Students travel to Ghana to collaborate with community

Over the 2011 Ohio State University spring break, City and Regional Planning (CRP) Assistant Professor Charisma Acey and Lecturer Jaime Greene traveled to Ghana with 18 OSU students as part of a the Ghana Interdisciplinary Study Abroad Program, Sustainable Change.  The OSU students represented numerous academic units from across campus, including CRP, Architecture, Civil Engineering, Agriculture, Global Health, Rural Sociology, Educational Psychology, Workforce Development and International Studies, and comprised part of the 38 students who had enrolled in the winter 2011 “International Development Planning Studio in City and Regional Planning” taught by Professor Acey.

The studio and the trip were part of an ongoing collaborative capacity-building effort between Ohio State students and faculty, the Columbus Ghanaian community, local businesses, and the Offinso North District (Ashanti region, in rural Ghana).  Ghana faces issues such as rapid urbanization, quickly growing informal settlements and the need for strategies to mitigate the effects of natural disasters and the consequences of climate change. The purpose of Sustainable Change was to provide culturally sensitive localized, district planning to assist the Offinso North District in meeting the challenges of population growth. 

The program’s approach focused on working hand-in-hand with the community. Prior to traveling to Ghana, OSU students determined a series of projects on which they would focus. The subjects of each project were derived from an October 2010 visit from Ghanaian leaders, followed by continued communications during winter quarter via Skype, email, and telephone. Working with students from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, the OSU group initiated nine projects focusing on water quality, health care, sanitation, education and agriculture.

Upon arriving in Ghana, the OSU students were joined by town and rural planning students from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, as well as villagers of comparable ages to the students. It is intended that the villagers and KNUST students will carry forward with the work that was begun this spring. Planning for a summer 2012 return to visit by OSU students is already in the planning stages.

Architecture student Alyssa Swisher shared her thoughts on the trip:

"I was fortunate to go to Ghana on a study abroad trip. We traveled to the rural area of the Offinso North District to work on several projects to assist the area.   As a part of the agricultural group I was able to survey farmers and test their soil. Hopefully, our recommendations will lead to an increase in soil fertility and a soil map of the region. We were able to meet the Paramount Chief, and even some children that I plan to send books to and write. I learned that Ghanaians are some of the most happy and hospitable people that I have ever met. I now feel personally invested in helping the people of that area, so I currently am doing an independent study to work on an unfinished architecture project there. Our group intends to continue a long-lasting partnership with the district."

Sustainable Change is a prime example of the kind of challenging and vital hands-on projects that KSA students are engaged in as part of their careers at the Knowlton School of Architecture.  It is a kind of learning opportunity that enriches the in-class experiencing by taking students out of Knowlton Hall and into direct engagement with real-world issues in foreign cultural contexts.  In recent years, KSA faculty have worked to develop an impressive collection of short-term international travel opportunities designed to enhance the educational experiences of our students.

Landscape Architecture Assistant Professor Katherine Bennett’s “International Workshop on Urban Landscape” is an annual summer interdisciplinary workshop series centering on the design of landscapes in the home cities of participating universities.  The program’s initial trip took place in summer 2010 when Professor Bennett led a group of ten KSA students to South Korea, where they worked on a project with students and faculty from the host institution, the University of Seoul. In summer 2011, Professor Bennett took a second group to Thailand, where they were hosted by Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. And next summer, the KSA will host visiting students and faculty from our Korean and Thai IWUL partner institutions. While some KSA students were in Ghana, Architecture Professor Ann Pendleton-Jullian traveled to China with a group of undergraduate and graduate Architecture and Engineering students as part of her spring quarter studio on rural tourism in Guizhou Province. Professor Pendleton-Jullian’s trip was the third in a series of “international studios“ she’s led that include previous trips to sites in Brazil and Shanghai.

And this academic year, Associate Professor Jackie Gargus will take KSA students to China, traveling from Hong Kong to Beijing over the OSU winter break. And during the 2012 spring break, CRP Clinical Associate Professor Kyle Ezell will travel to rural Belize with a group of KSA undergraduates on a rural tourism and development project that is part of a collaboration with a KSA alumnus currently living in Belize as a Peace Corps volunteer.

Initiatives such as these do not develop in a top-down fashion. They only emerge and thrive when there is a consistent interest and passion to pursue them on the part of KSA faculty and students. At the Knowlton School of Architecture, we strive to create a learning environment that supports such programming, in the belief that these experiences not only complement traditional in-class models of learning, but also better prepare our students to excel once they graduate.

If you share the KSA’s commitment to the educational value of international travel and exposure to foreign cultures, and would like to make it easier for the School to continue to support these activities for future students, please consider making a donation to the KSA International Studio Fund.