On a 2008 visit to Moi University in western Kenya, Robert Dooley fielded a question - a challenge - from the dean of Moi's School of Business and Economics.
"Are you just here to see Kenya, or are you actually going to do something?" Henry Maritim asked Dooley, then an associate dean at Oklahoma State University.
Before his plane landed back in the United States, Dooley had laid the framework for a plan to create a desperately needed means for Moi business students to obtain doctoral degrees. He and Oklahoma State colleague Federico Aime collaborated to help boost the number of Moi faculty with Ph.Ds.
Maritim has since died, but the results of his challenge to Dooley are paying dividends today, both for Moi and now the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Moi administrators recently awarded Dooley, the dean of UTC's College of Business since 2011, with an honorary doctorate for contributions to Moi. Aime also received the honorary doctorate. Trees have been planted on the Moi campus in honor of Dooley and Aime.
"I didn't realize the impact we were having," Dooley said. "In all honesty, that means more to me than the degrees I earned."
When Dooley and Aime first started work with Moi, about half of the university's 26,000 students were studying business. For those 13,000 students, there were 35 faculty, only two of whom held doctoral degrees. By comparison, UTC's 2,000-student College of Business boasts 36 Ph.D.-trained faculty.
Just more than five years later, 12 more Moi faculty have achieved their doctorates. An additional eight are on track to do so this spring.
They, in turn, will train faculty behind them, creating a culture that makes obtaining doctoral degrees a legitimate possibility in a place the advanced degrees previously were unheard of.
"It provides them the resources to provide the level of education needed for Kenya's development," Dooley said. "It's also, in a way, as a university, bringing them into the broader academic community of the world."
Dooley, who earned both his bachelor's and master's degrees from UTC before getting his doctorate at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, wants to use his relationship with Moi to introduce UTC business students to that international academic community.
Three Moi doctoral candidates will come to Chattanooga next month and lecture in UTC classrooms. A memorandum of understanding between UTC and Moi is in the works to make the schools' relationship official, and in the future Dooley hopes to create a program where UTC students spend a few weeks of their summer learning at Moi, located about 290 miles from Kenya's capital of Nairobi.
"Anytime we can get our students the opportunity to interact with other cultures from a business perspective, it's all positive, because that's the world they're entering," Dooley said. "If you think of Africa, it's the next wave. It's going to be the next wave of economic development."
Dawn Duke, chairwoman of the Africana Studies department at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, said connections between American and African universities like the one between Moi and UTC are beneficial for both parties and a good indicator of the expanding reach of the UT system.
"The UT system has over recent years been expanding its international programs and connections with institutions in Asia and Africa," Duke said. "The establishment of very successful academic linkages between the business schools at UTC and Moi University are clear evidence of this."
But for Dooley, the relationship with Moi is simply the sincere response of an educator who identified a need and responded to a challenge. Dooley has made seven trips back since 2008.
"For us, originally it seemed natural," Dooley said.
Contact staff writer David Cobb at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6731.