Faculty and students from Indiana State’s Bayh College of Education share ideas with the University of Cape Coast in Ghana.
Allowing practitioners and students from two continents learn and help each other was the goal of a delegation from Indiana State’s Bayh College of Education this past summer when they traveled to Ghana.
“How can we engage in a conversation with our students and practitioners to build one another up?” Assistant Professor Amy French said was the initial focus of the conversation.
French and Aaron Slocum, director of the 21st Century Scholars program at State, led a delegation of student affairs and higher education students to visit Ghana’s University of Cape Coast.
“Both (Dr. French) and I wanted to take students to give them a different experience, particularly in students affairs and higher education,” Slocum said. “Students would be able to look at those comparisons, to see how we might learn from other institutions in other countries.
The two universities were first interested in each other’s similarities — they are about the same size (the University of Cape Coast has 15,835 students; Indiana State has 13,584), and the demographics and financial needs of their student populations are comparable.
“Cape Coast students may come from different cultural backgrounds than our students at State, but we face the same issues concerning financial needs, food insecurity and academic readiness,” French said.
Indiana State’s 21st Century Scholars Corps helps students in the scholarship program be successful in college.
“Looking at Ghanaian higher education, there are some parallels in what we’re doing here,” Slocum said. “Student affairs, counseling services, career center, they are really starting to develop those offices for their students. They are using our university, and others, as blueprints for those offices.”
Slocum said University of Cape Coast officials were “shocked we paid some students’ tuition and provided them resources to be successful. Some of their students get help, but not near the level 21st Century students get assistance. They were shocked we supported the students the way we do — financial, personnel, institution-wide.”
French and Slocum’s delegation was part of a larger cultural and historical faculty-led study abroad trip planned by African and African American history Professor Andrea Arrington in the College of Arts and Sciences.
To make arrangements for the Bayh College of Education portion of the trip, French conducted several interviews and chatted by Skype with University of Cape Coast’s Michael Boakye-Yiadom, Ph.D., a research fellow at the Institute for Educational Planning and Administration, part of the Ghana university system that is associated with Cape Coast.
“He invited our students to present to their student affairs students,” French said. “It was a good conversation about helping students to succeed, focusing on how to support students concerning academic advising. And, especially, how to separate career counseling and academic advising.”
Boakye-Yiadom said he also got a lot out of the visit, and he’s looking forward to a possible reunion this summer at Indiana State, where he hopes the two schools can collaborate on an International Service Learning Program.
“We plan to share information regarding the learning outcomes of the experiential learning we have introduced in our selected courses,” Boakye-Yiadom said. “Additionally, the planned service learning program in Indiana next summer will be an opportunity for Indiana State University and other schools to interact with students and staff from the University of Cape Coast.”
Boakye-Yiadom said he expects his university’s relationship will continue with Indiana State.
“We strongly believe that the new relationship will grow and develop into long-lasting partnership and collaboration in different functional areas and disciplines,” Boakye-Yiadom said.
“Already, a research assistant at the Institute for Educational Planning and Administration (IEPA), University of Cape Coast is applying for admission into the educational leadership doctoral program at Indiana State University. Other potential areas of partnership include collaborative research among faculty, student and staff exchange, and professional development opportunities for our mutual benefit.”
During the visit in May, French said there were many higher ed topics discussed, but the primary topic was student affairs. “They were interested in our structure,” she said. “We had some really good conversations on that.”
The two groups discussed student housing, academic advising, alumni relations, community engagement and managing a food pantry on campus.
French and other Indiana State officials and students were even invited to meet with Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Professor George K.T. Oduro. French said she was surprised that Oduro asked her for official recommendations.
“We engaged in a formal conversation about student success,” French said. “One of the main topics we recommended was ways to support student professionals, and to explore opportunities for academic advising beyond career counseling.”
Often colleges lump those two professions — academic advising and career counseling — together, said French. When, in fact, they are two completely different paths, one directed at helping students to find an academic path that best suits them while in college; the other to help students find a professional path after they graduate.
Sharing information that can help both universities is part of the goal of the universities’ collaboration. But another purpose for the relationship is to expose students to other cultures and backgrounds.
“If we never get outside of our box, we’d have no reason to think of bigger, and beyond, and having to work together,” French said. “It broadens the minds of everybody, and we’re able to celebrate our differences. Often we like to celebrate what we’re similar about, and that’s good because we all are human and we have a lot in common, but we also have to celebrate our differences as well. We need to understand that we’re all in this together.”
Slocum agreed and reflected on how the trip affected him personally.
“It’s very important for our students to go abroad and experience a different culture,” he said. “Being in a place where everyone looks like me, where everyone says, ‘Hello brother, welcome back,’ it allowed me to reflect on, even though I don’t know exactly where my ancestors came from, I know a piece of me started there. All students should take advantage of this because it’s an experience of a lifetime.”
Boakye-Yiadom said he agrees with French and Slocum and bringing students of different cultures together is one of his school’s biggest priorities.
“IEPA in particular and University of Cape Coast in general value cultural diversity, and we strategically promote it at all levels,” Boakye-Yiadom said.
“We believe in developing global citizens through study abroad programs and the related cultural immersion opportunities. We fully support and consider as very important opportunities for students, faculty and staff to travel to another country and experience the cultural, educational and professional expertise that is offered.”
To see more scenes from Ghana, go to indstate.edu/ghana.