An American teenager’s view of Ghana and Ashesi
March 30, 2012, 4:24 pm
Filed under: 10th Anniversary

By Rachel Warren, sophomore at Wesleyan University and three-time visitor to Ashesi University at ages 14, 17 and 19.

Ghana is by far the friendliest place I have ever visited.  The sights and smells are utterly foreign, but the place has a vibrant, welcoming bustle. Ashesi students, alumni, and faculty were so welcoming! They shared many meals with us, and a few women students invited me to join their discussion group and even took me shopping. I was also blown away by Ashesi itself.

In my own college search, I looked for a friendly, tight-knit student body, where students and faculty are passionate about ideas, and where problem solving and community building are fundamental values. No US college exemplified this better than Ashesi, where I saw students enraptured by a philosophical discussion of leadership and also giving presentations about community projects. I loved seeing the passion, the fire, and the hope in everyone’s eyes.


The Sense of Ashesi
March 29, 2012, 4:34 pm
Filed under: 10th Anniversary

By Kentaro Toyama

I remember a brief exchange with co-founders Patrick Awuah and Nina Marini, soon after I left Ashesi University as its first calculus lecturer in 2002. They thanked me for taking on the role, as I had taken a leave of absence from Microsoft to teach. I replied to the effect that whatever I might have contributed to Ashesi, Ashesi had given me something far greater in return. Nina asked me what it was specifically that I had gained, and I told her, “It’s hard for me to articulate, but I sense that it will manifest in ways I can’t imagine. You’ll have to ask me in a few years.”
Ten years later, I see that if anything, I understated the case.

Least expected, if purely practical, were the ways in which Ashesi has contributed to my professional life, both as a line on my resume and as a salient influence on my thinking as a scholar. Two years after my time in Ghana, I was asked if I would be interested in helping to start a new research lab in India. Somewhere in the calculations of my US-based managers was the idea that I had previously gone off to some distant land and seemed to have enjoyed the experience, never mind that Accra and Bangalore are as different from each other as Seattle is from either. In any case, I pounced on the opportunity, and it led to exactly the change in career I was seeking at the time.

When I moved to India, I dropped my previous area of research in computer science, and started an effort to explore how information technologies could contribute to the socio-economic development of poorer communities. Over the years, I oversaw 50-odd projects where we tried to use electronic gadgets to support agriculture, education, healthcare, and so forth, but few had the meaningful impact that I had felt at Ashesi. At the research lab, we were focused on fixing problems with technology; Ashesi demonstrated an alternative approach – the value of teaching and mentoring so that people could address the challenges of their own communities. I’ve come to believe that that difference is everything in international development. So much so that I quit Microsoft in 2009 to write a book along these lines (still in the works!). Ashesi, of course, will feature as a key example.

I’m even more grateful for the intangible impacts of Ashesi. For one thing, teaching at Ashesi was an experience for which words like “fulfilling” and “rewarding” are insufficient. The students were so hungry to learn and so earnest in their growth, that at the time I feared it would spoil me as a teacher. Where else would I encounter students like the woman whose forehead seemed to furrow into a question mark during class, but who would come back confidently the next day to triumph on the quiz? She and her friends seemed to live in the library. Or, how about the man who  struggled to keep pace with the other students and came to my office hours everyday? I never saw a man smile so wide as when he earned a B on the final. The students took so much joy in new knowledge, it was like witnessing birds extending their wings for the first time. And instead of spoiling me, the experience has proved a resonant memory that echoes each time I teach.

Most of all, I’m glad to find myself part of a global family united by Ashesi’s mission. I once ran into Patrick at a conference on education – we met for lunch, and as always happens when I see him, I walked away stimulated and inspired. Sometimes, I meet an Ashesi donor or board member for the first time, and it feels like getting to know a long-lost cousin. Last August, I attended the inauguration of the Berekuso campus and saw most of the faculty and staff I worked with in 2002, some of whom I count among my closest friends  – we spoke as if not a year had passed.

And of course, there were the students whom I had taught. On the day after inauguration, we went out for a reunion dinner at a spot I remembered as where traffic jammed on my way to Labone, on Tettey Quarshie Circle. The circle is now a zooming overpass, and a shiny new mall stands where there once were street vendors. Though ten years older, my ex-students kidded one another like they used to, and kept calling me “Mr. Toyama” like they used to. As I listened to stories about their lives as bankers, engineers, and entrepreneurs, bachelors, spouses, and parents, a sense of warmth overwhelmed me – a sense I will forever feel as Ashesi.

My top reflection
March 28, 2012, 5:07 pm
Filed under: 10th Anniversary

Ashesi volunteer and longtime supporter, Ruth Warren, shares a powerful and inspiring message about her experience visiting Ashesi.

“In my three visits to Ashesi, the sheer diversity, inventiveness and energy of student and graduate projects has thrilled me. I love the mix of innovation, pragmatism and persistence. Poverty and corruption don’t fill Ashesi students and grads with despair, but with a strong determination to create change. I urge anyone who can to give yourself a treat and visit Ashesi. Immerse yourself in this beehive of energy, innovative thinking and pragmatic optimism. It’s better than a safari or a spa—you will come home reinvigorated from your front-row seat to a better future for Africa. Africa’s greatest resource isn’t oil, but young, ethical, hardworking Africans, with great problem-solving skills.”

What’s your top reflection on Ashesi?

