Building Leadership Skills and Strengthening Bonds with the African Futures Scholars

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Published: Tuesday, 28 Jun 2022 Author: Raquel Acosta

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The scholars on their way to Traverse City

The MSU “Together We Will” mentality took on a new meaning for AAP’s African Futures Scholars during their recent retreat to Traverse City, Michigan. From May 1 - May 4, 2022 the Scholars, joined by some family members, AAP management staff, and MSU faculty facilitators, participated in various activities, workshops, and discussions in order to not only work towards advancements in their careers but also better the bond within their cohort.


The topics of these workshops covered an extensive list of topics for our early-career women scholars such as utilizing and overcoming strengths and weaknesses, how to obtain and manage leadership roles, and how to build earned confidence in the workspace. However, the discussions that took place during the retreat proved to be inspirational beyond just the academic and educational fields. The retreat cultivated a safe space for the scholars to share their personal struggles and successes as early-career researchers and women in academia. The African Future Research Leadership Program brings together early-career women researchers from all over the continent whose expertise covers a range of disciplines relating to AAP’s six priority areas: agri-food systems, water, energy, and environment, youth empowerment, education, culture, and health and nutrition. The retreat incorporated both a formal component through workshops and lectures, and a more informal aspect as well, which included visits to Traverse City’s vineyards and MSU Extension offices. By incorporating a social aspect, the scholars were given an opportunity for a unique bonding experience for the cohort, while exploring a new region of Michigan. During their time in the program, the cohort have come to know each other very well, but this provided a more personal and intimate look into everyone’s careers, backgrounds, and stories.

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The group visited the local MSU Extension office to learn about their work with the community


This multi-dimensional learning format created a personalized experience that lead to emotional and impactful conversations, led by guest facilitators Dr. Eunice Foster and Dr. Nwando Achebe.  Dr. Eunice Foster is a Professor in the Department of Plant, Soil, & Microbial Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources‚Äč at MSU. Dr. Nwando Achebe is a Jack & Margaret Sweet Endowed Prof. of History and is the Associate Dean, Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion serving in the College of Social Science at MSU. These outstanding faculty leaders have successfully navigated the world of higher education as Black women themselves and were able to pass on their valuable first-hand expertise to the cohort involving a range of topics both in and out of the classroom. By facilitating conversations regarding concerns such as diversity, recognition, and work/life balance the group aimed to build the personal strength and confidence needed to continue to pursue difficult things in all aspects of their lives.

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The African Futures scholars representing Michigan State University


The retreat was an overwhelming success with all those participating, walking away with more knowledge about their career path, their cohort, and themselves. Together, the scholars achieved great progress that they will be able to bring with them to their home institutions in Africa at the end of the program later this summer. The collaborative exchange of knowledge addresses one of the fundamental goals of the African Futures Program, which, is that scholars will strengthen their skills in leadership, team development, research development, engagement, and collaboration, and upon their return to the African continent, will become scientific leaders in their community, help solve Africa’s challenges, and train the next generation of researchers. As stated during the retreat by AAP MSU Co-Director Jose Jackson-Malete, “AAP is planting a few seeds at each university to become the change that African universities need”. The Traverse City retreat made it undeniably and abundantly clear that together, this cohort will become true catalysts for change around the world.