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Woman in Education: ‘Best to do first degree in one’s country’ —AUN president

…Law faculty to focus on Gender law

THE role of the university in the community cannot be overemphasised. In fact, it is said that any university that does not impact its community positively, is not worth the name. In this chat with Professor Margee Ensign, President of the American University of Nigeria in Yola who is an interviewer’s delight , she speaks with passion on how AUN has been impacting their host community/state, security and their new Law faculty. Excerpts:

By Ebele Orakpo

OUR model: First, we expose the students to the hardest challenges you can imagine because we have lived it. Then they start thinking about solutions; we believe technology is a big solution. The problems facing Nigeria cannot be solved by one department, so we bring the best knowledge and practices to Yola.

“We have joined the Global Liberal Arts Alliance (GLAA) and AAICU and I am on the board representing AUN for both. GLAA has 29 institutions in 17 countries and there are two programmes that our students are a part of. In Global Scholars Programme, students choose a topic to work on and then go to two countries.

So they are out of Nigeria for a year, learning; getting the best education you could get at one eighth the cost in the US but then, we send them out for the same cost to two other countries. AAICU where we hold the vice-presidency is all the American International colleges and universities (25 in 19 countries).

We signed an agreement with all of them so our students can go to any of them, pay our tuition and pay host country’s housing. So again, this does not exist anywhere in the world. So the whole world is open to Nigerian children and this is really important. We have an agreement now with St. George in the Caribbean for medical and dental degrees.


Leaders in the making
“Our students are real leaders in the making. The question everybody should be asking about AUN is whether the students can really apply their knowledge. We are very proud of our students. Some are in graduate school, some have started their own companies.

Chibok girls: We now have 27 escaped Chibok girls, one just came back from the US. When they escaped, they were 58, 10 went to the US and some of them are unhappy, they want to come home. They are doing well though. They are a model of how education can change lives.
Unique Law faculty:“The Law faculty will do what every other Law faculty does but in addition, we will focus on three areas: Gender, Environment and Humanitarian law, – three important areas that no other law school in the country is doing as far as we know.

We are excited especially with the Gender law; no one is doing that systematically. We will be recruiting for the Fall of this year for our first class.”

Knowledgeable people

“We have faculty and staff from 37 countries. We live in unbelievably complex time. You have to be able to deal with diversity not just from around Nigeria but from around the world.

So the first two years, students get a really broad knowledge – science, history, everything they need to be good knowledgeable people. Then, the last two years, they study a specific discipline but we go one more step and this is what is more important, they gain communication and analytical skills and then figure out how to apply the knowledge to solve problems. In my Development course, we talk about some of the problems Nigeria faces as a country and the students are appalled. Many women die preventable deaths so in class, we seek solutions and get students involved.

World class education: According to Prof. Ensign, parents who are sending their children abroad should start thinking of keeping them here because it is better for them from an educational, emotional and intelligence points of view.

I believe that it is better to have them at home for the first degree. They are better off in their own country and culture but you can send them out after the first degree. Our students have everything they need to be successful. People don’t realise that the whole world is in AUN.”

Fighting illiteracy

Feed & Read program: I had some young boys selling water on my street but now, they are enrolled in the Feed & Read program. They are getting an education and nourishment. Our students are teaching them. If these little kids are with their tablets or radios, we can teach them.

It is not a traditional classroom. We teach the boys in front of AUN’s big gate while the girls occupy a whole building on the North campus. These programs can be replicated around the country to solve illiteracy.

Emerging Leaders Academy: These are the quiet kids, 55 per cent of students chosen for this are female so we are doing something out there with women. One of the boys who said he could never stand up in front of a group is now a student government leader so it is not just the education; it is applying the knowledge and becoming a leader so you can solve the problems.

You have to be able to apply knowledge in the real world, otherwise, the education is failing you.

The students teach the kids and then come back to the classroom.

Stellar project: Students Empowered through Language, Literacy and Arithmetic STELLAR. Students in my research class collect the baseline data; they ask such question as why can’t a child read and write? So we have these amazing conversations about education.

A boy said: ‘I never thought I will learn Statistics this way by doing it and trying to understand how much that little girl can read and write.”  The US Government is sponsoring this project. We have six months to reach 22,000 vulnerable kids in the community – 2,000 by tablets, and 20,000 by radio and then we compare. My students have written the script for the radio program and they are doing the program. It’s like Sesame Street, a drama.

In Yola, there are 750 sites for the radio, 750 volunteers in the community sitting with the 20,000 and our students have done all of the shows. Our model is: Learn it, come find solutions, go out and present and be exposed to the world.”

Security team
There is a security issue but Yola is extremely safe at this point. We have a great security team as good, if not better than anybody in the world. I am so proud of what the Assistant Vice-President, Safety & Security, Dr. Lionel Rawlins, has put together.

In fact, one of our board members said he should get a global award for what he has done because look at the university campuses in the US that have been attacked, and we are in the middle of it all and still stay safe! What he did and continues to do is amazing.


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