A Computer Scientist’s Serendipitous Sabbatical

Professor of Computer Science Andrew Campbell chose a road less traveled for his fall 2015 sabbatical. Looking for a chance to recharge and log some new experiences, he spent nearly three months in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital city.


Professor of Computer Science Andrew Campbell says a serendipitous conversation led to his taking his sabbatical in Rwanda. (Photo by Robert Gill)

There, under a Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) program, he taught mobile computer (smartphone) programming to undergraduate, graduate, and high school students.

Impressed by the students and their thirst for knowledge, he says, “Every week I kept pushing and they never said ‘we can’t do this,’ or ‘this is impossible.’

“Even though I had regular office hours, they’d just turn up any time. These students have a huge amount of drive and energy, they hang out together, and there is a huge sense of community—a little like Dartmouth.”

His grad students were enrolled in small, advanced seminars. “I taught them Android programming and mobile sensing,” he says. “Most were Rwandan and the others were from other East African countries—Kenya, Congo, and Uganda—all with engineering degrees from African schools.”

In addition to his CMU activities, Campbell taught introductory programming one night a week to high school students and adults.

His Rwanda venture was prompted by a visit from Lisa Adams as a guest speaker in his mobile health class at Dartmouth. Adams is the associate dean for global health at the Geisel School of Medicine and an associate professor of medicine and of community and family medicine at Geisel.

She spoke to the class about spending six months in Rwanda in 2012, helping to launch Dartmouth's participation in the multi-institutional Human Resources for Health in Rwanda (HRH) program. Adams’ stories intrigued Campbell, and she referred him to the staff at Carnegie Mellon University, which has an ongoing educational program in Kigali. Rwanda was Campbell’s next stop.

When he wasn't teaching, Campbell collaborated with Dartmouth radiologist Robert Harris on a medical records problem. Harris was working at Centre Hospitalier Universitaire a Kigali as an HRH consultant and radiologist. He is a professor of radiology and of obstetrics and gynecology at Geisel.

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“Bob Harris told me there was just one scanner for all of Rwanda at the hospital,” says Campbell. “Not only did it take two months to get an appointment, but it took another two months to get the results back to the local doctor.”

Campbell is still working with Harris and a CMU student on a solution to address some of this delay by digitally photographing a patient’s X-ray scan and interpretive report, and emailing this to the local doctor—a procedure not constrained by privacy rules such as those in place in the U.S. “If they can get the report and the image before the patient gets back home, then the doctor can at least act on something,” says Campbell.

Campbell took to the teaching and the improvisational research in Rwanda but resisted recruiting efforts. “They really want me come back again," he says. "It was a wonderful experience, but I have a family and I have a job here at home.”

Now Campbell is attempting recruiting in the other direction. “I’m going to recruit two of my Rwanda students into the PhD program here. I can see them being amazing researchers. The two students I am interested in are in a two-year CMU program, and starting their second year in the fall.”