Kettering's Fulbright Scholar headed to Ethiopia

Jun 6, 2003

Dated April 9, 2003, Ezekiel Gebissa, assistant professor of Social Science at Kettering, acknowledged that the prestige of winning a Fulbright Scholar Grant didn't hit home until the notification letter arrived in his mailbox.

The letter was somewhat intimidating, with its raised seal of the United States State Department in the top right corner and its description of expectations the country holds for all Fulbright Scholars clearly defined in objective, concise prose. Dated April 9, 2003, Ezekiel Gebissa, assistant professor of Social Science at Kettering, acknowledged that the prestige of winning a Fulbright Scholar Grant didn't hit home until the notification letter arrived in his mailbox.

"I knew the Fulbright program was a good opportunity to teach and conduct research at a university in Ethiopia," he explained,"but I did not realize how prestigious it is to win such an award until it became news at Kettering."

For Gebissa, his recent selection as a Fulbright Scholar represents a period of intense study, research and scholarly productivitysince earning his Ph.D. from Michigan State University in 1997. Over the past year, he was fortunate to see his first book, "Leafof Allah: Khat & Agricultural Transformation in Harerge, Eastern Ethiopia, 1875-1991," accepted for publication by James Curreyand Ohio University Press. Coming out this fall, the study deals with the history of the production, distribution, and consumption ofa quasilegal psychoactive shrub called khat in the Horn of Africa.

Gebissa is also the current president of the Oromo Studies Association (OSA), a scholarly, multidisciplinary, nonprofit organizationestablished by Oromo and expatriate scholars to promote studies on the Oromo people in Africa. The Oromo are the third largestnational group in Africa and constitute nearly half the population in Ethiopia. In August, he will help coordinate the annual OSAconference in Toronto, an event co-sponsored by Kettering, Michigan State University and the University of Toronto. Based onthese recent achievements, it's clear that he is a researcher and academic whose future holds even greater promise.

The Fulbright grant is an accomplishment that he views with astonishment and appreciation. For the last 50 years, the FulbrightScholar Grant program has been an important U.S. government initiative to increase mutual understanding between the Americanand those of other countries. Developing international understanding requires commitments on the part of Fulbright grantees toestablish open communications and long-term cooperative relationships to build on the experience following the conclusion of thegrant.

Gebissa will begin his Fulbright year of research and teaching at his alma mater, Addis Ababa University, in September of thisyear. The university, founded by Canadian Jesuit teachers in 1946, is the largest university in the country and provides instructionin English. Gebissa will teach undergraduate and graduate students, and conduct research for his second book tentatively titled,"Cash is better than Food: The Evolution of Specialized Agriculture in Ethiopia, 1900-1991." This new book covers the sameperiod as the first, Gebissa explained. "Thematically, it is a sequel and deals with the impact of the commoditized cash crop on theage-old annual cereal complex that has characterized Ethiopian agriculture for centuries," he said. His newest study will focus onareas where khat has become the preferred, high-income generating cash crop and looks into larger processes of change thathave engendered comparable transformations in various parts of Ethiopia.

Gebissa also feels his second book may appeal to a wider audience for three reasons. First, it examines the treatment of theeconomic history of Khat, a "drug" considered illicit in several areas of the world. Thus, the theme may indeed take the studybeyond the usual African studies area into a "comparative domain," he said. In his view, the work could be read as an economichistory by readers interested in the political economy of psychoactive agricultural products in Latin America or Southeast Asia.Second, as an economic history of Ethiopia, it may fill a niche in African national historiography. Finally, the book contributesempirically to an ongoing debate regarding the behavior of agricultural smallholders in developing economies, and establishesbroader links between the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula in a way few other studies have done.

Other duties he expects to engage in during his stay at Addis will include service as thesis adviser for students working on theirsenior thesis project. He will also look into establishing communication between Kettering University and the exchange program atAddis as a means of creating additional exchange opportunities for students from both institutions.

Karen Wilkinson, interim chair of Kettering's Liberal Studies Dept., was pleased to hear of Gebissa's Fulbright award andbelieves this kind of honor further highlights the national and international contributions of Liberal Studies faculty in their areas ofresearch. "It is a high honor to receive a Fulbright Scholar Award," Wilkinson said. "The faculty members of the Department ofLiberal Studies are very pleased that Dr. Gebissa has been so honored. It recognizes him as a scholar but it also calls attention tothe fact that our department values excellence in research as well as in teaching."

And one of the most important benefits for this recent award is the opportunity for Gebissa to show his students at Kettering howimportant it is to develop a global view toward the world. "The United States is not the world," he said. "Students here should takeall opportunities to meet and learn from people who live throughout the world. If anything, I hope to convey to them how importantit is to expand their horizons and look beyond the U.S."

Gebissa will not be alone in his year of Fulbright work. His wife Meseret, who works as a nurse practitioner in East Lansing, andhis three children, will accompany him to Ethiopia. "My family is very excited about our stay," Gebissa said. "We're all lookingforward to the year ahead."

Written by Gary J. Erwin
(810) 762-9538
gerwin@kettering.edu