Co-train and Support Plant Pathology Laboratory Staff

Activity/project background

Partner: Arba minch University, College of Agricultural Sciences, Ethiopia (Government)

Laboratories are places where students and researchers conduct experiments to demonstrate theoretical knowledge into practical skills, whereby students gain understanding of the subject. Laboratories also play a crucial role in university courses, where they provide inquiry-based activities that support lectures and discussion. Studies have shown that students in courses with laboratory sections demonstrate greater conceptual knowledge outcomes compared to courses without labs. Arbaminch University in Ethiopia has nearly two laboratories dedicated to each department.

The plant pathology laboratory is one of those that is established to receive and maintain plant material in isolation for identification and diagnosis of crop diseases. These laboratories should be in compliance with technical protocols recognized at national and international levels and updated in line with technological advances and relevant official validations.

Arbaminch University’s pathology laboratory is not up to such standards due to several factors. Lack of skilled staff is one of the most critical factors affecting the quality of the university’s laboratories. Skills related to maintenance, installation, and procedures are quite crucial to properly function science laboratory equipment. As this knowledge is lacking, the results obtained from sub-standard laboratories contributes to inappropriate conclusion for the experiments conducted. Therefore, the university is requesting technical support from a Virtual Service Pilot Participant (VSPP) to build the capacity of 3 - 5 laboratory technicians with the necessary skills and knowledge of plant pathology laboratory equipment.

Arbaminch University, College of Agricultural Sciences has not previously worked with a Peace Corps Volunteer or a Virtual Service Pilot Participant. They understand that the role of a VSPP is very different than a two-year Volunteer.

Virtual service engagement and tasks

The VSPP will engage in the following tasks, in collaboration with their Host Country Partners:

• Co-facilitate a knowledge and skill gap assessment of the laboratory staff
• Co-design training materials and co-facilitate weekly training sessions for the lab staff on laboratory techniques such as isolation of specimen, sample preparation, optimization of laboratory protocols and identification of isolates for different plant pathogen
• Co-design a laboratory check list for laboratory equipment maintenance and installation
• Co-develop guidance, resources, and materials for the ongoing management and maintenance of laboratories and equipment

This engagement is expected to be approximately 18 weeks. VSPPs are expected to engage on the tasks listed above for an estimated 5-15 hours per week.

Meetings between VSPPs and Host Country Counterparts will take place during normal office hours, Ethiopian time. Specific times will be determined during orientation.

The Host Country Counterpart will have access to Zoom, WhatsApp, email, and Microsoft Teams for regular communication and collaboration.

Per the Child Protection Code of Conduct, when engaging online with minors (0-18), two adults must be present.

Optional additional activities

The Peace Corps mission is to promote world peace and friendship by fulfilling three goals:

  1. To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
  2. To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
  3. To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

Goal 1 will be achieved through the VSPP's engagement and completion of the above tasks. The counterpart and VSPP may also choose to identify an activity that aligns with Goal 2. Additionally, the VSPP may identify a Goal 3 activity to implement during their engagement. See recommendations and tools for Goal 3 activities.

Essential qualifications

Education: Bachelor’s degree in any field

• One year experience working in plant science laboratories
• Experience teaching or mentoring in an academic environment

Intercultural skills and motivation: Flexible, strong cross-cultural agility, high tolerance for ambiguity, able to work independently, resourceful, creative, and genuinely motivated and capable to serve virtually

Desired qualifications

Education: Bachelor’s degree in plant science, agricultural science, or related field

Technical Skills:
• Experience working with laboratory equipment, installation, and maintenance
• Familiarity with virtual engagement and training

Experience: Experience developing training materials and guidance related to laboratory management and maintenance

Terms and conditions of engagement

VSPPs will be engaging with the host country partner, in coordination with Peace Corps post staff, remotely from the US. They should have access to a computer, internet, and telephone in order to enable direct engagement with the Peace Corps overseas office and the Host Country Counterpart assigned by the host country partner.

Orientation with the host country partner will be provided, within the designated virtual service hours, during the first week of virtual service via an online presentation and discussion. The host country partner will provide an overview of its organization, the local context, and how they envision collaborating with the VSPP.

The VSPP will have regular check-ins with their counterpart and bi-weekly check-ins with Peace Corps staff. Spending unstructured time with counterparts can be critical to relationship-building and is encouraged through activities such as coffee chats and informal calls within the weekly 5-15 hours.

Engagement-specific safety and security

The VSPP will receive an orientation on Peace Corps’ Child Protection Policy and how it relates to online engagement along with IT security best practices. The VSPP will be expected to follow safety and security guidelines for online engagement to ensure their safety and that of the Host Country Partner and their counterpart, and any beneficiaries of the engagement.

Supervision requirements

The VSPP will report to a designated Peace Corps staff member. The VSPP will be expected to abide by the Virtual Service Pilot Participant and Donation Agreement and Participant Principles of Engagement. The VSPP will also be expected to check in with the designated host country counterpart as assigned by the host county partner.

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