Closing celebration showcases activities, events of 2-year Africa learning theme

The conference room of Blue Ridge Hall was packed during the afternoon of Tuesday, March 28, for the “Africa Campus Theme Showcase,” a celebratory event marking the culmination of Western Carolina University’s interdisciplinary learning theme for the past two academic years, “Africa! More than a Continent.”

The room was bordered on three sides by tables overlaid with bright cloth, carved lions, painted giraffes and a colorful rhinoceros created with beads and wire. Six groups of students huddled by their tables, awaiting their opportunity to share what they learned about Africa over the past two years.

Opened by Laura Wright, professor of English, and Kofi Lomotey, Bardo Distinguished Professor of Educational Leadership, who served as co-chairs of the Africa theme committee, the afternoon showcased many of the activities and events from the past two years designed to help WCU celebrate and explore the continent of Africa.

The six groups of students presenting at the event shared their experiences about six faculty-led courses that traveled to Africa to study its culture, history, sociocultural dynamics and public health concerns.

“Although all sorts of students participated in these courses, ranging from those who had previous cross-cultural experiences to those who had never stepped on a plane, one thing was clear – not one of them returned unchanged,” said Jim Gieser, study abroad adviser in the Office of International Programs and Services. “Each and every student had been profoundly affected by their Africa sojourn.”

Showcase participants also discussed future opportunities, including an upcoming travel-abroad course to Ghana, led by Lomotey (who has led students there 31 times previously) and a new venture to Sierra Leone, led by Ian Hewer, assistant director of WCU’s Nurse Anesthesia Program, which will provide health treatment services to one of the poorest countries of the world.

A highlight of the event was a performance by the Smoky Mountain Brass Quintet, composed of WCU music faculty, and the Balsam Mountain Brass Quintet, made up of current music students. The quintets presented the debut of “Mountain Sojourn,” a four-movement composition by Bruce Frazier, WCU’s Carol Belk Distinguished Professor of Commercial and Electronic Music, written specifically for the group’s upcoming tour of South Africa.

The celebration ended with tastes of Africa, including South African “bunny chow” – vegetable curry in a bread bowl – and chicken bites flavored by peri-peri, a distinctly South African spice.

“Our campus is grateful for the work of so many who have emphasized this oft-overlooked part of our world,” Gieser said. “Hearing the students share their experiences abroad was a joy. We trust that those who intentionally engaged with the Africa campus theme, not least those who chose to go there, will be forever changed.”

Photos from the showcase event and from other Africa-themed events are viewable online.