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Collaborating for Science & Technology in the Middle East


Fernando R. Echavarria
PhD, Geography, University of South Carolina
1997-99 AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow, U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Oceans, Environment and Science, Office of Space & Advanced Technology

Marsha S. Goldberg
PhD, City Planning, University of Pennsylvania
2004-06 AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow, U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Oceans, Environment and Science, Office of Science & Technology Cooperation & Office of Environmental Policy

Suzanne Parete-Koon
PhD, Astrophysics, University of Tennessee
2008-09 AIP Executive Branch Fellow, U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Oceans, Environment and Science, Office of Space & Advanced Technology

Connections established among Science & Technology Policy Fellows often continue and extend well beyond the fellowship year. Three former Fellows, who were all assigned to the U.S. Department of State, are excellent examples. Dr. Fernando Echavarria, now employed by his fellowship host office, the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Oceans, Environment and Science, Office of Space and Advanced Technology; Dr. Marsha Goldberg, now with the Association of American Geographers (AAG); and Dr. Suzanne Parete-Koon now at the University of Tennessee, recently joined with other partners to organize the conference, Space Technology and Geoinformation for Sustainable Development. Held June 14-17, 2010, in Cairo, Egypt, the conference was part of the AAG’s ongoing Geoinformation for Sustainable Urban Management initiative. The event took place one year after President Barack Obama’s “New Beginnings” speech at Cairo University, and it highlights the type of activity that the Administration wants to promote in the Muslim world.

Teamwork and mentoring between Fellows was the driving force in developing the conference. Parete-Koon initiated the idea for the project in the first weeks of her 2008 fellowship while working in the Bureau of Oceans, Environment and Science, Office of Space & Advanced Technology (OES/SAT). When Dr. Parete-Koon attended a Cairo meeting with Dr. Mohammed Argoun, the director of Egypt’s National Authority for Remote Sensing and Space Sciences (NARSS), the two sketched a rough plan for a U.S. – Egyptian jointly hosted conference on the use of space technologies for promoting sustainable development and international cooperation. Parete-Koon knew that she would benefit from the input of experienced co-developers to make the conference a reality, so she teamed up with her office mate Dr. Echavarria and with Dr. Goldberg, two former AAAS S&T Policy Fellows with experience in turning ideas into action.

The three Fellows organized a public-private partnership to design and execute the conference. Seed funding came from the U.S.-Egypt Fund for Science and Technology Cooperation through the OES Bureau and NARSS. Additional support was provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI), and Trimble Navigation, Ltd. The key implementing organization was the AAG, where Dr. Goldberg is a senior fellow.

The event brought together scientists, technical experts, representatives of international organizations, U.S. and Egyptian government agencies, universities and research institutes. Forty-two papers were presented on applications of remote sensing and GIS to sustainability issues including water resources management, agriculture, geology, archaeological research, urban planning, and space weather. A highlight of the meeting was a keynote address by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.

There were many important outcomes that could facilitate greater mid and long-term collaboration between U.S. and Egyptian scientists. One of the most important occurred during the last day of the event, when participants produced a list of more than 30 collaborative projects that U.S. and Egyptian institutions are prepared to submit to the governing board of the U.S.-Egypt Joint Fund on Science and Technology Cooperation for consideration as part of the “U.S.- Egypt Year of Science 2011.”

The Cairo Conference program and papers may be accessed at www.aag.org.

This is the second time Echavarria and Goldberg have combined their specialties and interests to promote the use of science and technology for diplomacy. Their first collaboration was in 2006 when both were working at the Department of State’s Bureau of Oceans, Environment and Science. They organized a successful conference on Geoinformation for Sustainable Urban Management in Amman, Jordan.

When asked about working together again in the future, Echavarria said, “Collaboration between current and former AAAS Fellows continues to play a critical role in implementing projects designed to promote the use of geospatial science and technology to improve infrastructure services in burgeoning cities of the developing world. We did this in the Amman, Jordan (2006) and Cairo, Egypt (2010). Now we are hoping to implement projects in cities in Latin America.”

Return to the November 2010 edition of the Fellowship Focus.

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