Bahir Dar - Master's and PhD Through Cornell


About the Program

Cornell University and Bahir Dar University (BDU) in Ethiopia together offered a Cornell Master of Professional Studies (MPS) degree in International Agriculture and Rural Development with a specialization in Integrated Watershed Management [see information brochure for details] based at BDU. For the first cohort in 2007, about one hundred Ethiopian students took a qualifying exam and twenty were admitted. Their classes began in November, 2007 and seventeen received their degrees in mid 2009. The remainder finished their degrees later, except for one who was tragically killed in a vehicle accident. Two hundred took the second exam, resulting in a second cohort of fourteen who began their classes in early 2010. Ultimately all but one student of the second cohort finished — that person left to study in the Netherlands.

The program was offered entirely in Ethiopia at Bahir Dar University — students received degrees from Cornell. Cornell faculty travelled to Ethiopia to offer courses in 3-4 week blocks with faculty from BDU. Cornell and BDU faculty jointly supervised students’ research/development projects. The interdisciplinary program included courses in engineering, agriculture, management and the social sciences to provide students with the skills needed to manage watersheds. Each student was required to complete 24 credits of course work and a research or development practicum (6 credits) to receive the MPS degree. Bahir Dar’s location on the shores of Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile, and in a largely agricultural area, make it an ideal base for research and development projects on watershed management.

The research or development practica provided a chance for a student to collaborate with governmental ministries, villages, other universities, farmers, NGOs, or other organizations. Their projects both train the student and provide a benefit to the region of Ethiopia where the student’s project is based. (Completed theses and related journal and proceedings papers are available online via the index linked on this page).

Primary financial sponsors at the beginning of this program were US AID, through the Higher Education for Development (HED) Consortium, the US Department of Agriculture, Cornell University, and an anonymous donor. The US AID and HED logos on this page signify their strong interest in building the educational capability of African universities and applying that capability to help African nations and communities to make major improvements in public health and economic welfare.

Bahir Dar University became self sufficient in teaching this topical graduate program and as of 2013 offers masters and PhD programs on similar topics. (The PhD program includes visiting US teachers and advisors.) To help toward self-sufficiency, three BDU Engineering faculty have been studying within a Cornell PhD program based in the US; two faculty finished and one continues. They divide time between the US (classes) and Bahir Dar (research). This additional research experience helps them to mentor their own future graduate students.

For full details, see the  2014 Cumulative Report (PDF).

For More Information Contact:

– Seifu Tilahun, Director of PhD program at Department of Civil and Water Resources Engineering, Bahir Dar University, Ethiopia.
– Tammo Steenhuis, Professor of Biological and Environmental Engineering, Cornell University, Ithaca NY USA


Successful Graduation of the First Cornell Students in the MPS Program in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

The inaugural class of Cornell’s Master of Professional Studies degree program in international agricultural and rural development celebrated Commencement on July 4, 2009 at Bahir Dar University in Ethiopia, with Cornell President David Skorton, Alice Pell, professor of biomedical sciences, and vice provost for international relations, and Tammo Steenhuis, Professor in Biological and Environmental Engineering.

More information here:

Skorton to speak at Ethiopian university’s graduation on East Africa trip
Skorton tours Africa to build and strengthen partnerships


Roots in the AMAREW Project

From 2002-2004, Cornell University was responsible for the watershed component in the USAID-funded project known as Amhara Microenterprise Development, Agricultural Research, Extension & Watershed Management Project (AMAREW). This project was designed to improve food security in drought-prone areas of Ethiopia.

The outreach component has sought to assist communities by training networks of community leaders in the appropriate management of their watersheds. Tangible results from these collaborations are grazing area restrictions, gully rehabilitation (physical and biological), and hillside soil conservation structures.

The research component has been directed toward understanding the hydrology of these watersheds. The primary agricultural constraint in the highlands of Ethiopia is that ~50-70% of the rainfall runs off the hillsides, stripping topsoil from the land and carving out enormous gullies. Since irrigation is not feasible, Ethiopia’s best hope for increasing food production is increasing the efficiency of rainfall harvesting. By capturing more of the rainfall in the soil, water will be made available to crops during the critical dry periods and soil erosion reduced.