A collaboration between the University of Utah and private donors has been instrumental in opening a new college of public health in the Republic of Ghana in West Africa. The first class of students recently enrolled at the Ensign College of Public Health, based in Kpong, Ghana, which offers a two-year master's in public health.
The school's inauguration will take place at its newly built campus Saturday, March 14.
Although the University of Utah has offered short-term programs in Ghana for more than a decade, Ensign is another step toward expanding the University's global presence while benefiting both African and American students.
"It is a way to bridge the world," said Stephen Alder, Ph.D., professor of family and preventive medicine and chief of the Division of Public Health at the University of Utah. He will represent the University of Utah at the inauguration along with others including Vivian Lee, M.D., Ph.D., M.B.A., senior vice president for health sciences.
The U's role at Ensign is advisory, although discussions are underway for it to grow, which eventually could include more campus management and joint educational programs. Prior to the campus opening, Alder was on search committees for the Ensign dean and faculty members, some of who are now also adjunct faculty at the University of Utah.
That reflects the formal recognition of their qualifications, explained Alder, who is also a member of Ensign's board of governors.
"It also sends a symbolic message that we're invested in them and feel they're part of an extension of what we want to have as an impact for the University of Utah," he said.
The Ghana college, more than six years in the making, was almost entirely funded by private American donors. That primarily includes Lynette and Robert Gay, who had served an LDS mission in Ghana and wanted to give back.
All 24 students currently enrolled are West African, predominately from Ghana. Ultimately, the goal is to expand Ensign to include other academic specialties including business, engineering and nursing.
Traveling to Ghana is part of the education for University of Utah public health students, who go there to learn about its health system and health challenges and to educate community members on topics such as clean water and sanitation. Faculty members also have gone to teach and be taught by their Ghanaian counterparts. Alder described it as a "a terrific academic exchange where ideas from us are brought over and merged." Students from Ghana have come to study at the U as well.
While the school works on achieving accreditation, students initially will receive degrees from Ensign's mentor institution, the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, also in Ghana.
The University of Utah's previous programs in Ghana, ranging from anesthesiology to ophthalmology, thrived thanks to strong partnerships and a stable political climate, according to Alder. He stressed that the U can learn much more from Africa's health system than most people would assume.
"We think in Africa they need all this help," he said. "But if you look at our health system, with its runaway costs...we go to a country like Ghana and learn what they've done because of their limited resources."
Alder noted that having a global presence is becoming a necessity for "top-flight competitive institutions." And that international effort benefits everyone.
"By having a global presence we are thinking very differently about being a world-class institution," he said. "And we are involved with partners around the world who help us up our game."