Today's guest is Dereje Ayalew, a Professor of Geology at the School of Earth Sciences of Addis Ababa University (AAU). At this point in time, he is engaged in both pure and applied research in various fields of Earth Sciences on top of instructing students at different levels. He has published the results of his research findings in more than 40 reputable scientific journals wordwide. He has been to different parts of the world following his research works. The Ethiopian Herald had a short stay with Prof. Dereje with the intention of acquainting him with our readers. Excerpts:
Let us begin with introducing yourself to our readers.
To begin with, I was born in North Wollo around Woldia in a small village called Tiqure Hab. When I reached school age, I attended primary education at Melka Kolle and the secondary at Woldia secondary high school respectively. In fact, I attended grades six, seven and eight in Addis Ababa for the reason that my brother was living there at that point in time. He used to visit us over and over again. I was very much interested to live in Addis Ababa with my brother. But soon I became homesick pining for my parents. So I returned back home. For me it was really difficult to lead life in the absence of my parents. Without the two nearby I felt more dead than alive and felt entirely like a fish out of water. I was brought up under all the necessary care.
I and most my classmates were in the habit of throwing our full weight behind our studies. We were all working like a horse dragging a cart targeting at our future bread and butter. I was one of the outstanding students. Most of us were doing better than our best. As our academic success was pride to our parents, we did not have room for exercising laxity.
What was your dream job as a kid?
As a kid, the revered and sole profession that we used to observe from time to time at a close up in our school was teaching. With twigs teachers were whipping students, for the most part those who were going off the track every so often. A corporeal punishment was the order of the day, they were trying to discipline us with the aim of making our future bread buttered. They were showering us with pieces of advice. For fear of suffering a beating from our teachers most of us turned out to be outstanding students. To the surprise of many, when I was in a primary school, the round trip from home to school took two hours. As time flew by we did not have a role model we could emulate.
When I joined high school, I rolled up my sleeve and threw my full weight on my study. As the Ethiopian School Leaving Examination was approaching, I was really studying seriously. Just then, as my brothers were working at Water Development Project, I often heard them talking about Geology now and then. Thus I came to know a little about the subject. Inch by inch, the idea of studying Geology kept on coming in and out of my mind. Hence, I made up my mind to study Geology at whatever cost.
What was the next move?
As chance would have it, six students including me successfully passed the school leaving certificate examination. The minimum grades required to join for a degree as well as a diploma programs at that juncture were 3.2 and 2.8 respectively. If truth be told, there were four higher learning institutions across the country in our time. As we had a chance to choose among universities, I chose Addis Ababa University (A.A.U). My first choice was Geology, which is a multi-disciplinary science that possesses its own basic principles in addition to integrating and making use of knowledge from Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Mathematics. Most of us did not have the faintest idea about the subject until we joined university. All our teachers were Italians at that point. There was a dearth of Ethiopian instructors. I completed my studies at A.A.U with flying colors and got posted as an instructor earlier than the transition period.
What was the teaching-learning process like at the beginning of your academic career?
I kick started working as an assistant instructor. As an instant instructor, my duties then were mainly correcting exam papers and invigilating exams. Having earned my Master's degree in Geology, I got myself fully involved in the teaching-learning process. Nowadays, we use the same procedures. At the end of the day, I left for France for my third degree.
What happened then?
Accomplishing my mission successfully, I returned home and rejoined A.A.U and once more got myself involved in the teaching process and assumed different administrative positions. I managed to serve as head of the Department for three or so years. Currently, the department is called School of Earth Sciences.
In the not distant past, monitoring the unremitting earthquakes that shook the Afar depression, I was giving information to print and electronic media of the country with the intention of parrying possible harms, which could occur on the general public and destruction on properties. Furthermore, I had explained in black and white the whole lot regarding the threatening volcanic eruptions to higher government officials of the country. The other thing is, I do researches from time to time.
How do you carryout researches?
As a matter of fact, university instructors should 75% get themselves engaged in teaching and spend the remaining working hours on their hand on conducting researches as they are expected to come up with various findings. I do the same. As I have a good relation with different universities worldwide, I have been carrying out various researches to date. More to the point, I enjoy different supports from different parts the world for the reason that our country is peculiar with regard to landscapes. To cut a long story short, Ethiopia possesses various landscapes with different rift valleys and rocks.
What is your professional view of Ethiopian landscapes?
