INSIDE AMERICAN UNIVERSITY IN NIGERIA
The meaning of the abbreviation ICT, I am sure, you know too well (Information and Communication Technology), but how about CS? You have no idea of what it means? Well, for the pregnant mother waiting in a labour room to be delivered of her baby through surgery or medical operation, it may mean caesarian section (CS) but at the American University of Nigeria (AUN), Yola, CS stands for Community Service.
Tagged SSS, abbreviation initials it shares with Nigeria's State Security Service or Senior Secondary School, at AUN, SSS stands for Students Serving Society. A totally new concept in the university-community relationship, endorsed by the President of the university, Dr. Margee Ensign, the spirit behind it seems to be driving every student and staff that you see on the university campus to go looking for whatever help they can offer to make themselves relevant in the lives of the people of their community. Such services include teaching the local school pupils, painting their schools, coaching them on some sporting skills, and lending financial help to indigent students where necessary, etc.
'There was one school we went to, Miss Hashiya Sanusi-Bayero, grand-daughter of the Ado Bayero of Kano, recalls in a chat with Education Review. 'The teachers there did not have enough chalk to write with. In fact, the situation was such that the whole school had only one packet of chalk, to which the teachers returned the rest of the chalk they wrote with at the end of the school day; otherwise they would not see the chalk to write with, the following day. We bought for the school enough packets of chalk to go round the classrooms. Coming from a fairly comfortable environment, this community service of a thing has opened my eyes to see the sufferings that others are going through and to see the way I can help. I find the experience very exciting.'
'For me it is very exciting to see our students take to a programme that says you are not here in this planet just for yourself; you are here to share with others what you have,' Dr. Margee Ensign, President of AUN, remarks. 'The vision here is to never have a separation between knowledge for own sake; the knowledge we have should be applied to make things better. So we are talking about reorienting our programmes to connect the theory with the application. The Social Entrepreneurship programme is a vehicle for doing that.
'When I first came here I was told, 'oh, Nigerian students didn't do community service.' It is not something they might be interested in. To the contrary, once we really opened up opportunities for AUN students they liked it. I think it is one of the exciting things on campus - our students serving society. They go into the community on Fridays. Last semester 270 students worked half of the day every Friday for the entire semester.'
In Yola, the natives are grateful for the much-needed help they've receiving through the AUN's community service. It was such Macedonian call for help that propelled Ebuka Ukwa, majoring in Communications, to, in October, last year, donate over N30,000 to 15 indigent orphans studying at Government Day Secondary School, Yola. Ukwa told AUN NEWSLETTER, an in-house publication of the university, that he was inspired to make the donation following a trip to the school where he was moved by the inability of the orphaned students to pay their school fees standing in arrears for two years.
The beneficiaries, who are all in the Junior School cadre (JSS), were on the verge of withdrawing because of their parents' incapacity to pay their fees. Ukwa said the donation was meant to clear the outstanding fees and pay in advance for another full academic session.
'I think the community is really thrilled with these new initiatives,' Ensign said. 'We have tremendous economic power in this community. We need to reach out more and I think the community is responding very favourably. So I see very positive reactions in what the students are doing.'
'Impressions about us are beginning to change as they see a lot of our students going to do community service,' Abubakar Abba Tahir, Director of PR and Communications, adds.
There's another angle to the Social Entrepreneurship or the SSS philosophy and that is the angle of fellow students engaging in whatever menial job they can do or social services they can render, this time, for a fee, in order to raise money to, collectively, take care of the financial needs (including tuition and boarding fees) of indigent students among them. Sometimes, the more buoyant ones task themselves to raise some money from their pocket money, in order to help. 'We are like one big family here,' Sanusi-Bayero, quips. Education Review discovered this to be true the week it visited the campus. Pasted by AUNHS (American University of Nigeria Honours Society), on one of the notice boards in Peter Okocha's Hall was this notice.
'Members of the AUN Faculty will be cycling from Numan to Yola on the 26th of February, in order to raise money for the AUNHS Scholarship fund for AUN students', a part of it read. 'Join us in creating the AUNHS SCHOLARSHIP FUND!!! 1 mile = 1.609km =N500. Then it adds that 'donations are accepted per mile. No contribution is too small.'
In case you don't understand what you've just read, what the notice is saying in a nutshell is that financial proceeds from the 'Cycling for Charity' event will be used to take care of the financial needs of indigent AUN students. In fact, sources say 10 per cent of the internally generated revenue (IGR), is devoted to need-based and merit-based scholarships. It was through such self-help efforts that the students are raising funds to build a recreational park on the campus. Other means by which students could raise money to perform a given mission, Mr. Joseph Johnson, the Vice President, notes, is by writing a business plan for social enterprise. Education Review understands that AUN students, especially from the School of Business and Entrepreneurship has been helping the community groups to write their business plans, for a fee, in order to raise money to give scholarship to indigent AUN students.
The American University of Nigeria (AUN), formerly Atiku Abubakar Training Institute (ABTI) was founded by the former Vice President of Nigeria, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar following discussions and MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) he entered with the American University in Washington, D.C.
The university which opened its doors to its first students in 2005 was later renamed American University of Nigeria, in conformity with practices of other AU affiliates, such as the American University of Beirut, American University of Cairo, and the American University of Paris.