My thoughts on Ashesi’s 10th
March 26, 2012, 4:46 pm
Filed under: 10th Anniversary

Dan Himelstein of UC Berkeley shares the story of his first encounter with Patrick Awuah – a memory he will never forget.

By Dan Himelstein

In early 1999, when I was the Director of the Undergraduate Program at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley, a Haas MBA student asked for a meeting with me to discuss a start-up idea he had.  Although other faculty members and senior management at Haas knew of Patrick Awuah and his Ashesi University dream, I did not.  Part of the reason for that is that I was focused on undergraduates, but most of the reason was that I was managing a significant learning curve transition having just recently returned from the business world to my alma mater to run the program I graduated from and to teach as well.

So, in walks Patrick to our meeting with a big idea and even greater dreams and the need for lots of help to make it all work, and I am prepared to listen, provide some advice, and say good luck as my plate was full, not only with my new role at Haas, but with my own four year old international trade services company in Los Angeles that still required much of my attention.  And then Patrick lays out his Ashesi dream in an incredibly composed, commanding, and visionary way, and he has me immediately hooked, not only about Ashesi, but about him as a true leader of people as well.  Being an entrepreneur myself and having been involved in many start-ups in multiple capacities, I ask him a series of very difficult questions to not only test his resolve, but also my own positive reaction to the concept.  He passed with flying colors (and so did I).

Ultimately what Patrick wanted from me was my expertise with undergraduate business curriculum since the US based university advisory boards he was creating did not have lots of people with experience in this area.  I tried to convince him that my cumulative experience of less than a year did not qualify me as an expert , but he was more convincing than I.  So I agreed to join the Business Administration Academic Council at the Haas School as its Co-Chair along with Professor Rich Lyons, who is now the Dean at Haas.  And it is one of the decisions I am most proud of in my entire life.

Ashesi University simply reflects the true good in people, something that is more rare than we would all like it to be.  It also brings out the best in people, which is something that inspires others to dig deep and see what they are made of.  And for me personally, it is the start-up venture that gives me the most ongoing satisfaction and generates the most smiles, even though my active role in it was relatively short lived compared to the many other start-ups I have been involved with.  Patrick, thanks so much for knocking on my office door 13 years ago.  You gave me a life long gift!

What brought me to Ashesi was Dr. Awuah’s Dream for a new Africa
March 23, 2012, 5:35 pm
Filed under: 10th Anniversary

Ashesi student, George Sylvanus Niikoi Neequaye  ’14, shares his thoughts on Ashesi’s 10th Anniversary:

“What brought me to Ashesi was Dr. Awuah’s Dream for a new Africa – that we can be ethical, Innovative, Critical Thinkers and have deep concern for society. All I wanted was to be part of this phenomenon. The inspiration I get from Ashesi is what it has made me become – a better person. Ashesi in one word for me is Revolution (Major Change). I have been involved in making tertiary education exciting just by the way I live my life and portray myself, yet learning at the same time. In the next ten years, Ashesi will be Africa’s MIT, Harvard, Carnegie Mellon and even the greatest in the world in terms of African change.”

What inspires you about Ashesi?

Mikelle’s Reflections
March 22, 2012, 4:15 pm
Filed under: 10th Anniversary

By Mikelle Antoine (PhD), Assistant Professor at Ashesi University – Expository Writing; Africa in the International Setting; Leadership Seminar; Writing Center.

Imagine if Kwame Nkrumah had invited you to help build a better nation in the late 1950s. The naysayers would have mocked his audacity to proclaim that Africans can rule themselves. They would have ridiculed you for joining such a fruitless endeavor. And yet, 54 years later, the world would be studying your contributions to such a revolution. Your name and activities would be studied all over the world as progressive and still relevant.

I liken my contribution to the Ashesi mission and vision with the call from Kwame Nkrumah. I often imagine if I had lived during that period how proud I would have been to be selected to be part of that revolution. Ashesi has provided me that historical role. My contributions to the Ashesi ideal have guaranteed me a place in history.

A Trustee’s path to Ashesi
March 19, 2012, 5:01 pm
Filed under: 10th Anniversary

By Kristi Helgeson, Ashesi University Foundation trustee, donor and capital campaign volunteer.

Giving to a charitable organization is a rather personal matter.  My journey to Ashesi began in a home with a simple, small-town American family’s humanitarian focus.  At certain times of the year, our church handed out symbolic paper rice bowls that as a young child I filled with small coins at mealtime, a reminder of real human needs unmet on the other side of the world.  So as an adult, it’s not surprising that my soul searched for some way to contribute to the real world needs around me.  Serendipitously, I was introduced to Ashesi.  The Ashesi model of engaging students, empowering them with critical thinking skills, expecting excellence and ethical behavior, and valuing African-led initiatives is making a tangible difference in Africa, everyday.  Ashesi alums are teaching elementary and secondary students these same critical thinking skills, and they are thriving.  Ashesi alums are transforming the rules of economic engagement, stimulating opportunities for micro-business.  Ashesi alums are innovating technologies that will spark African societies to more fully engage in the global marketplace and to solve real human challenges at home.  Ashesi is keeping the best and brightest young Africans in Africa, and they are leading the charge, sharing their ideas and innovations with the rest of the world for its benefit.  Congratulations Ashesi on this milestone!  You should be proud of the lasting change you are driving for a new Africa!