Bama Abroad: Chemical and Biological Engineering Faculty Travel to Nigeria for Recruiting Trip

By Anna Claire Toxey

With an enrollment number of more than 5,000, the UA College of Engineering is home to students from countless states and countries across the globe. As such, one of the College’s core goals as a leading institution for engineering education is to continuously recruit some of the best and brightest students in the world. To successfully achieve this goal, faculty and administrators frequently partner with and visit other high schools and universities to promote the College’s engineering education and research offerings.

While the majority of these partnerships and recruitment trips usually occur closer to home in the United States, a group of three faculty members from the department of chemical and biological engineering (ChBE) recently chose to pursue a unique recruitment trip opportunity approximately 6,000 miles away from The University of Alabama.

4 people outside on a nice day
Heath Turner, Ifeanyi Samuel Ibeto, Jamie Harris and James Sheehan during the group’s visit to UNILAG.

After noticing an increasing number of Nigerian graduate students coming to the College in recent years, ChBE department head Dr. Heath Turner was intrigued at the idea of formalizing a partnership with universities in Nigeria.

“Over the past three to four years, we’ve gotten some exceptional students from universities in Nigeria,” Turner said. “These students have really risen to the top of our classes and research groups, which made us start paying attention and shift our focus from some of the places where we have previously recruited international students.”

With this newfound enrollment trend uncovered, Turner along with two ChBE assistant professors, Dr. Jamie Harris and Dr. James Sheehan, began considering the feasibility of conducting a recruitment trip to Nigeria. Given that crude oil exports account for nearly 76% of the country’s total exports, Turner knew that there was significant interest in the chemical engineering field among students there. After consulting with some of the College’s current Nigerian graduate students, Turner was confident that a trip to certain universities in Lagos would be well worth the journey.

After months of preparation and overcoming onerous hurdles, such as navigating a complex visa application process, Turner, Harris and Sheehan finally set out for the trip in late October 2023. Through the help of UA’s Graduate School, the trio was paired with a program called Education USA, which helped them plan logistical aspects of the trip and secure visits with the top two chemical engineering programs in Lagos.


Upon arriving, they first visited the University of Lagos, which was coincidentally hosting its annual international fair at the time. As one of the only U.S. university representatives present during the fair, Turner was eager to seize the opportunity to promote UA and its chemical engineering programs to the students.

“At one point during the fair, I was spontaneously called up on stage to give a speech,” Turner said. “It was a great opportunity to tell the students there a little bit about UA and how we were excited to be there and make connections with their university.”

A man giving a woman a signed football
Presentation by professor and department head Heath Turner of a UA football (signed by UA ChBE faculty) to Vice Chancellor Folasade Ogunsola at The University of Lagos (“UNILAG”). Ogunsola is the first female vice chancellor of UNILAG.

After networking with students at the fair, they were given a tour of the university. During the tour, Turner, Harris and Sheehan were invited to be guests on the university’s television station and radio station, which is one of the largest radio stations in all of Nigeria. Similar to speaking at the international fair, the TV and radio segments provided yet another invaluable opportunity for the group of professors to share about the College of Engineering and its cutting-edge facilities and educational programs.

“Giving interviews on the TV and radio stations at UNILAG was an amazing way to explain more about our program, UA in general, and our motivation for coming to Nigeria, while also reaching a huge audience across Nigeria,” said Harris. “Having never given an interview in either format, and having no preparation for these, it was definitely a crash course, but they both went well.”

On the following day of the trip, the trio traveled to Covenant University, where they met with university leadership and students and had productive discussions regarding how UA’s College of Engineering could build a lasting and beneficial partnership with them.

“We had the opportunity to meet with the leadership of Covenant University, including Vice Chancellor Abiodun Adebayo,” said Sheehan. “We discussed opportunities for potential collaboration and partnerships. We also held a gift exchange where we presented a University of Alabama football signed by UA’s chemical engineering faculty. We walked away very excited about partnering with Covenant and look forward to some of their recent alumni joining our graduate program this fall.”

group picture of 6 people indoors
Jamie Harris surrounded by chemical engineering students at Covenant University, following faculty presentations about research and graduate school opportunities at UA.

Although traveling from Tuscaloosa to Lagos proved more difficult than some of the other recruiting trips he has conducted in the past, Turner is confident that their efforts were well worth it and will hopefully forge even stronger relationships with Nigerian universities and students in the future.

“They mentioned that this was the first time anyone from the U.S. had traveled to their departments, so I think our visit meant a lot to them. We hope to go back next year to continue discussions and further enhance the recruiting pipeline from Lagos to Alabama,” Turner said.

When it comes to recruiting top-tier students, one thing is clear: Turner and his team are willing to travel a few miles or more than 6,000 miles to make an impact on prospective students and introduce them to the world of educational possibilities that are waiting at The University of Alabama College of Engineering.

In 1837, The University of Alabama became one of the first five universities in the nation to offer engineering classes. Today, UA’s College of Engineering has more than 5,200 students and more than 170 faculty. In recent years, students in the College have been named USA Today All-USA College Academic Team members, Goldwater, Hollings, Portz, Boren, Mitchell and Truman scholars.

Author: Anna Claire Toxey    /    Posted on: January 17, 2024    /    Posted in:   Chemical and Biological Engineering, Featured, Students    /    Features:   , ,