Will Hechman | Faculty of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences
The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB) recently offered students from UAPB, North Carolina A&T State University and Tennessee State University the opportunity to travel to the West African country of Ghana. The study abroad program exposes students from three historically black universities to agricultural topics and to Ghana’s history, culture, and people.
Student participants include 2022 UAPB Agricultural Engineering alumni Alison Malone, Tennessee State University Agricultural Science major Jai Lewis, and North Carolina A&T State University Animal Science majors Jeremiah Pouncy and Lyric Armstrong. The students were accompanied by Dr. Emmanuel Asiamah, assistant professor of animal sciences at UAPB, Dr. Nina Lyon Bennett, professor and assistant dean of academics in the UAPB College of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Human Sciences, and faculty/advisor Annette Fields. UAPB Office of Basic Academic Services.
Dr. Asiamah and Fields organized the project in partnership with the UAPB Office of International Programs and Research. Most of the programme of events takes place at Dr. Asiamah’s alma mater, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Kumasi, Ghana.
Dr. Bennett oversaw the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between UAPB and KNUST.
“The signing of the MoU marks the beginning of a long-term partnership that will enable students and faculty to participate in research collaborations and future exchange programmes between the two universities,” said Dr Asiamah. “Next year we plan to have KNUST students come to UAPB to study agriculture. Over the years, we plan to develop this exchange program and increase the number of students who benefit from it.”
Participate in hands-on agricultural education
“While in Ghana, our participants had the opportunity to engage in many farming-related hands-on activities,” said Dr Asiamah. “They were on-the-ground with KNUST students learning about corn breeding, visiting a catfish farm where they learned a bit about agribusiness and even seeing how palm weevil is farmed to produce value-added food.”
During a visit to a poultry farm, the students learned how to sort eggs without using a machine.
“The event at the poultry farm was an eye-opener for the students and gave them a new perspective on things,” he said. “Because they were sorting eggs manually, they had a better idea of how fast egg sorters in the U.S. were working. They couldn’t keep up with the speed of farm technicians, who were able to sort eggs at breakneck speed. “
Create an impactful study abroad program
Dr Asiamah said the idea to start a study abroad program in Ghana came about when Annette Fields visited one of his classes while recruiting students to study in South Africa.
“At the time, I joked, ‘Why not plan a project for my home country, Ghana,'” he said. “But over time, I think this kind of travel will make a lot of sense, especially given my alma mater’s famous agricultural department.”
Dr Asiamah said he was also inspired by the 2019 “Year of Return” campaign in Ghana. The initiative aims to attract foreigners who are black overseas to visit Ghana.
“As part of this initiative, prominent African Americans, including Don Lemmon and Steve Harvey, traveled to Ghana,” he said. “I think it would be great to somehow allow HBCU students – who are not as wealthy as celebrities – to be able to visit Ghana and feel connected to Africa. Unfortunately, the pandemic has disrupted Any plans to visit Ghana as part of the Year of Return event, but then I decided we had to plan a trip to the country for UAPB students.”
In planning the project, Dr. Asiamah worked with Dr. Pamela D. Moore, UAPB’s Associate Dean for Global Engagement, to receive funding from the 1890 Center of Excellence for International Engagement and Development (CEIED), which provided 19 historically black people across the country Serving 1,890 land-grant universities. Engaging students from 1,890 other universities and creating partnerships with universities in Ghana made the program more impactful and helped the grant get approved, he said.
“In addition to supporting Dr Asiamah’s programme, the grants we have received provide key resources to launch the signature study abroad programmes of the Department of Aquaculture and Fisheries and the Department of Humanities,” said Dr Moore. “The Center is funded through Congressional legislation, which includes the establishment of centers of excellence at 1,890 land-grant agencies. Center funding is administered by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).”
Experience Cultural Immersion in Ghana
“Our idea is to give young African-Americans a real experience of a rich culture and history,” Dr. Asiamah said. “The program includes a visit to coastal slave castles that were part of the European Atlantic slave trade. So, it’s a bigger experience than what an American history book can give you. Visiting these castles is more of a pilgrimage for the students—one with them opportunities for ancestral connections.”
Malone said she was impressed by the visit to Slave Castle.
“Going to a slave castle is a humbling experience because it shows you your ancestral lineage,” she said. “It also meant a lot to be there and understand what they went through. We were slaves’ dreams and hopes, so visiting the castle was like coming home.”
Poncey said the most striking moment of his visit to the Slave Castle was seeing the “Gate of No Return” at Elmina Castle. It was through this door that millions of Africans were forced to board ships bound for the United States, where they faced the lives of slaves.
“In Slave Castle, coming face to face with the Gate of No Return, was one of the most impactful moments of my journey,” he said. “It was a very eerie feeling as we walked through the castle. I was able to look around and see where my ancestors were held as slaves, as property. Going back to the door where my ancestors were taken, I was so relieved to never come home again – in a sense, I was able to come back for them.”
Dr Asiamah said he was delighted to see students open and willing to experience a new culture. In addition to regularly interacting and playing games with KNUST students, they enjoy interacting with locals – from restaurant waiters to shopkeepers and market workers.
“At the restaurant, our students try to say a few phrases in the local Twi language, which always gets a positive response from the people who work there,” he said. “They also enjoy visiting the local market, where they learn how to bargain. A few students come to me and brag about the great deals they’ve managed to get.”
Dr Asiamah said he was particularly moved when students told him how their perceptions of Africa had changed as a result of the programme.
“They looked at how developed Ghana was and how everyone seemed to be working hard and starting a business,” he said. “When we went to Kakum National Park, we took a walk on a 100-foot suspension bridge suspended over a dense forest canopy. After that trip, several students commented that they never thought Africa would be So green.”
Another cultural trip is to Bonwire Kent Village, where students learn about the production of traditional hand-woven Kent cloth.
“I love learning about the different symbolism of woven kente,” says Malone. “Colors, designs and symbols have a specific meaning and purpose. There is a story behind the fabric.”
They also visited the WEB DuBois Pan-African Cultural Center, where they learned how the African-American scholar and activist spent his final years in Ghana, the first African country to win independence from colonial rule .
“My biggest takeaway from this study abroad program is that African history and culture has given me so much life and joy,” Ponsey said. “Everyone there was amazing, hospitable, caring and made me feel at home, even though it was my first time there. It also showed me that there was still a lot of information about the world that I didn’t know There are truly limitless possibilities out there as well. I will be back to explore Ghana, the rest of Africa and the world.”
The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff provides all outreach and research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other Legally protected status and are an affirmative action/equal opportunity employer.