The University of Utah already has a foothold in Asia with its South Korea campus —and now is taking its first steps toward establishing itself in Africa.
Official ceremonies to celebrate the opening of Ghana's Ensign College of Public Health — including a dedication service, a Ghanaian festival called a "durbar" and an appearance by the country's vice president — are set for March 13-14.
Supported by a partnership with the University of Utah, Ensign College opened for its first 24 students — each working toward a master's degree in public health — in September 2014.
"Working with joint Utah-Ghana initiatives will pave the way for better approaches to health for both of us," said Senior Vice President of Health Sciences Vivian Lee, MD, PhD, MBA. "We look forward to the opportunity to strengthen ties with our partners across Ghana and especially the Ensign College of Public Health."
A delegation of University of Utah leaders, including Lee and Division Chief of Public Health Stephen Alder, PhD, will travel to Ghana for the launch of the school founded by Utah philanthropists Lynette and Bob Gay.
"We initially got involved to try to help support the development of the college, and it became evident after we were working on this for a little while that we needed to have a more substantial role to help the college be successful," Alder said.
Alder first learned that the Gays planned to open a college of public health in Africa when Bob Gay, a University of Utah alumnus, was being honored at a Founders Day event a few years ago.
"I caught him and just said, 'Hey, we've been working in Ghana for a while and certainly have a good feel for public health and would love to just hear what you're doing,'" Alder said.
The connection was made, and the University of Utah has since helped Ensign College build its academic and operational programming. Alder said the future holds a range of possibilities for the partnership, including everything from the University of Utah housing academic courses at Ensign College to perhaps the Ghanaian college functioning as an extended U campus.
The benefits are bidirectional. University of Utah students will have opportunities to gain a global perspective, and research projects in Ghana could pay dividends in Utah.
"The work that's done over there has a direct impact on the type of work we're doing here," said Alder, noting that Ensign College students are from Ghana and nearby countries. "We're learning to do things in resource-strained environments, and that gives us insights on how we might, for instance, be able to address approaches that will help us reduce health care costs."
Bridget Grahmann, a University of Utah graduate student in public health, will be part of the Utah delegation. While in Ghana, she'll have the opportunity to work on a water sanitation project.
"I think it's so cool that the U is establishing a global presence," Grahmann said. "I'm really interested in learning how global health works in a foreign location. I've only ever learned about it while sitting in a classroom in Utah. So this is a pretty unique opportunity."