On November 20th, an earth-shattering event took place. And, it wasn't a terrorist attack or a mass shooting, or a devastating earthquake. It was an antidote to the world's ills: A beacon of hope.
The first students graduating from the newly accredited African Rural University on November 20, 2015, included the Pioneer Students who, since 2006, have co-designed and refined the University Curriculum and worked in the field to test the curriculum's efficacy in producing the desired outcomes: students who are able to help rural Africans transform their lives, livelihoods, and communities.
African Rural University Graduates Prove its Model Works
On November 20th, The African Rural University graduated its first class of 24 students--all received a Bachelor's of Science in Technologies for Rural Transformation. An additional group of students received Certificates for shorter two-year courses in Rural Entrepreneurship and Business Management.
Pioneer student, Epicenter Manager, and recent ARU graduate, Charlotte Mbaine Ampaire, shows off her diploma.
But, this isn't a story about young women graduating from college. Seventeen of these 24 female students aren't "just" proud university graduates in a country--Uganda--in which very few women finish secondary school, let alone earn a university degree.
Pioneer Students Co-Created a New Kind of University
The Original Charter Class of ARU Pioneer-Students with their faculty.
These 17 young Ugandan women are the pioneer students who co-created the African University and tested the efficacy of its curriculum by taking jobs with the parent organization, URDT, to put into practice what they learned in neighboring sub-counties. They CO-DESIGNED an innovative new UNIVERSITY, REFINED its unique CURRICULUM, and TESTED that CURRICULUM for 5 years by working with thousands of rural Ugandans.
Pioneer student, Epicenter Manager, and recent ARU graduate, Mary Goreth Anakuya, leads a discussion and demonstration about raising and eating green leafy vegetables for better nutrition.
Pioneer Students Co-Created a New Career Path
Each of these 17 pioneer students took a job as an "Epicenter Manager" in one of 15 Ugandan sub-counties, working alongside Sub-County Development Officers, Sub-County Chiefs, and Sub-county Chairpersons. Their jobs were to help people in these rural farming communities envision better lives for themselves and their families, and to help them do what it took to realize their visions.
Two Epicenter Managers in adjoining towns helped villagers mobilize to build a road connecting them to schools and markets.
Before the Epicenter Managers joined the Sub-County offices, people in these communities were largely disaffected and dissatisfied with the ability of their local governments to improve their circumstances. Within the first couple of years of the Epicenter Managers' tenure, community members began working together to build schools for their kids, to sanitize and protect their water sources, to form farmers' cooperatives and savings and loan societies, to build roads, to improve marketplaces, to increase the productivity of their farms and gardens, and to launch new business ventures. In short, these University Grads proved that they had mastered the ability to help 30,000 people transform their lives and their communities.
An Epicenter Manager helped this group of parents create and build a nursery school for their children. As the children grew, the parents mobilized themselves again to build a local Primary School.
Pioneer Students Mentor the Next Cohort of University Students
These 17 Pioneer students not only proved that their education made them competent Rural Transformation Specialists; they also became the mentors for the next cohort of ARU students. Starting in 2014, each class of ARU students spends 9 months interning in the field working alongside an Epicenter Manager during their last year of University. The Epicenter Manager is an ARU graduate, now working as a Rural Transformation Specialist responsible for community transformation in an entire Sub-county. Epicenter Managers are employed by Uganda Rural Development and Training (URDT) and requested by the government officials in each Sub-County because where they work, economic development ensues.
Pioneer student, Epicenter Manager, and recent graduate, Joy Alinda, (second from left) meets with Village officials. Other students observe and learn, including an American college student doing research on the efficacy of the ARU curriculum.
New Model for University Education?
There are other colleges and universities around the world in which students have been heavily consulted in the creation of the curriculum and the evolution of the courses. Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts springs to mind. Yet, nowhere have I witnessed such a prolonged, closed loop process of testing, evolution, and development. The African Rural University isn't content to educate women and send them off into the world as newly minted development professionals. Instead, ARU has created a customer ecosystem, in which the students, the graduates, the faculty--which includes professors and Traditional Wisdom Specialists recruited from the rural countryside--work together with members of the surrounding communities and the government officials who serve those communities to help local people--the real end-customers--improve the quality of their lives. They judge the results of their teaching and learning by the results that are achieved by the people in the surrounding communities. For more information about the African Rural University in Uganda, read my article on The Evolution of the African Rural University, and visit their website.
Recent graduate, ARU Pioneer Student, and Epicenter Manager, Resty Namubiru, listens attentively to village elders during her practicum in the village of Kabamba in 2007.