A big poster used to drape one part of the hall in the outer office of Basil Fahmy, the Director of Admissions talks about AUN being a university 'where students' dreams become Africa's future.' The notice further advertises the university's cutting edges as: excellent library and research facilities.
It also talks about its American-educated professors and scholars. As a matter of fact, about 90 per cent of members of the teaching staff were educated in America. They include Mr. Joseph Johnson, the Vice-President; Professor Augustine Odinma, Dean, School of Information Technology and Communication and Communications; Professor B. Lawal, Dean, School of Arts and Sciences and his wife, Professor Nike Lawal, head, Department of English Language and Literature (she and her husband taught in America for over 20 years); Professor Leo Ukpong, Dean, School of Business and Entrepreneurship (who taught in America for about 15 years); Dr. Apollos Goyol, Acting Dean, Students Affairs and Professor Richard M'bayo of School and Arts and Sciences. A Sierra Leonian, he'd taught for about 25 years in America before joining the AUN.
'One beautiful thing about learning at AUN is that it is student-centered,' Nike remarks. 'It is unlike the British model in Nigeria where students sit passively to wait for knowledge to be impacted into them. Here students get actively involved in research and do critical thinking on given ideas. They are not bound to accept your idea if they can show convincingly show that yours is wrong. They have that freedom to explore ideas on their own.'
Nike recalls a funny incident that happened one day in the course of her teaching. 'Forgetting that I was coming from an American background, I had told my students to 'put a period there' in the course of teaching a Literature course. But they were all looking at me and wondering what I meant by period. I said, 'Oh, yeah, period is the American equivalent of British full stop.' Since then they've learnt what period means' (she laughs).
Talking about student-centered learning obtainable at AUN, Professor Linus Osuagwu's view of School of Arts and Sciences agrees with that of Nike. Osuagwu who noted that teachers devote about nine hours a week, in their offices, to attend to students who have problems, to discuss with them noted that 'it is not compulsory but a must,' before adding that 'it is not something common in other Nigerian universities where I had taught before this time.'
He also talks about the flexibility of the American system of education practised at AUN. 'Here nobody compels you to read. You can decide to read a course of four years within two or two-and-a-half years. It all depends on your ability and capability. Such flexibility helps students to play some role in taking decisions that affect their fate.'
Talking about research AUN has recorded many achievements as far as academic research is concerned. Apart from the eBallot software designed and developed by Emeka Osigwe and Tosin Komolafe (see cover story), two alumni of the university, Ogbonnaya Kalu, then of the School of Information Technology and Communications and Luke Dalughut, a Business Economics major, had recorded a path-breaking feat in the large-scale management of cafeterias, especially in schools, universities, hospitals and all the places where meals are prepaid and served in large numbers, by developing and successfully testing point-of-sale (POS) software, customized to aid in accurate, instantaneous and hassle-free recording of cafeteria transactions.
In fact, the software which has a video-display terminal that can track individual transactions at the cafeteria and deduct a single meal from each student's prepaid meal plan, is currently in use at the AUN cafeteria. This reporter watched, in awe, administrative staff of the cafeteria using it when he visited the university, late last month.
Kalu, who belongs to the 2009 class, says: 'It's the first of its kind from my company's perspective.' He adds that the software, also known as AUN Cafeteria Manager, eliminates possibilities of forgery and record manipulation while it also provides an effective monitoring system for all cafeteria activities.
As at today, Kalu leads Hit-d-wave Technology Services Limited, a company he established after graduation from AUN, as chief executive officer; he is also a graduate student of Information Systems with Network Security at the Cleveland Institute of Electronics in the United States of America.
Kalu's collaborator, Dalughut, also belongs to the 2009 class. Listing some of the salient features of the software to include ability to display the total meals served during a particular meal time and the instantaneous counting mechanism, he notes that the Cafeteria Manager 'is custom-designed to deduct a single meal from a student's meal plan when used at the cafeteria. As more students swipe their cards, it displays the owner's portrait at the point of sale, thereby ruling out fraudulent re-use of the same card by a third party, and it links every meal served to a particular student's identity card.'
This development has reportedly brought a big relief to the university as the hitherto recurring headaches associated with loss of meal tickets, students faking meal tickets to defraud the university, time to sort and submit used meal tickets by the caterer for payment, and time to count and confirm the authenticity of the submitted meal tickets, is, today, no more a thorny issue.
'We hope to be a community of researchers where we can have solution to different social problems and connect our students more so that as future leaders of their country, they learn what the problems are and begin to understand what solutions might work,' Ensign said. 'Many universities have a separation between generating knowledge and research and being involved in their communities. We don't want a university like that. We want a university whose entire focus generating knowledge that leads to solution. That's really revolutionary. Our mission is to ensure that the teaching and learning that we do makes life better for the people. It's quite a goal and we have to work together to figure out how we accomplish that.'
Other features that make AUN unique are the fact that it runs a flexible curriculum. Depending on his or her academic ability, a student may choose to finish in 2 ? years or graduate with two degrees in a course/courses, that, ordinarily, would have taken him four or eight years.
Of course, there is the small-class size philosophy which stipulates not more than 25 students per class, the Study Abroad Programme which enables a student to participate in exchange programme, the emphasis on Social Entrepreneurship otherwise known as Students in Free Enterprise and the compulsory community service for students and faculty staff. In addition, there is PC (personal computer) per student, faculty and for every staff. During this reporter's visit, all the students that this reporter had interaction with had one with them.