School girl washes hands in new restroom in Ghana.
School girl washes hands in new restroom in Ghana.

Teaching in a new academic environment was one of numerous culturally-enriching experiences of Muriel Harris, PhD, MPH, associate professor, Department of Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences, during her Fulbright Scholar Program award in Ghana from September 2015 through July 2016.

“The resilience and commitment of students and faculty to education in spite of challenges, including access to library resources and learning tools, periodic power outages, and logistical problems, was truly inspiring,” Harris said.

During her time in Ghana, Harris worked as professor at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Kumasi, School of Public Health, teaching a course in curriculum development and three courses on a variety of health promotion topics. She co-wrote two grants, served as a supervisor for a graduate student thesis and one dissertation, and completed a curriculum development project resulting in a report, “School of Public Health KNUST, Curriculum Development Study Report”. Harris also worked on a research project about the perpetration of sexual violence with the non-profit organization, Ultimate Health; she hopes to continue that research agenda in the United States.

As a result of her engagement with KNUST students, Harris helped lead a community development project to build and commission a restroom facility with six toilets for 350 students and teachers at Pramkese Presby Primary School. She says restrooms are scarce in less populated regions of Ghana, and although this was not an expectation of the Fulbright program, she made personal contributions to help make the project possible.

“It was fulfilling to be a role model for community development, and see how others came together to give funds or in-kind gifts like cement to create a much needed facility that we often take for granted in the United States,” she said.

Among the other highlights of Harris’ experience included participating in the Rotary Club of Kumasi, attending Akwasidae – a festival held every 42 days to pay homage to the Ashanti King, and helping host a U.S. ambassador.

“The most important lesson I learned was that everyone wants the best from their lives, and strives for that goal in the best way they know,” Harris said. “It is important when immersing into another culture to find out what people want and support that rather than going in with an agenda and trying to create change. It is best to merge with their philosophies.”

About the Fulbright Scholar Program

Each year, the Core Fulbright Scholar Program awards nearly 600 teaching, research or combination teaching/research awards in more than 125 countries. The competitive program is open to college and university faculty and administrators, as well as artists, journalists, scientists, lawyers, independent scholars, and other professionals.