The head of the Department of Africana Studies Dr. Akinwumi Ogundiran recently received of a grant from the Carnegie Foundation in partnership with his associate, Dr. Benjamin Ogunfolakan, from Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria.

The foundation has awarded the Carnegie Foundation African Diaspora Grant to Ogundiran and Ogunfolakan so they can undertake a two phased project in urban research using their backgrounds in anthropology, archaeology and urban studies. The two professors will travel between the two universities throughout the course of the project.

Ogundiran plans on using his background in archaeology to use sacred groves to develop a sustainability project in urban areas in Nigeria. Sacred groves are ancient green spaces, somewhat like parks.

According to Ogundiran they have existed in many civilizations from ancient Greece to India. Their traditional purpose was to serve as a place of refuge for religious contemplation, but Ogundiran hopes to use them as a means of creating more green space in cities.

“They [serve as] a refuge for different lifes, plants and animals,” Ogundiran said. “They will become important spaces not just for religious purposes but for, I would say, a quality of life.”

Ogundiran has studied the spiritual value of these spaces and hopes this will serve to maintain their preservation. If it does, this could aid in raising awareness as well as providing one solution to sustainability in Nigeria.

Phase one of this project includes an exhibition and raising public awareness about these sacred grove spaces.

Phase two centers around developing new urban studies curriculum to teach students how sacred groves can be used for sustainability. This is where the partnership between UNC Charlotte and Obafemi Awolowo University will play out. Ogundiran expressed the importance of training students in urban studies in this project.

“We need a new generation of students that will know how to manage these green spaces and be able to develop a new strategy on how to enlarge them,” he said.

Students from UNC Charlotte and Obafemi Awolowo University will connect using online resources to collaborate in making strategies for sustainability efforts.

Ogundiran hopes to see this model of international collaboration grow as a new model for distance education.

By using technology, distance education is made easier and cheaper while it still retains a high quality of education for students in both locations.

“We can use technology to deliver distance education in a way that benefits us locally and in the same way benefis people thousands of miles away,” said Ogundiran.