway in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa, and in the Eastern Arc Mountains of Tanzania. A related program on community management of natural resources is under development in Namibia.
A core element of the project is to develop educational programs at the parks that serve as study abroad opportunities for Penn State students—integrating education with on-going research and service learning programs in the parks and the surrounding communities. These are collaborative projects with local universities, governmental agencies and NGOs, and serve to promote global competency in U.S. and African students as well as strengthening international linkages between universities and facilitating engagement and partnerships with local communities.
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