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EES professor Muthukrishnan awarded Fulbright scholarship

Suresh Muthukrishnan (Earth and Environmental Sciences) will work in Malawi for the 2017-18 academic year.
Known by many as the “warm heart of Africa,” Malawi is in the southeast part of the continent. Map courtesy of Google Maps.

Suresh Muthukrishnan, Associate Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Furman University, has been awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to research and teach at Lilongwe University for Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR) in Sub-Saharan Africa’s Malawi during the 2017-18 academic year.

The population of the Southeast African country has doubled in the last two decades leading to unplanned urban growth at the cost of deforestation and land degradation. As a result, Malawians are experiencing frequent flooding, soil erosion, and reduced agricultural productivity. Flooding in 2015 displaced 230,000 and caused severe damage to infrastructure and land, forcing Malawi’s president to declare half the country a disaster zone.

Muthukrishnan’s work will focus on developing an understanding of the impacts of land cover transformations on water availability and water quality in Malawi. To accomplish this, he will collaborate with faculty at LUANAR to develop courses and conduct research using satellite images and Geographic Information System (GIS), which allows display and analysis of multiple map layers for effective and efficient decision-making.

“Environmental and community impacts of land transformation represent one of the greatest challenges facing humanity today, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa including Malawi,” said Muthukrishnan. “My expertise and experience in assessing the hydrological impacts of urbanization and in developing watershed prioritization approaches in the U.S. are the foundation for my proposed project in Malawi.”

Muthukrishnan said natural resources are central to the livelihood of Malawians, and the types of natural resources on which they rely is linked to geographic location and local customs. So, addressing environmental challenges will require innovative approaches that take unique geographic, cultural, demographic, and economic conditions into account.

Mapping existing critical resources and services using a Web-based GIS method is also among the projects he will be working on through his Fulbright grant. Such maps are useful for local and international development agencies to identify gaps and facilitate better services to the communities, which is vital to addressing UN Sustainable Development Goals for Malawi.

To ensure the continuity of these projects, Muthukrishnan will collaborate with faculty at LUANAR to develop educational and training materials, workshops, and seminars. He will conduct meetings with academics, students, administrators, professionals and community leaders to learn and exchange ideas and approaches on the similarities and differences between American and Malawian ways of addressing environmental and community related issues.

Informally, Muthukrishnan, his wife Rashmi and daughter Mia plan to engage in outreach within the local community through talks at schools and community centers in the country referred to by many as “the warm heart of Africa.”

“As a Naturalized U.S. citizen, I am proud of the diversity and cultural richness of the U.S. and intend to share my experience of becoming and being an American citizen and about our ways of life with Malawians,” he said. “I hope to return home with the new understanding and appreciation for the traditions, ways of life, and beliefs of Malawians and share it with my colleagues, students, friends and family in the U.S.”

Muthukrishnan is not the only member of the university community to attract the attention of the Fulbright organization. Nathan Mathai (Plano, Texas), Emily Matthews (Spring City, Tenn.), and Muthukrishnan’s advisee Michael Robinson (Greensboro, N.C.) were awarded Fulbright student grants in April.

Earlier this year, Furman was named a Top Producer of Fulbright students for 2016-17 by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

A resident of Greenville, Muthukrishnan joined the Furman faculty in 2002 upon completing his Ph.D. at Purdue University. At Furman, his research focus is the study of landscape transformations and human impacts including urban sprawl and its hydrologic effects, landslides, and flooding, as well as application of GIS and Remote Sensing (using drone, aerial, and satellite based observations) to address problems of scientific and societal importance.

He has won the outstanding graduate student of the year award and outstanding teaching award at Purdue University, and the Henry Keith and Ellen Hard Townes Associate Professorship at Furman University. He is also a recent recipient of the Sustainability Research Fellowship and the Furman Standard Research Grant.

The Fulbright Program, established in 1946, is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government, and is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. Recipients of Fulbright grants are selected based on academic or professional achievement, as well as demonstrated leadership potential in their fields. The program operates in more than 160 countries worldwide.

For more information, contact the Furman News and Media Relations office at 864-294-3107. Or contact Dr. Muthukrishnan directly at 864-365-6427, suresh.muthukrishnan@furman.edu.

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