A New Relationship With a Cameroonian Catholic University

In July of this year a piece of Cameroon, Africa, came to the University of St. Thomas in the form of a delegation from the University Institute of the Diocese of Buea.

This January Dr. Don Briel from the Center for Catholic Studies and Dr. John Abraham from the School of Engineering will be visiting the University Institute of the Diocese of Buea (UIDB) in  Cameroon, West Africa. Their visits are a part of an ongoing relationship between St. Thomas and UIDB that was strengthened this past summer when a group of eight faculty and three administrators from UIDB attended a Summer Faculty Leadership Seminar from July 19 to Aug. 3.

The group from UIDB included a bishop, six diocesan priests, a sister from the order of St. Therese of the Child Jesus and three lay faculty members.  The seminar was organized by the John A. Ryan Institute for Catholic Social Thought of the Center for Catholic Studies and was funded by an anonymous donor. The group engaged in intense study and discussions that benefited and enriched both St. Thomas and UIDB.

The goal of the seminar, which was planned and facilitated by Dr. Michael Naughton, director of the Ryan Institute, and Father George Nkeze, pro-chancellor and interim president of UIDB, was to create a faculty development immersion program for faculty and administrators from UIDB that would have a transformative effect on their work in Cameroon. Part of this transformation involved removing faculty from their usual surroundings and connecting them with faculty at St. Thomas. The focus of the seminar centered on the nature and meaning of Catholic Studies, faculty development in professional schools and governance structures in higher education. Built into the seminar was time for prayer and reflection and focused discussions to assimilate the materials and to explore their implications within a Cameroonian context.

UIDB was established in May 2010 as the first approved Catholic university in the English speaking part of Cameroon. Shortly after its inception Nkeze contacted Briel at St. Thomas’ Center for Catholic Studies. Nzeke saw St. Thomas as a model for its own Catholic Studies program, which serves as the core curriculum of UIDB.

The relationship between St. Thomas and UIDB developed further when Bishop Immanuel Bushu, proprietor and chancellor of the university, and Nkeze attended a conference on the mission and identity of Catholic business schools that was co-organized by Catholic Studies’ Ryan Institute and the University of Dayton. Soon after the conference Naughton visited UIDB with his wife, Teresa, and three of their children. They spent three weeks with Nkeze to assess the current state of UIDB, faculty and curriculum development and governance structures. They began to develop a plan to strengthen the quality of faculty formation on the topic of Catholic mission and identity. The genesis of the plan was to bring a number of faculty to St. Thomas for an intensive examination of their Catholic Studies program, course offerings and professional schools, such as business and engineering.

The seminar was structured in the Aspen style, which involved a variety of readings on the Catholic intellectual tradition and extensive discussion that drew each participant into a deeper understanding of the tradition. Because the seminar was for Cameroonian faculty, the readings were a mixture of papal documents, African sources and traditional essays in the Catholic intellectual tradition. In addition to the readings, many of the sessions featured a speaker to reinforce and expand on the subject of the day. Speakers included Briel and Dr. Robert Kennedy from the Center for Catholic Studies, and Dr. Ken Goodpaster and Dr. Jeanne Buckeye of the Opus College of Business. The group also had meetings with Dean Christopher Puto of the Opus College of Business and Dr. Don Weinkauf, dean of the School of Engineering, who spoke on the importance of mission-driven professional education, the goal of developing highly principled leaders in business and engineering, and the distinctiveness of the Catholic identity in both disciplines.

Father Kevin McDonough welcomed the group to his parish, St. Peter Claver Catholic Church in St. Paul, where they celebrated Mass and connected with the local Cameroonian community.  The group also visited Reell Precision Manufacturing and met with Dr. Kyle Smith, president and CEO of Reell, and Shari Erdman, director of co-worker services. Reell strives to provide exceptional products and services to customers while creating a work environment that fosters the growth of its co-workers. The company provided a unique example of the blending of business, engineering and the way moral and spiritual principles can be lived within organizations.

An encouraging result of the seminar was a plan for future collaborations that include:

  • St. Thomas serving as a mentoring university to UIDB;
  • Three UST Catholic Studies professors serving as mentors to three UIDB professors;
  • Briel visiting UIDB for further faculty development opportunities as well as speaking to its Board of Trustees and the wider community;
  • and the hope of bringing a second set of faculty from UIDB to St. Thomas for another leadership seminar in 2015.

In addition, Cameroon Associate Provost of Engineering Jacques Etchi met with Dr. John Abraham of the School of Engineering. The result was a plan for Abraham to visit UIDB in January to work with the engineering program in Cameroon. We also are exploring the possibility of Cameroon graduates attending St. Thomas master’s programs in Catholic Studies, business and engineering.

On a more personal level, the faculty from Cameroon was thrilled with the opportunity to visit a Catholic university and discuss their own vocations at their new Catholic university in Africa.  Not only were they able to soak up information from noted professors, deans and business people with whom they interacted but they also actively engaged in many discussions in which they considered how this new information could be applied to their university. They developed action plans to be implemented at UIDB in the coming academic year and came away with a broader vision for their university and a renewed commitment of their own vocations. It is the hope of all those involved with the seminar that it will have a tremendous effect on the young African students they encounter and that a ripple effect of instilling Catholic social thought into the university curriculum will be far reaching.

The Cameroon group traveled to St. Thomas seeking a clearer vision of the relationship of Catholic social thought to their institution and to build on their commitment to make UIDB a place of excellence and faith. Equally important, they left us with a piece of Cameroon. Their faith, their joy, their desire to be about God’s work in their vocation left a deep impression on St. Thomas, and we look forward to a continuing relationship. As Etchi wrote on the UDIB website:

“It is a great opportunity to learn about the running of a Catholic university, to share experiences with those who have been in the field and to design the future of UIDB as a Catholic Institution of Higher Education on the basis of information gathered. It is also an opportunity to create relationships which are mutually beneficial to our two institutions especially in faculty development, postgraduate studies for UIDB undergraduates and the development of infrastructures for UIDB campuses.

Read more about the Cameroon Leadership Seminar.