September 7, 2017
As Ashesi’s first Dean of Student and Community Affairs, Linda Young-Ribeiro helped lay a strong foundation for the university’s success today. Along with a dedicated team, Linda supported strategic planning, counseled students, cultivated a vibrant social life on campus, and developed student health, food, and residential services. Her contributions will be felt for decades to come.
Here, Linda shares her Ashesi journey, from curiously following an “ASHESI” sign in Labone, to helping prepare for Ashesi’s first academic year, to visiting the site of our permanent campus in Berekuso. And why, more than 15 years after discovering the fledgling university, she continues to give.
How did you discover Ashesi and become the the first Dean of Student & Community Affairs?
I had been living and teaching in Accra throughout the 1990s, first at the Ghana International School (GIS) and then at the American (Lincoln Community) School. Educational technology was very new in Ghana then, and in addition to teaching, I developed and managed the technology programs in both schools. During my daily commute, I remember noticing signs around town with just one word, “ASHESI”, along with an interesting logo and directional arrow. I had no idea what ASHESI was, but was curious. I inquired and was informed that it was a new school, which intrigued me even more.
One day I decided to follow the signs. They led me to a small residential compound in Labone where I first encountered Ms. Mildred Wulff, whom I immediately recognized as a former GIS student, and who was then Ashesi’s Director of Admissions. She welcomed me and, after giving me a tour of the school, took me to meet Dr. Patrick Awuah. We talked and he elaborated on his vision of Ashesi, which immediately resonated with me. I knew right then and there that I wanted to be a part of it.
After applying and participating in a very grueling interview process, I was ecstatic to be offered the position of Dean of Student and Community Affairs. At the end of Lincoln’s academic year, I joined Ashesi’s Executive Team. We spent several months preparing for the beginning of our first academic year. Our pioneer group of 30 students began class in 2002. The rest is history.
What was Ashesi like in its earliest days?
Our Labone campus was very small, but quite efficient. We began with all the critical components of a school in one small residential compound. It was all very simple, but well planned; the library, the canteen, the health center, the computer lab, the classroom and offices. Mr. Casper Annie was in charge of the facilities. Our offices were on the second floor. I shared a tiny office space with Professor Nana Apt, then Dean of Academic Affairs, and we collaborated on various initiatives, including Ashesi’s first student government and the Women of Ashesi. She was a very remarkable and dedicated woman. It was an honor to work with her.
Ashesi quickly outgrew its small space and expanded to a second compound within walking distance further down the road. It was beginning to feel like a true campus.
The Berekuso campus at that time was an expansive hilltop covered with nothing but brush. I remember visiting the site and trekking through the brush with Ms. Wulff and Dr. Awuah, while he described the future campus to us. I also remember looking at the architect’s renderings, thinking how beautiful this campus will one day be.
Today, Ashesi’s breathtaking campus attests to the commitment of all those who helped make the vision a reality.
What did you enjoy in your role? What challenges did you face?
I felt honored and thoroughly enjoyed being a part of the small extremely dedicated and hardworking team who all shared the same vision and steered Ashesi during its infancy. I learned very valuable lessons in leadership from working with Dr. Awuah. The students were a joy to work with; bright, eager to learn and grow, ready to explore new ideas that challenged their own assumptions…hardworking and so considerate of each other. I wanted to do everything I could to make their Ashesi experience the very best possible.
Our local team would meet regularly to set our individual and collective agendas. We also discussed issues that were inevitable in such a venture, ranging from infrastructure and expansion challenges to the constant hiring of additional personnel. Managing Ashesi’s rapid growth was very challenging. Our team also held regular strategic planning meetings via conference calls with our advisory board at UC Berkeley, Swarthmore College, and University of Washington. We each always had much to do within very strict time constraints. My primary areas of responsibility included developing the health center, food service, and residential options for our students, as well as supporting the students in the creation of a vibrant social life on campus. I was responsible for organizing and chairing the judicial committee; an unpleasant but necessary task. I also provided the students with personal counseling.
The greatest challenge I faced by far was having to make the decision to leave Ashesi. I was so happy there, but I was needed by my family back in the U.S. Saying good-bye and leaving my students and colleagues was very difficult.
“I felt honored and thoroughly enjoyed being a part of the small extremely dedicated and hardworking team who all shared the same vision and steered Ashesi during its infancy.”
Looking ahead, what interests you most about Ashesi’s future?
I’m particularly excited about how contagious ‘The Ashesi Way’ is becoming. With its strong emphasis on critical thinking, innovation and ethical leadership, Ashesi has become a model of higher education that other African universities are gradually learning about and emulating. It’s very exciting that over time, more and more students across the continent will have the opportunity to experience similar types of educational programs in preparation for leadership roles. Over time, Africa’s future will look brighter and brighter.
Today, you give monthly to Ashesi. How do you feel each month when you give?
Although I had to physically leave Ashesi, my belief in its vision is just as strong today as it was that day I entered that small compound in Labone and first learned about it. My monthly donations are my way of staying connected to Ashesi. I’m proud to be a member of the Ashesi community. Each year, Ashesi graduates continue to venture out and make their mark, each in their own way changing the trajectory of their lives, and those of their families, their communities, their countries, and of Africa. My financial contributions enable me to know that I’m contributing to their successes and a positive future for Africa. As long as I’m able, I will continue to give.
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