NamSPIRE

NamSPIRE

Namibia Shared Program for Innovation, Research, and Education

NamSPIRE is an NSF sponsored International Research Experience for Students program that will be hosted in Namibia, Africa at the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST). This unique 10-week experience will begin with 1 week at Iowa State University, followed by a 8-weeks at NUST, and then another week back at Iowa State University.

If selected to go you will help professors at ISU and NUST conduct collaborative research projects focused on how technology can aid marginalized communities.

NamSPIRE is only for ISU students who are U.S. citizens. You can be an undergraduate or graduate student. Depending on applications, 6-8 students will participate each year.

If you participate, you can expect to build relationships with faculty in both countries, become a co-author on a research paper, and have an impressive international experience along the way.

Tentative schedule:

  • Program will begin May 15th after ISU finals, and conclude July 21
  • This program has been proposed to the NSF but not yet approved, so it may not happen. But, we are optimistic. Please apply now and we will know for sure whether the program is happening in March 2023 or earlier.

Dr. Stephen Gilbert, Associate Professor in IMSE and Director of the Graduate Program in Human Computer Interaction (HCI), will travel to Namibia with the group to get them settled. Dr Gilbert has spent a year living in Namibia working to strengthen the HCI presence in Africa with an HCI/ISU alum who is Namibian.

Example Projects

The following research projects are just tentative, but illustrate some of the ways the collaborative ISU and NUST faculty are thinking.

Cybersecurity

Both ISU and NUST care strongly about promoting cybersecurity literacy within communities. Undergraduate projects might include: 

  • Document factors that influence whether the ISU CyberEd and Cyber Defense Competitions (forms of cybersecurity education outreach) work in Namibia.
  • Explore, when designing data dashboards of server activity to cue operators when network activity may be a security concern, whether users’ cultural background matters.
  • Explore whether the ISU CyIO YouTube series of 30 lessons on cybersecurity literacy need adaptation to resonate with Namibian viewers.

Graduate projects might include: 

  • Enhance existing machine learning classifiers to identify bad actors by adding Namibian data to existing US training sets. 
  • Develop classifiers to identify the type of IoT device based on its behaviors on the network, consider both Namibian and US usage practices. 

Digital Forensics

ISU’s Center for Statistics and Applications in Forensic Evidence (CSAFE), and NUST’s Digital Forensics and Information Security Research Cluster (DFISRC) would collaborate. Undergraduate projects might include: 

  • Apply handwriting analysis techniques and CSAFE’s open source software handwriter to different local languages in Namibia to explore whether polyglot writers’ writing differs by language.
  • Evaluate whether human factors methods of reducing cognitive bias in evidence analysis apply equally well in the U.S. and Namibia.

Graduate projects might include: 

  • Adapt an existing data analysis pipeline from CSAFE to the different streams of data and criminal procedures within Namibia. 
  • Document how cultural differences between Namibia’s 10+ ethnic groups affect forensic analysis techniques.

Participatory Design with Marginalized Communities

Faculty at ISU and NUST care strongly about how technology affects rural and indigenous communities. Participatory design with these community members means they’ll have a part in designing the technology around them, rather than the technology simply “happening to them.” Undergraduate projects might include: 

  • Develop a prototype for an augmented reality (AR) digital storytelling app that high-school students can use to explore branching career storylines of previous students’ lived experiences. Existing AR storytelling apps do not support interactive choose-your-own-adventure branching or visualization of abstract concepts such as uncertainty, rejection, rapport, or anticipation that are integral to career exploration.
  • Join existing projects to facilitate participatory design of “digital twin” virtual environments with Ovahimba or San community members that document indigenous knowledge and living environments. 

 Graduate projects might include: 

  • Develop a multilingual searchable database of 3D models with appropriate tags so that members of indigenous communities can use native languages to locate existing models of local housing, trees, and animals created by their peers.
  • Develop augmented reality training software that enables San community tracking experts to train the youth in their community, e.g., these tracks show a rhino that is establishing a new territory boundary.

User interfaces for marginalized populations

Members of marginalized communities may not be as familiar with common user interface design patterns as many users. Participatory design is a key method of designing user interfaces for exactly the needs of the users. Undergraduate projects might include: 

  • Study whether published best practices for working with marginalized communities could be deployed in Namibia.
  • Explore how to adapt an existing extreme heat warning system for extreme cold, which can be more dangerous to Namibians who are not used to the cold.

Graduate projects might include: 

  • Participatory design of an agent-based model with an indigenous group that would represent their behaviors and the decisions they face.
  • Add community-based incentive structures and peer pressure to existing agent-based models to reflect Namibia’s more collective culture.

Visualizing infrastructure inequities via historical narrative

Ideally, technology could enable members of marginalized communities to act on existing infrastructure inequities by visualizing the role of their community in the larger majority culture and demonstrate related race- and gender-based dynamics to others. Undergraduate projects may include:

  • Interview members of Namibian indigenous communities to document differences and similarities with Feinstein’s previous findings from other parts of the world.
  • Create a digital tool to enable members of marginalized communities to document critical events in their history and note how previous events may have influenced current inequities.

Graduate projects might include:

  • Ensure that a digital storytelling / history-documentation tool supports a community’s local indigenous knowledge epistemologies and cultural heritage based on the questions it asks and the ways it presents events over time.
  • Explore ways in which an interactive presentation of historical narrative can facilitate difficult but valuable conversations between historically conflicting groups

Program requirements, students must be:

  • US citizens (NSF requirement)
  • Current ISU student in the spring and fall after the experience
  • Limited to 8 students (typically 6 undergraduate and 2 graduate students)
  • Have programming experience already (e.g., MATLAB, C#, Python, R, and be willing to learn more)
  • Have research experience already, such as an REU internship or Undergraduate Research Assistant role
  • Have or able to obtain a valid US Passport prior to the program start date. 
  • Able to travel internationally by airplane. 
  • Willing to meet pre-trip medical conditions such as immunization requirements 

About Namibia

Namibia is located near the southern tip of Africa on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. NamSPIRE will travel to the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST), located in Windhoek, the capital city. Windhoek is similar to Des Moines in many ways, though, of course different in others.

Namibia is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, and on weekends you’ll be able to take some trips around the country to see incredible sand dunes, ocean, wild animals, and more. Namibia is sometimes called “Africa for Beginners” because in the cities like Windhoek, water is drinkable and reliable, and electricity is also reliable. Namibia has 10+ ethnic groups, depending on how you count, each with its own native language. But English is the official language of Namibia, so English is a second language for most people. When you go to the shopping mall, you’ll likely hear 3-4 different languages spoken.

Namibia has a fascinating history. While the US declared independence in 1776, and that seems like dusty history to many Americans, Namibia ended a bloody war of independence in just 1990, throwing out apartheid and rebuilding its government and educational system almost from scratch. Its founders had social justice and gender equity in mind from the start. Did it work? Come and decide for yourself.

For questions, email 

Here are some photos taken by Dr. Gilbert during his stay.