Last month, materials scientist Gretchen Kalonji of the Universityof California, Santa Cruz, was picked to head the Natural SciencesSector of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and CulturalOrganization (UNESCO). Kalonji has taught in France, Germany,China, and Japan and has worked on international strategy developmentfor the University of California. Her term starts in July.
Q:How did you become fluent in two African languages, Swahiliand Lingala?
From the ages of 7 to 23, I was outside the United States.Both my parents were journalists, and we lived in India, HongKong, Thailand, and Kenya. So I come to the international stuffkind of naturally. ... I lived in Kenya for 6 years startingas a teenager, and my ex- and late husband was Congolese, whichexplains the Lingala.
Q:What ideas do you have for the job?
It's a little bit premature to say, but I will ... [try to]leverage other strengths within UNESCO. One of their jewelsis the network of World Heritage sites, [which could be] utilizedto a greater degree by having teams of faculty and studentswork together on projects sited there.
Q:Where is there room for improvement?
Our greatest source of unleashed, insufficiently tapped capacityis the creativity of our youth around the world. ... Most oftheir time in educational institutions is spent sitting andlearning facts. ... Having the students engage more directlyin science and engineering research projects that are linkedto the common needs in our society ... could have an enormousimpact.