Postdoctoral Fellows Advance Development Engineering Research

By Rachel Strohm, DIL Graduate Student Researcher

Each year, over 1,400 scholars who have recently received their PhDs conduct research at UC Berkeley as postdoctoral fellows. Beginning in Fall 2013, the Development Impact Lab added to this cohort of early career
researchers with a novel take on the postdoc model.

The new Global Poverty and Practice Postdoctoral Fellows (GPP Fellows) program creates a robust academic career path for PhDs who wish to stay actively engaged in global poverty reduction. The program distinguishes itself from many postdoc programs by encouraging its fellows to set independent research agendas focusing on the role of technology innovation in global poverty and inequality. The fellows conduct applied research that aims to inform development practice as well as academic discourse. Rather than being tied to a specific department or professor, they are able to work across DIL’s interdisciplinary research network and to pursue approaches that exemplify DIL’s mission of bridging engineering, economics, and the social sciences to create innovative solutions to global poverty.

The inaugural fellows are Imran Ali and Kweku Opuku-Agyemang. Among a large applicant pool spanning six continents, Ali and Opuku- Agyemang stood out for their unique passion and skills.

Ali received his doctorate in environmental engineering from the University of Guelph in 2012. While working on water treatment projects for Doctors Without Borders in Pakistan and South Sudan, he realized that many projects suffered from a serious quality assurance gap. He is now designing new guidelines for chlorine water treatment to increase water treatment safety in refugee camps and other settings with intermittent or centralized public water supply. “Currently there is a lot of misconception about safe water practices, especially regarding the amount of chlorine in the water,” explained Ali. “Hopefully, my research will be a first step in establishing and improving a global water infrastructure.”

Kurtis Heimerl, Community Cellular NetworksOpuku-Agyemang received his doctorate in development studies with a concentration in economics from the University of Wisconsin – Madison in 2012. His research explores the intersection of mobile phones and political engagement. Focusing on the FreedomFone, a mobile information-sharing program used in his native country of Ghana, Opoku-Agyemang is studying the social and political impacts of improving information dissemination. “The current medium of communication of radios and newspapers in the rural areas of developing countries often contains outdated information,” he explained. “The FreedomFone caters to rural areas, reporting news to people in their own local language. I want to specifically evaluate the impact of FreedomFone on social activism in Ghana.”