Elizabeth Fitzsimmons, the U.S. ambassador to the Republic of Togo, visited NDSU on Friday, Aug. 4.
The visit, hosted by NDSU Vice President for Research and Creative Activity, Colleen Fitzgerald, aimed to explore potential partnerships between Togo, NDSU and North Dakota's National Guard, with a focus on bringing new educational and business opportunities back to Togo.
Togo, Ghana and the Republic of Benin are partner countries with North Dakota through the State Partnership Program. SPP is administered by the National Guard Bureau in close consultation with Defense Department officials and the State Department. The program aims to build trust, confidence and capabilities with partner nations by providing an opportunity for National Guard members to interact with citizens and governments of partner countries.
"How do we build out that existing Togo-North Dakota relationship, with business and industry, agriculture, and NDSU being the three legs in those partnerships?" said Fitzsimmons.
Accompanying Fitzsimmons were Col. Messan Avomado, commander of Togo's inaugural military region, Capt. Jeremiah R. Colbert and Robert Dedzi. They were joined by members of the North Dakota National Guard including Deputy Adjutant General Jackie Huber and U.S. Army Lt. Col. Mark McEvers, who serves as the North Dakota National Guard State Partnership Program director.
During their visit, the group had the opportunity to explore the Innovation Studio, a makerspace at the Incubator in the NDSU Research and Tech Park, featuring facilities like a woodshop, metal shop, 3D image lab and textile lab. They learned how the Innovation Studio provides real-world education opportunities for students.
Next, the group visited an NDSU psychology lab and met with a group that included Clayton Hilmert, NDSU professor of psychology and department chair, professor Benjamin Balas, and associate professors Laura Thomas, Leah Irish and Jeffrey Johnson and graduate student Jesujoba ‘JJ’ Olanrewaju.
Fitzsimmons asked questions and engaged in discussions about how research can build new education opportunities for both NDSU and Togo students and professors. This led to ideas ranging from student and professor exchange opportunities to future collaborative research projects that would focus on West Africa.
The ambassador and the group then met with Denver Tolliver, director of the NDSU Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute, and learned about the institute's efforts to improve transportation safety. Fitzsimmons discussed transportation safety concerns in Togo and explored potential ways to enhance transportation overall in the country.
"Having Ambassador Fitzsimmons visit us is just a first step to build deeper relationships with Togo,” said Fitzgerald. “Given that NDSU's brand as a thought leader in AgTech resonates globally, and the strong ties in North Dakota thanks to the North Dakota Air National Guard, this opens the door to future collaborations in research and more."
Prior to the visit, Fitzsimmons expressed her commitment to creating opportunities for students and requested to speak with a student for an interview about her work and Togo. NDSU undergraduate student and communications intern for the Office of Research and Creative Activity, Miranda Tetzloff, had the privilege of engaging in a one-on-one conversation with Fitzsimmons at the end of the tour.