Saturday, February 10, 2007

Visitors from Nigeria

About two years ago, American University became affiliated with a new higher education institution, called ABTI American University of Nigeria. For various personal and institutional reasons, I chose not to become deeply involved. But when AU’s Vice President for International Affairs arranged a visit four AAUN Deans to AU and asked me to play a role, I could not refuse. Among other things, CTE was asked to give a presentation. The duration of our time with the Deans, only an hour, communicated that the Vice President intended it to be little more than a cameo. But these men were guests of AU and so I chose make it a top priority personally, and for CTE staff members. An hour is more than long enough to communicate a powerful message, though not to make connections and engage in meaningful dialogue, especially across cultures.

Preparing for the visit, and reflecting on the challenges of creating a new higher education institution I experienced an epiphany. As I told our visitors, I had not considered Nigeria as a professional interest in decades, but it was the first developing country to which I gave serious study as a graduate student. I read writings and biographies of the Nigerian Federation’s four ‘founding fathers’ and still remember some parts of them vividly. The subject of my first book, Partners in Development (1969), was collaborative programs involving nascent developing country universities and US Land Grant Universities, under AID auspices. I studied eighteen ‘sister” relationships in depth, conducting interviews with participants and reading virtually every document the projects produced. I reviewed more than one hundred projects more superficially and later consulted with AID and a Midwestern university consortium on a project called “building institutions to serve agriculture.”

On Wednesday evening, AAUN’s Dean of the School of Information and Communication Technologies, whom I had helped recruit, accepted an invitation to attend my class, which teaches students to build nonlinear dynamic systems (System Dynamics) models of environmental and development problems. At the class’ conclusion, the Dean told me that he had been seeking an opportunity to study system dynamics because he believed it was essential for pursuing his new research agenda, understanding the causes of poverty. Three weeks ago, I defined a very similar project as my next research focus. After the class concluded, we spoke for nearly 45 minutes about what our research agendas.

I have no idea where this juxtaposition of events is leading, but throughout most of my life, I have tried to be open to “leadings.” I need to be open to the possibility that the higher power who shapes our lives, sometimes tragically as well as joyfully, is sending me a message.


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