Three Illinois State University faculty and staff members took part in an international exchange of ideas in Ghana that also forged interdisciplinary bonds back home.
In July, Associate Director of International Studies Abdourahmane Thiam and Interim Director of the School of Social Work Doris Houston joined Associate Professor of History Agbenyega Adedze in meetings with government officials, leaders of private industry, and university scholars across Ghana.
Thiam, who is the program coordinator for the Office of International Studies’ Management Development International (MDI), has been leading professional development workshops and trainings for professionals from such countries as Haiti and Ghana since 2002.
MDI provides tailored professional development sessions for international officials working to build infrastructure for areas such as fiscal planning and management of resources.
In an effort to strengthen ties forged internationally, this summer Thiam and Houston, along with Adedze who was raised in Ghana, spent several days meeting with Ghanaian officials from areas such as the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Trade and Industry, and the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection. The goal was to establish further partnerships and exchange ideas.
“We discussed potential internship possibilities in Ghana for Illinois State students and we exchanged insights regarding the technical aspects of social work education and human service program management in both countries,” said Houston, who added it was important “to see this as a give and take of ideas. We learned from each other.”
The trio also met with administrators and students at the University of Cape Coast and the University of Ghana in Legon. “We are exploring ways to establish partnerships and exchange programs,” said Houston.
Many nations transitioning from post-colonial rule are building the foundations of governmental and social systems that reflect the needs of the people, not foreign interests. Thiam noted countries like Ghana are “in need of talented human resource professionals able to bring about successful economic stabilization programs,” he said. “Through MDI, Illinois State can provide Ghana with services not traditionally offered by universities when it comes to professional development.”
One of those services is gaining an understanding of social programs geared toward assisting more vulnerable populations. “Social protection has gained momentum recently among the core MDI workshops,” said Thiam, who began collaborating with the School of Social Work at Illinois State last fall to fulfill requests for officials who were looking to strengthen child welfare and family wellbeing programs in their home countries. “Illinois State has been recommended by international organizations for training, and the instruction from School of Social Work to our international participants has been highly appreciated.”
Houston noted the School of Social Work and its Center for Child Welfare and Adoption Studies exchanged ideas with international partners on growing social issues. “Maybe they’re working with food and sustainability, or identifying needs related to mental health or family functioning,” she said. “We can provide models regarding social service program development, evaluation, and best practices.”
The collaborative work not only met the needs of MDI participants, it also led to greater interest in social work studies at Illinois State. “There are studies similar to social work in places like Ghana, but not many graduate programs,” said Houston, who noted four out of 35 admitted Illinois state social work graduate students will hail from Ghana this fall.
One of those students is Philippa Asante, a graduate social work student who traveled from the Ga-East municipality in Ghana. “ISU has an excellent social work program and good financial support for international students,” said Asante, who met with Houston during her visit in Ghana. “I really appreciate her words of encouragement and motivation.”
Asante plans to return to Ghana after graduation and work with young people. “I love working with children, [especially those] sidelined or marginalized populations and people suffering from mental health issues,” she said, adding the skills she acquires at Illinois State will be “useful in the social transformational discourse.”