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‘Holistic, Mutual Benefit’ Seen With African Partnership

Three faculty members talk with three Aseshi University membersLEXINGTON, Va., Feb. 21, 2019—A soon-to-be-signed memorandum of understanding between VMI and Ashesi University in Berekuso, Ghana, will allow a variety of collaborative projects to flourish between the two schools.

In mid-January, representatives of Ashesi, a private liberal arts school, traveled to post to meet with Brig. Gen. Bob Moreschi, deputy superintendent for academics and dean of the faculty, along with representatives of several academic departments. The schools plan a collaboration that will include a student exchange program, faculty exchanges, an exchange of publications, and collaborative research projects. Ashesi, the only African university with an honor code, also plans to study the implementation and impact of VMI’s honor code.

Further plans call for a summer study abroad program involving not only VMI but also the College of William & Mary.

The collaboration with Ashesi has come about through the efforts of Dr. Dekuwmini Mornah, associate professor of economics and business. Mornah, a native of Ghana who settled in the United States after earning his doctorate at the University of Mississippi, has long made giving back to his native land a priority.

Most summers, he and his family travel to Ghana, where Mornah has developed relationships with university faculty aimed at spurring entrepreneurship in the first African nation to gain post-colonial independence. And while travel to Ghana is long and arduous, communication is easy, as Ghana is a former British colony and English is its common language.

A partnership with VMI should bring “a holistic, mutual benefit to both institutions, students, staff, and faculty,” said Millicent Adjei, director of international programs for Ashesi, during the January meeting with Moreschi.

“We take [our students] out of their comfort zone so they can see how things are done elsewhere,” she commented, speaking of the possibility of Ashesi students coming to VMI. “It’s not just our students who we are hoping will benefit, but institutionally also, it helps us to benchmark, to see that with the skill set we give them in the classroom, that they will still be able to come here and do well.”

According to Adjei, Ashesi students already do well, as 94 percent find employment within six months of graduation, versus 10 percent for many of their African peers.

As Ashesi would be the first non-military school to participate in an exchange program with VMI, details about the student exchange program are still being worked out.      

During their time on post, the Ashesi visitors met with Col. Merce Brooke, one of three superintendent’s representatives to the Honor Court, and a group of Honor Court cadet representatives to learn more about VMI’s honor code. Ashesi has had an honor code since 2008, and its wording is very similar to VMI’s. The Ashesi honor code reads, “I will not lie, cheat, or steal, neither will I tolerate others who do.” Like that at VMI, the honor code at Ashesi is student-run.

Honor, explained Mornah, is desperately needed in Africa as nations there struggle to break the shackles of their colonial pasts. “The biggest need in Africa is leadership,” he noted. “There’s a lack of accountable, honorable leadership.”

The Ghanaian university, both Mornah and the Ashesi representatives stated, is trying to produce a new generation of African leaders, ready to step out onto not just a national but also a global stage.

“[Ashesi is] trying to build a leadership school,” said Mornah.

Ashesi’s student-driven honor code, explained Sena Agbodjiah Agyepong, Ashesi professor of entrepreneurship, is part of that initiative—and thus the interest in studying how the Institute’s honor code has shaped its nearly 180-year history. “An honor code, like wine, gets better with age,” she commented. “There’s a lot we can learn from a system that’s older than ours.”

Mornah noted that the Ashesi-VMI collaboration could get underway as soon as the 2019-20 academic year. Lt. Col. Wakeel Idewu, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, has expressed an interest in participating in the first faculty exchange, and a professor from Ashesi has already said she’d like to come to VMI.

VMI Partners with William and Mary on Study Abroad Course

A group of students stand togetherIn the summer of 2020, it’s quite possible that VMI’s first large-scale study abroad program in Africa could take place—with participants also coming from the College of William & Mary.

Plans for the study abroad program at Ashesi University began when Ghanian native Dr. Dekuwmini Mornah, associate professor of economics and business, began to think about two things: providing more learning opportunities for cadets interested in entrepreneurship and giving back to his native country. His interest kicked into even higher gear when he discovered that a distant cousin of his was serving as dean of the faculty at Ashesi.

With this knowledge and goals in mind, Mornah set to work immediately on collaboration with a school he calls “the best university in Africa.” Ashesi, he noted, is modeled on Swarthmore College, a liberal arts school in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, with consistently high rankings by organizations such as U.S. News & World Report.

“[Ashesi] is essentially an American university,” said Mornah. “Most of the faculty were trained in the U.S.”

As currently planned, the study abroad experience will run for approximately four weeks and be open to cadets of all majors, with the most important prerequisite being an entrepreneurial spirit. 

There will be three components to the experience: an African business and entrepreneurship (ABE) module, to be taught by Mornah and Dr. Sena Agyepong of Ashesi University; an entrepreneurship practicum, also taught by Mornah and Agyepong; and a Ghanaian history and culture module, to be taught by Maj. Jochen Arndt, assistant professor of history. 

Because each course would carry three academic credits, cadets would earn nine credits upon completion of the program. Much of the classroom work would take place on the Ashesi campus, with some travel off campus to culturally significant locations within Ghana. 

At first, Mornah had hoped to get the study abroad program organized in time for the summer of 2019, but when he learned that colleagues in the Department of Economics and Business were planning on offering a trip to Slovenia, Germany, and Belgium this summer, he postponed the Ghana program a year.

 - By Mary Price, February 2019 Institute Report

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