Ghana Research and Education Abroad
2018 Heiskell Award Winner: Internationalizing the Community College
Nomination submitted by: Dr. D. R. Elder, Associate Professor
Togbe Kotoku XI, Paramount Chief of Kpenoe (left), with Gage Smith, Agribusiness and Community and Extension Leadership double major, who inaugurated two 4-H clubs at Kpenoe's junior high school in 2017 and will return in 2018 for a second three-month internship. Kpenoe townspeople are visible in the background.
The Ohio State University Agricultural Technical Institute Ghana Research and Education Abroad (GREA) immerses associate degree-seeking students in a month-long experiential learning program working in towns near Ho, Ghana, where they have the opportunity to develop their own research projects. Since its founding 15 years ago, 121 Ohio State ATI students have traveled to small towns in Ghana to study language and culture for four weeks while practicing applied agricultural technologies using a variety of sustainable development strategies. The trip is associated with a semester-long pre-departure global studies class, and students can earn three credit hours for the work they do during their time in Ghana.
According to Ohio State ATI professor and director Kristina M. Boone, “Our ATI faculty members designed this program to engage our students in an immersion experience in Ghana that allows them to learn about the Èwè people and culture and to exchange knowledge in agriculture with the local farmers. The students, mostly from rural Ohio, emerge from this experience as informed world citizens.”
In the mornings, students take part in joint undergraduate and faculty research projects, microloan and savings meetings, herd health treatments and immunizations, and teaching enrichment classes at a junior high school. They spend their afternoons taking part in arts experiences, including drumming, dancing, and Èwè language classes; and in the evenings they attend lectures on Ghanaian life, book discussions, and planning sessions.
The GREA students visit togbes (kings), queen mothers, and councils of elders. This year's students will enjoy an audience with Togbe Afede XXIII, the current president of the National House of Chiefs. Local leaders provide lecture-discussions on chieftaincy, economics, agriculture, trade, non-governmental organizations, gender and religious issues, and family. Students read academic texts and articles, take turns leading discussions and blogging, and analyze how to apply what they learn in the field.
In order to make the program available to a wide range of students, a large part of the cost of the trip is subsidized through donations from the Noble and Romich Foundations. Funds also are needed for purchasing supplies upon arrival in Ghana.
Over ten years, GREA has developed revolving microloan and savings (MLS) plans for 12 groups of subsistence farmers and traders. The students meet with a group to discuss their goals and needs, raise money, and establish an MLS group to open a group bank account and provide microloan services. Through the MLS groups, GREA inaugurated herd health treatments, through which students provide immunizations and treatments for goats, sheep and chickens in eight small towns. Community development projects overlap with student research agendas such as assessing the economic viability of vegetable drip irrigation and preserving crops with solar dehydration. Students also develop enrichment lesson plans and teach class hours and serve as lesson partners at a local junior high school. The 2018 team will partner with the regional Ghana Educational Services to host three Project-Based Learning workshops for junior high students and teachers.
Typically, 6 to 11 students per year out of Ohio State ATI’s 650 students go on the Ghana Research and Education Abroad program. These students have received research grants and made dozens of presentations at university, regional and international conferences. One student, Gage Smith, won a U.S. Department of State Gilman Award last year. After working in Ghana for three months, he completed his internship and started the first two 4-H programs in the Volta Region. In addition, four students earned college scholarships, and four earned undergraduate research scholarships. These student success stories have encouraged others to apply, and this year 12 Ohio State ATI students plan to study in Ghana.
Founder and co-director Dr. D. Elder has observed that the students’ experiences of working side-by-side with local leaders and farmers have offered them opportunities to care about others, to learn from them, to share their own expertise, and to participate meaningfully in the essential work of development. Ohio State ATI students who have taken part in the Ghana program have gone on to have successful careers as social workers, nurses, veterans services providers, agricultural educators, and community leaders who have links to the broader world.