As one of the oldest buildings on campus (and part of the National Register of Historic Places), Higgins House has seen its share of historical moments. On Friday afternoon, it was home to a new kind of history as the ambassador paid WPI a visit to discuss a potential educational partnership.
His Excellency Dr. Barfuor Adjei-Barwuah, the 19th ambassador of the Republic of Ghana to the United States, traveled to campus with his wife and several colleagues to begin exploring the various kinds of relationships WPI could have with Ghana, and how the university’s global presence and expertise could be used to help provide more opportunities for the Ghanaian people.
After a brief meeting with President Laurie Leshin, Adjei-Barwuah had the chance to talk with three present and former Ghanaian undergraduate students, Naomi Otoo ’18, Ebenezer Ampiah ’17, and Michelle Addai ’18 The students shared where in Ghana they were from, their majors, details on their IQPs and MQPs, and what brought them to WPI.
“I’m very happy that the first group of people I met were Ghanaian youngsters studying here,” Adjei-Barwuah said. “That tells me that the future of the country is in safe hands.”
A host of WPI representatives welcomed Adjei-Barwuah to campus, including assistant vice president of government and community relations Linda Looft, professor and dean of engineering Wole Soboyejo, professor and dean of arts and sciences Jean King, dean of interdisciplinary and global studies Kent Rissmiller, professor and director of environmental and sustainability studies Rob Krueger, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering Paul Mathisen, postdoctoral fellow Ali Salifu, PhD student Elsie Bowen-Dodoo (who studies both at WPI and the University of Ghana), and director of pre-collegiate outreach Sue Sontgerath.
“America means a lot to Ghana,” said Kwabena Kyei-Aboagye, chair of the Ghana Ambassador Visit to New England Planning Committee. “The students are working toward engineering degrees and science degrees to better the community in Ghana and make a visible difference.”
“This afternoon is an exploratory visit,” Adjei-Barwuah continued. “We want to develop a new skill set that will make it possible for us to make sure that every citizen will have a fair chance at making a living. It calls for skills and a certain kind of attitude that will make it possible for us to give opportunities to everybody. This institution can help us [with that].
“I’m quite sure that I will leave here with a happy song dancing on my mind because I see this institution as a place we should have come to a long time ago, but in development, it’s always a good time [to start].”
The panel began with members of the community touching upon the cornerstones of what makes WPI, WPI. From the reorganization of the university’s curriculum to include project-based learning back in 1970, the Global Projects Program, and building the STEM pipeline with pre-collegiate programs to the Center for Project-Based Learning and the Math and Science for Sub-Saharan Africa (MS4SSA) Conference, His Excellency and his team were introduced to several of the concepts and programs that make WPI a successful and impactful national research university.
About halfway through the discussion, Soboyejo took a moment to say that, as he listened to explanations of what WPI does and works toward, he realized once again why he decided to come to the university from Princeton, and what WPI has to offer to the country of Ghana.
“I found here all the other things that I really wanted to see blended with scholarly work,” he explained. “I see a lot of people in Africa that are well-trained in theory and some that are skilled in practice. It leads to a continent of two cultures: very good theoreticians, and very good artisans.
“But what you need is a blend of theory and practice and a sense of how to do things effectively. That’s what the WPI approach enables, and it goes right to the roots of WPI, this idea of theory and practice together.”
Professor Krueger, who helped coordinate the ambassador’s visit, said Friday’s event was a logical extension of the relationship between WPI and the West African nation. Krueger points out that he met Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo last year in Worcester when he was campaigning with some of Worcester’s Ghanaian community.
“The visit came about because WPI has done IQPs and MQPs there, and has had connections with Ghana,” said Krueger. “We hosted King Osagyefuo Amoatia Ofori Panin, the king of Akyem Abuakwa in southeastern Ghana, a few years ago.
“The next step was to make more formal contact with the government to extend good will and look at a stronger potential for a collaborative relationship.”
An invitation was extended to His Excellency to visit the annual Washington, D.C., project center reception in December to talk with project sponsors, advisors, and more students to continue discussions surrounding the budding relationship between Ghana and WPI.
“I’m grateful for what you’ve done today,” Adjei-Barwuah said, adding that next steps would include a letter listing areas they’d like to work on with WPI, whether another face-to-face discussion should take place, and to touch upon subjects that weren’t covered in the initial meeting.
“We have just begun to open the door to show you WPI,” Looft said at the conclusion of the panel, “and are looking forward to continuing the conversation.”
-By Allison Racicot