ENSIGN: Game Changer Of Yola
DR. Margee Ensign is the third President of the American University of Nigeria (AUN) located in Yola, Adamawa State. Those who know her attest to the fact that she is so full of life and naturally makes things happen.
She is a widely published scholar whose works focus primarily on the challenges of international development, as well as the implications of development assistance. Her life and work have always been about making her students happy and successful.
Since she came to Nigeria, her passion and commitment to education and the creative re-thinking of development are attested by her influence around the precincts of AUN, Yola. Her humanity has been tested by the challenges of insurgency, which foisted the added responsibility of bringing town and gown together, to make way for peace. The AUN, Yola has catered to the displaced and the emotionally distressed. Ensign is the peace advocate in her location, but she is too modest to attribute the successes to herself. She quickly showers encomiums on her faculty staff and fellow administrators, not forgetting the generosity of the founder, the Turaki Adamawa, Atiku Abubakar, former vice president.
At her duty post, she is the equivalent of a vice chancellor, but here is one who does not abdicate responsibility; she gets down to her tasks with no airs. On a trip round her university community, she would willingly be the ‘bus conductor’ the one who sits by the door, so she could open and get down for others. She would do so for hours, yet retaining her enchanting smile.
She drives for excellence. Under her, AUN has continued to expand the frontiers of knowledge, just as it strives to justify the claim of being the country’s premier development varsity. There, living and studying is a practical experience for students. Students are equipped to do it yourself, so that upon graduation, you do not go in search of non-existent jobs. You simply have to create jobs.
The school has received approval from the National Universities Commission (NUC) to run PhD and Master’s programmes in information systems and computer science effective this new academic session. This development brings to two, the number of doctorate degree programmes the school has secured approval to run, having also secured approval to offer PhD and Master’s courses in Business Administration from the NUC.
On that she said; “The latest approval was consequent upon the acceptance by NUC’s management committee of the resource evaluation reports turned in by a panel of experts, which visited the Adamawa-based school earlier in the year and attested to the institution’s preparedness to run the programmes. Boasting advanced technological infrastructure and digital content delivery in all taught subjects; the university has been fully accredited by the NUC since 2003. AUN uses American accreditation standards, as well as those of the NUC.
“The school is now affiliated with the United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI). The UNAI is made up of academic institutions that focus on global priorities, including peace, human rights, and sustainable development,” she said.
Under her care, the institution has joined nearly 1, 000 colleges and universities in some 120 countries, which are working with the United Nations to promote the above-listed global priorities.
“What we offer our students is an all-round American-style university education that sufficiently equips them to play key roles in helping the Nigerian society to their full potentials. Our students that are already graduates of the institution have proudly taken the school’s values of curiosity, rigour, ambition and hard work into their respective fields of human endeavours, where they want to contribute their quota to changing the country,” she said.
The institution prides itself in enabling its students access some of the world’s best lecturers, sourced from around the globe. Community service programme is a major aspect of learning, where students go out into the local community to learn the reality of poverty, the challenges of development and see what works and what doesn’t.
Ensign is thrilled by interesting stories lives transformed for good despite the challenges in the Northeast.
“Yes, the challenges are enormous, but we are doing our best,” she said. “It’s amazing seeing how women are struggling to learn how to read and write; when you go to secondary schools and their teachers cannot even speak correct English; when you enter classes and you see students on the floor in a classroom with neither ceilings or windows; when you go to an orphanage and you see kids with no one to take care of them; when you go to hospitals that are poorly equipped and the medical doctors are on strike and people are dying; when you see a graduate with a degree without a job, and when you see a mother shedding tears because her children don’t have food to eat, ones perspective changes.
There are many things you can’t be silent about now in Nigeria: girls being kidnapped, young people being killed, women and men losing their spouses, high levels of poverty, lack of accountability for criminal acts including violence in the North, maternal mortality rates remaining among the highest in the world, very low levels of literacy, high unemployment rate and a large portion of the youth without hope. If one chooses to remain silent…well, these are the results.
So, what I am here to plead is that you use your education to impact Nigeria. Use it to impact lives in whatever community you choose to live in. Use it to change your profession, your community and your country. Use it to change the world.
And that is what she does; she is known more in Yola and the surrounding communities than she is in the university community. She touches lives; teaches women who had nearly given up to turn around and create wealth. AUN has given opportunities and second a chance to hundreds of youths who would have remained unsung and untested.
She is also saddened that there is a gap between the leaders and the followers. That up until now, leaders don’t really have a clear picture of what’s happening with their people.
“AUN tries to connect students with the less privileged, where you can have first hand information on their problems. With the tools acquired in a world-class institution, you can easily provide appropriate and long lasting solutions,” she explained.
Rather than depending too much on government, she advocates that people should see how best they could help and empower themselves, within the provision of the law.
“AUN teaches that an individual can provide solutions to the basic needs of any community. We can initiate sustainable projects and find ways to fund them. We must not always wait for help, which might never come. That is how we can put the education to practice.”
The core of education at AUN has been participatory. And this includes participation in classes, research, in-group projects, participation in local development projects through community service, as well as participation in the many activities of a student’s life. This interaction, especially with the local community, has bolstered their sense of community.
This kind of exposure changes people’s perspectives about life. We make our students realise that they have a thousand reasons to be grateful when you see the conditions of others. This type of mindset eliminates the problem of greed, and consequently corruption. We consciously and deliberately teach students to rise above seeming challenges, while making the problems of less privileged people their concern, without being self-centered citizens. This, I believe, reduces selfishness, and ultimately paves way for development in the society and society at large.
On her understanding of the nation’s problems, she says she now knows the depth of Nigeria’s problems and can also see the changes, the improvements and the strengths of its citizens.
“I have also learnt to not only see and criticise Nigeria’s problems, but also to think about solutions to the problems. I strongly believe every Nigerian has something to offer this great country. And that is why we are doing our best in solving the problems that we find in whatever form,” she said.
She came to AUN from the University of the Pacific in California, where she was Dean of the School of International Studies and Associate Provost for International Initiatives. At the Pacific, she set up undergraduate and graduate programmes in social entrepreneurship, Inter-American Studies, and intercultural relations. She also oversaw the Gerber Lecture Series that attracted such globally renowned speakers as Archbishop (Emeritus) Desmond Tutu of South Africa, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Vice-President Gilbert Bukenya of Uganda among others.
Some of her works include: Doing Good or Doing Well? Japan’s Foreign Aid Programme, and Images and Behaviour of Private Bank Lending to Developing Countries.
She earned her BA from the New College in Florida, and her PhD in International Political Economy from the University of Maryland. She began her administrative career at Columbia University, in New York City. There, she combined professorial roles of Politics and Economics with being the director of the International Political Economy Programme. From Columbia, she became the director of Tulane University’s International Development Programme, offering advanced programmes at the Masters and PhD levels in International Development. She also taught as a Visiting Professor at both Georgetown and American Universities, all in Washington, DC. She is a winner of many awards.
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