Fourteen scholars and academic leaders arrived from Cameroon, Africa, to visit St. Thomas for a mentor seminar in June. For some, it was their first journey outside their home country. For others, it was their first journey to Minnesota. All of them arrived as strangers and left as friends.
Only Father George Nkeze, president of Catholic University Institute of Buea (CUIB) in Cameroon, had visited St. Thomas before he brought CUIB deans, administrators and campus ministry staff to Minnesota. CUIB was founded in 2009 by Bishop Immanuel Banlanjo Bushu. It has nearly 2,000 undergraduate students and earlier this year received approval to offer graduate degree programs in business, technology and agriculture.
The institution focuses on equipping students to become entrepreneurs – to become “solution finders” instead of “blamers,” as Nkeze puts it, in a country that struggles with high rates of unemployment and corruption. It does this through quality programs and curriculum that are anchored in spirituality and that nurture knowledge, competence and practical skills. Forming future entrepreneurial leaders who are self-confident, have pride in country, and care about their brothers and sisters is seen as a critical step
toward ending Cameroon’s dependence on foreign aid.
To attain full accreditation and governmental approval, all new universities in Cameroon are required to seek counsel and feedback from another university while developing their institutions. Nkeze sought a U.S. university with a strong Catholic identity that could appreciate CUIB’s mission and offer helpful guidance as CUIB developed its own programs and curriculum.
He found what he was looking for at St. Thomas, particularly the practical, interdisciplinary approach of Catholic studies. (A set of required core courses at CUIB are modeled after the required courses for a St. Thomas Catholic studies major.) Individuals in the College of Arts and Sciences, Engineering, Opus College of Business and the School of Law agreed to work with him. Since the partnership began, Dr. Michael Naughton, director of the Center for Catholic Studies, and Dr. John Abraham, professor of engineering, have traveled to Cameroon to observe and consult on CUIB projects.
This latest visit brought members of the CUIB community to St. Thomas from May 29 - June 12, where they participated in almost daily seminar sessions. The seminar was organized by Catholic studies and focused on the challenges of leadership in Catholic higher education. More than 30 St. Thomas faculty members, administrators, staff and local entrepreneurs contributed to various sessions. Discussions centered on the purpose of a university, mission and Catholic identity, curriculum development, technology, marketing, and student and alumni engagement. St. Thomas President Julie Sullivan and Provost Richard Plumb hosted a session, as did Vice President of Mission Father Larry Snyder and Naughton.
Several visits also took participants off campus: to Reell Precision Manufacturing, a company that contributed financial support for the visit, and to House of Talents, a Minneapolis import business whose owner does business in several African countries.
“St. Thomas has really been a true friend, mentor, adviser, guide and collaborator with CUIB, their African friend,” Nkeze said.