A lush, green campus run by sustainable practices. A comprehensive honor code that has built a community of trust amongst the college community. A transformative liberal arts education that is developing engaged citizens who will become tomorrow’s leaders.
If you’re thinking that describes Connecticut College, you’d be correct. But another school—more than 5,000 miles away—is making its own mark in higher education.
Ashesi University College in Berekuso, Ghana, is a liberal arts college founded in 2002 by Patrick Awuah, a native Ghanaian and a 2015 recipient of a prestigious MacArthur “genius grant.” Once a program manager at Microsoft, Awuah left his lucrative job to establish Ashesi with the dream of educating a new generation of African leaders.
Awuah’s dream is being realized. Every Ashesi graduate has gone on to earn a job, start a business or pursue a postgraduate degree. Ninety percent of alumni are living and working in Africa. The diversity figures are also impressive: 47 percent of Ashesi students are women; 55 percent receive financial aid; 21 percent are from outside of Ghana, mostly from other African nations.
“Ashesi is revolutionary,” said Amy Dooling, associate professor of Chinese and chair of the East Asian Languages & Cultures Department. “[The university] continues to develop rapidly. It’s part of a wave of residential liberal arts colleges being born outside of the United States, and could provide mutually beneficial partnerships for the College.”
Dooling was part of a faculty delegation that traveled to Ashesi during the College’s recent fall break. She was joined by David Canton, associate professor of history and interim dean of institutional equity and inclusion, and Courtney Baker, associate professor of English and director of the Africana studies program.
The trip was made possible by a $700,000 grant the College received in 2014 from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which supports international initiatives and fosters integration in global studies.
A major part of the College’s initiative is to explore new partnerships with institutions abroad, which prompted the trip to Ashesi. Dooling, Canton and Baker had the opportunity to tour the state-of-the-art campus, meet with Awuah and other senior administrators, sit in on classes and hear presentations from Ashesi students who had studied abroad across the world. Some students had come to U.S. to study at schools Ashesi has already partnered with, including Wheaton College and Coe College. (Ashesi is also working on a partnership with Yale University.)
What struck the delegation was the opportunity for “reciprocity” through student exchanges. While Ashesi is a liberal arts school, it’s very focused on science and technology; it’s strong in areas like computer science and business management, programs of study that Connecticut College doesn’t offer or where study abroad opportunities do not yet exist. Ashesi also lacks a modern registrar—the school hopes to expand from 600 to 2,000 students in the next few years—and trained librarians, which opens the door to faculty and staff exchanges, as well.
“This has the potential to be a very collaborative partnership,” said Baker, who added that a more “intentional” study abroad program at a liberal arts school like Ashesi could introduce more global and interdisciplinary experiences for Africana studies students. (Currently, 55 percent of College students study abroad during their four years, and 20 percent use their College-funded internship abroad; a small percentage of students who go abroad travel to Africa, with most attending predominately white schools in South Africa.)
Outside of academic opportunities, Ashesi also shares many of the same values as Connecticut College. The campus community adheres to a comprehensive honor code. Unlike other colleges and universities in Africa, students are welcomed to question their professors and take part in classroom discussions rather than simply take notes during lectures. Students also refer to themselves as “servant leaders,” volunteering in nearby farming towns to improve their local community.
Daryl Brown ’18 had the opportunity to speak with Ashesi students during a Skype session arranged during the College’s trip. He was interested in speaking with the students because he perceived a “disconnect between African students and African-American students.” What Brown found, however, were contemporaries who were up-to-date on the “Black Lives Matter” movement, current music and the hit FOX television show “Empire.”
“Before the conversation, I often wondered what international students thought about America, specifically teens and college students. From these [Ashesi] students, I saw a new perspective that I never expected. They perceive us as intellectual and socially aware,” said Brown.
For now, the College will continue an open dialogue with Ashesi. There are also plans for Canton to travel back to Ashesi in the spring, and for Ashesi’s associate director of the Office of Diversity and International Programs to visit the College campus in April. Baker said she plans to teleconference with Ashesi students in her Africana studies courses next semester, as well.
“There’s a large conversation happening around the value of liberal arts,” said Dooling, “and we’re realizing it’s not just an American conversation. The College has a lot to gain by being a part of it.”