Experiencing the U.S. as a Fulbright Visiting Scholar

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Ynoussa Maiga, Assistant Professor of Biology, University Ouaga 1 Pr Joseph KI-ZERBO
2016-2017 Fulbright Visiting Scholar from Burkina Faso to the University of South Florida

I hold a PhD in Applied Biological Sciences focused on Biochemistry and Microbiology. As an environmental microbiologist, I am interested in microbial ecology, the fates of pathogens in water treatment systems, water quality and bioremediation of pollutants.

Involved in teaching and research at University Ouaga 1 Pr Joseph KI-ZERBO (previously known as the University of Ouagadougou) in Burkina Faso, I wanted to widen my network, develop collaborative research activities with colleagues from overseas, and strengthen my research and teaching capabilities. The Fulbright Program is one of the great opportunities worldwide, dedicated to supporting young scientists to build their careers and dreams in science and cultural exchange. I knew that being granted a Fulbright grant would certainly have a positive impact on my career and research activities, and these expectations urged me to apply for a Fulbright.  

As a Fulbright Visiting Scholar, I visited University of South Florida (USF) from September to December 2016 to conduct research related to cyanide bioremediation. Up to twelve bacterial strains have been isolated from contaminated soil and some of them tested for their cyanide degrading capabilities, in order to apply them for the decontamination of cyanide polluted sites. The effect of cyanide on soil microbial communities has also been investigated. The results of this research have great potential reduce the amount of toxic cyanide in our environment, especially in places where there are high levels of cyanide resulting from mining or other industries.

Traveling abroad to the United States allowed me to learn more about American culture and way of life and strengthen my English language skills. The American accent is hard for non-native English speakers, and the time I spent in the United States certainly improved my way of speaking and understanding English that will definitely have a positive impact on my career.

I have learned many things ranging from the celebration of special events to the daily life of families. The exchanges I had with families provided me with more information on events like Halloween and Thanksgiving celebrations, which are specific to the United States. I also appreciated the open-mindedness of Americans regarding African culture and religions like Islam. The United States is a country of multicultural and multi-confessional diversity, where freedom and civil rights are guaranteed for all people; these actions promoting “living together” should be shared around the world in order to build mutual understanding and peace.

Fulbright has also strengthened my commitment to expanding community empowerment in Burkina Faso. I am involved in an association working for economic, educational, and cultural development of the rural population of "Youba" and surrounding villages (where I attended primary school). Strategies have been developed to construct a secondary school for students. Future goals are to increase access to safe drinking water and train women and young people on activities source of income. And I am now pursuing partnerships with organizations I met through my Fulbright who are interested in development in Africa.

In order to widen my scientific network and have collaborative research with colleagues, I have joined the American Society for Microbiology. As a member of the Global Water Pathogen Project, I have contributed a chapter of a book sponsored by UNESCO during my Fulbright visit. I had also informal discussions with the Florida Environmental Protection Agency regarding cyanide issues and its bioremediation and they expressed their willingness to know the key findings of my research. With my faculty associate, the partnership will continue through the submission of proposals for joint research on environmental remediation.

Considering that the best way to learn something is to experience it, I strongly encourage colleagues and students to participate in international exchange and especially apply for a Fulbright grant.