McDonnell Academy confirms formal partnership in Africa

| News Editor

Washington University’s McDonnell International Scholars Academy recently confirmed its imminent partnership with the University of Ghana in Accra.

Chancellor Mark Wrighton, Vice Chancellor for International Affairs Jim Wertsch and Jean Allman, chair of and professor in the Department of History, met with administrators in Ghana last week to formalize the University’s commitment.

The academy will accept its first African student this fall. The partnership represents the University’s first formalized connection to a university on the African continent, a step Henry Biggs, associate director for the McDonnell Academy, said was a long time coming.

“There was a feeling that a connection with a university in Africa was long overdue,” he said. “We wanted to make sure we did it right and it was a university that we could really feel there were a lot of possible connections.”

The University of Ghana is the 28th foreign university to partner formally with the McDonnell Academy, which offers full tuition to 15-20 exceptional graduate students from its partner institutions each year.

Despite academic connections to institutions elsewhere in nations like Ethiopia and Kenya, Biggs said the goal for the partnership in Ghana, as with the academy’s other partners, is to foster stronger and longer-standing relationships.

“Washington University has taken a different approach in terms of understanding how we want to interact with universities around the globe and how we want our presence to be around the globe. So for some [universities], you sort of develop connections, and you don’t really get a great depth to those connections. We want to pick a few schools and then really make those connections deep,” Biggs said.

Allman will serve as the McDonnell Academy’s ambassador to the University of Ghana. Having researched and studied in Ghana since her graduate school years, she suggested a partnership with the University of Ghana last year.

Allman noted that Ghana’s status as a relatively stable and English-speaking country was a key factor in facilitating the partnership.

As ambassador, Allman will help to recruit top scholars and manage communications between the two universities, nurturing the existing connections between them as well as fostering new ones.

“Each time we go and make connections, we’re making new personal connections…and you sort of build from that, and people are more likely to be engaged, to be responsible about what they’re doing,” she said.

The chancellor was not available for an interview with Student Life, but wrote in a blog post from Ghana, published in the Record, “Vice Chancellor [Ernest] Aryeetey was very generous with his time and we had a wide-ranging discussion of issues facing higher education in Ghana. He enthusiastically embraced us as an important partner.”

Wertsch said the new partnership with the University of Ghana will help to strengthen Washington University, both locally and abroad.

“In the long-run, what this is about in a lot of ways is how to make Washington University a better university, a stronger university with global connections,” Wertsch said. “There are a lot of people who do really important work in Ghana for reasons that have to do with a service commitment, which I’m a great admirer of, and the academy. What we’re after is, how do you make Washington University a better place by having partners like University of Ghana?”

Wertsch also noted the potential to foster other programs at partner institutions, such as undergraduate exchanges and study abroad experiences.

He said he hopes the McDonnell Academy can continue to grow its international connections in the coming years, ideally partnering with around 30 institutions and inviting around 100 international graduate students to join the University as scholars in residence.

“A lot of this depends on fundraising and collaborative research funding and corporate sponsorships,” he said.

This year, the academy accepted its first domestic members: two U.S. citizens who have pledged to attend one of the partner institutions abroad during some portion of their graduate curriculum. In the future, Biggs said, these scholars will represent around 10 to 15 percent of the academy.

Rita Barton, a first year domestic McDonnell Scholar in the Brown School of Social Work studying international economic and social development, hopes to travel to Ghana to conduct fieldwork in the coming years.

“Within development, I am looking at interventions that involve international volunteers and how they affect the community, and Ghana is actually a really good country to do field research in because they’ve got a ton of different types of volunteer programs,” she said

David Ansong, a Ghanan Ph.D. student in the Brown School of Social Work, studied at the University of Ghana as an undergraduate.

“[The partnership] has a lot of potential, and especially in my area of work, which is social work. The Brown School here at Wash. U. has a long tradition of bringing a lot of Ghanans through the social work department, so they already have that kind of relationship. But I think it’s been a one-way relationship. It’s always been students coming to Wash. U., but…it’s not reciprocal,” he said. “So we don’t have students from here going to Ghana to do some work, to also learn from a different context. But in that respect, [the partnership] leaves open the opportunity for Wash. U. to also look at what it can learn from this relationship, from that environment.”

“It’s going to take a while for this to really cement and for both sides to really get a feel of real advantages of this contact,” he added. “So it will take a while, but I think it’s going to be a great opportunity.”