Ethiopia is one of the luckiest countries worldwide in terms of its landscapes and beautiful weather conditions. If you take as an example neighboring countries such as Sudan and Somali, they are more of arid countries. The different weather conditions happen for the reason that our country experiences an assortment of weather conditions considering its various landscapes. Above and beyond, Ethiopia is the water tower of Africa. Emanating from its bosom most of its rivers flow into various countries with more than a few forests across the country.
What is your reflection on Ethiopian rift valleys?
A rift valley is linear-shaped lowland sandwiched between quite a lot of highlands or else mountain series fashioned by the action of a geologic crack. Many years ago, there was not a river called Red Sea. There was the Gulf of Eden where East African rift valleys meet around Afar. At some point, something bordering on the red sea would be formed after thirty-million years. The process has almost begun at this moment in time. We have been witnessing different signs.
What does the nature of rift valley and volcano look like?
Rift valley and volcano are two faces of the same coin. Volcanoes are being formed at this moment in time though they are small in number. Down the road, I have the nerve to say it will gather force without a shadow of a doubt. I have been to Ertale quite a lot of times. Furthermore, I send students to go there for the love of familiarizing them with the nuts and bolts of various volcanic activists which take place at different times. Ertale is bordering on oceans of volcanoes. It showcases the melting rocks found below the earth do not have depth. Indeed, there will be a lot of volcanic eruptions as time passes by.
What were the hurdles you and colleagues faced in bringing to life the Dessie-Kombolcha University?
Although the pertinent body made a great effort to establish the Dessie-Kombolcha University by assigning various professionals, most of the professionals were not in the position to lend their ears. They were not at all interested to go there. They did not know what they had to do. Just then, I had a friend from Woldia working in the Parliament. He informed me the whole lot in black and white and sweet talked me into taking the lofty responsibility --breathing life into the empty building at any cost. He gave me ten days to think about the matter. Officials really felt pity on what they had encountered.
Sleeping over the matter, I accepted the proposal in high spirits considering our closeness. I was very happy to serve my place of birth. It was easier said than done going to Dessie leaving the University where I had served for many years. Everyone was surprised by my decision. In due course, I headed to Dessise with the intention of giving my all for the establishment of the Dessie-Kombolcha University. We were shuttling to and fro all over the places on bus and trekking to see to the execution of our tasks. Nobody trusted us then. But we did it.
The Dessie-Kombolcha University has two campuses: Dessie-Kombolcha. First and foremost, I hired ten administrative staffers. After that, hiring instructors we set the ball rolling. Though the Ministry of Education had allocated enough budget, we did not have an accountant. We were merely carrying out our duties and responsibilities on loan basis.
Among the universities born at that juncture, our university the first to admit students. We had passed through many ups and downs to reach where we are today.
As the construction of the University was not fully completed, we made the students to attend classes at Kombolcha Agricultural College that was already there. But later when the construction of the newly built University was completed, we transferred our students to the main campus. Having served for two years or so, I left for England.
What did you feel considering the success journey of the University?
At that juncture, it was I who appointed the current president and research director of the University. When I was invited to partake in the ceremony I grew to be by a long way happy. I felt elated for standing the chance to serve the University with all my heart. I had a good time. As ill luck would have it, I did not stay longer in the University given that our research works had to do with too much field works. It was impossible to materialize my objective in this fashion. That was the case which coerced me change my mind at the eleventh hour.
How long does it take to acquire a full professorship?
All instructors at Addis Ababa University get themselves in different research works. By the way, when I teach my students, I cite my works as an example. I do not simply make use of other countries' researches to substantiate the issue I try to ram home. I have the courage to say, I have got the title of full professor at a good age. Most people get the title of full "professor" at the time when their retirement time draws close.
Flipping back to the gist, there are procedures in which one is expected to go through to get the rank of full professor. One is not simply granted the title of full professor. Simply put, there are four steps to be achieved: contribution in the teaching-learning process, contribution in research works, participation in the university and contribution towards the community.
In reality, if one would like to be a professor one can actualize dreams though the requirements are not that easy. When one gets employed for the first time with a doctoral degree in a certain university, one will be promoted as an assistant professor which is an entry level rank. If one works for four years and publish some papers, one will be promoted to an associate professor level. To be promoted from associate professor to full professor, one needs four years of service and different publications. The publication is one thing but the university measures ones impact and contributions in many ways.
Is the country benefiting from opal at this moment?
In the past, Ethiopia was not well-known in Opal. Australia was the biggest producers of Opal. Hence, to penetrate into the world market there was a bottleneck on Ethiopian opal. But by carrying out a lot of researches and explaining in black and white the nuts and bolts of our country's opal, we have made Ethiopian opal to be the first worldwide.