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Alford Earns Second Fulbright Scholar Award, will Teach, Conduct Research in Africa in 2021-22

Mon, 08/23/2021 - 15:08pm | By: David Tisdale

Dr. Mac AlfordA University of Southern Mississippi (USM) faculty member will be supported by a Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program award to conduct research, teach and complete descriptions of a plant species in south-central Africa that could have important environmental implications related to the improved understanding of plant diversity in that region of the continent.

Dr. Mac Alford, a professor of biological sciences and curator of USM’s herbarium, will teach botany, tropical ecology, and conservation biology at Mulungushi University in Kabwe, Zambia, and do research on tropical species of the willow (Salicaceae) and spiderwort (Commelinaceae) families over the next year as part of a project to better understand the plant diversity of Africa. As a Fulbright Scholar, Dr. Alford will share knowledge and foster meaningful connections across communities in the U.S. and Zambia as a result of this program.

Mulungushi University has also requested Dr. Alford’s assistance in helping develop its botany and conservation biology programs, as well as a garden/arboretum of useful trees.

“I’m honored and thrilled to earn a second Fulbright, and to get another chance to continue my research abroad, this time in a place I’ve never been, where I believe I can expand my knowledge base and also share what I’ve learned to date to benefit the research enterprise at Mulungushi University,” Dr. Alford said.

Dr. Alford joined the USM faculty in 2005. His areas of expertise include botany, plant systematics, evolutionary biology, tropical biology, floristics, and environmental science; his research focuses on the plants of Mississippi and the tropical relatives of willows and cottonwoods. He has published more than 40 journal articles, been awarded three grants from the National Science Foundation, served as President of the Faculty Senate 2017-2019, and received the University Excellence in Teaching Award in 2017.

The Fulbright Program is the U.S. government’s flagship international educational exchange program; this year marks its 75th anniversary. Named for the late U.S. Sen. J. William Fulbright, its purpose is to develop connections and understanding between U.S. and International scholars and citizens. Faculty selected for the program have demonstrated leadership, communication abilities, and academic experience that make them outstanding ambassadors abroad.

This is Dr. Alford’s second Fulbright Scholar Program award, with the first coming in 2011-2012 to the University of Novi Sad in Serbia, where he conducted research and taught tropical biology and theoretical aspects of botany. 

As part of his work in Zambia, Dr. Alford will collaborate with Dr. Bob Faden at the Smithsonian to complete the descriptions of all the species of one plant family [Commelinaceae] in south-central Africa. In 1997, Dr. Alford had an internship at the National Museum of Natural History (Smithsonian Institution) in Washington, D.C., working with Dr. Bob Faden describing new species of spiderwort relatives from eastern Africa.

“The first new species of plant I ever described, Commelina polhillii, was from Africa, even though I've never been there,” Dr. Alford said. “We were doing all of the work from museum specimens and from plants cultivated in the greenhouse from seed. Dr. Faden has been trying to complete a treatment of that family of plants (Commelinaceae) for the Flora Zambesiaca for years, and I’m looking forward to assisting him in concluding that important project.”

Dr. Alford will also be working on a treatment of the entire willow and cottonwood family (Salicaceae) for the series Families and Genera of Vascular Plants. “Due to my extensive field work in the Americas, Europe, and Asia, I have a good handle on those genera and species, but I've never been to Africa, so this trip provides me an opportunity to get to know some of those groups in the field.” 

“We want to send our best and brightest academics who have the interpersonal skills and cultural understanding to build relationships around the world, and the fact that Dr. Alford has been selected for his second Fulbright is recognition that he possesses these qualities at the highest level,” said Dr. Chris Winstead, dean of the USM College of Arts and Sciences. “He will represent the U.S. and the University of Southern Mississippi extremely well, and will have a host of new experiences to bring back to our students at Southern Miss.”

For more information for Dr. Alford’s work at USM, visit Dr. Mac Alford - Profile Viewer - The University of Southern Mississippi (usm.edu).