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From Ghana to Minnesota: A Geographic Journey

June 11, 2020

While sitting in a geography course as an undergraduate at the University of Ghana, Kwame Adovor Tsikudo discovered a passion that would take him on a journey across continents.  

After graduating in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in geography, Kwame knew he wanted to attend an affordable graduate school in the United States but didn’t know which one to choose. While considering schools across the US, Kwame landed on Minnesota. Wide-eyed and excited, he joined the Department of Geography, Environment & Society as a graduate student in 2011 and appreciated every moment.

Why Minnesota?

To perform public service later in his career as he wanted, Kwame had to obtain a national service certificate in Ghana. He was earning that certificate by working at  the University of Ghana’s Center for International Education Exchange (CIEE) and the Aya Center for Intercultural Exchange. The program brought students, professors, and researchers from overseas, mostly from the United States, to participate in exchange  programs with Ghana.

While he worked there, a group from Minnesota came, led by Dr. Rose Brewer, a professor in the Department of African American & African Studies at the University of Minnesota. Kwame told her he was deciding between universities in California, Colorado, and Minnesota for graduate school, to which she encouraged him to check out UMN. Kwame ultimately chose the U, explaining, “The department’s reputation was high, and the profile of the professors, faculty, and department was also very strong.”

He then connected with Professor Abdi Samatar in the Department of Geography, Environment & Society to discuss what he wanted to research. After several Skype conversations and an important decision, his petition for the UMN graduate program was accepted.

“I had no option but to say this is where I want to be,” Kwame says, “and I've since made Minnesota my home.”

A Passion for Geography

While taking a course called Problems in Geography during his undergraduate studies, Kwame learned about the developmental divide, in which some people or countries are richer or poorer than others. Having interests in geography, political economy, sustainable ecology, and African studies, Kwame began taking steps to “acquire the knowledge to be able to challenge” this divide in our world.

“One of the most enjoyable moments for me in graduate school was the fieldwork,” Kwame says. He explains how enjoyably unpredictable each day in the field was, no matter how detailed of a plan he developed for the day. Any time he went out into the field and something interesting happened, he documented it to discuss with his advisor and committee, to see “if anybody [had] any advice or suggestions about what to prove or...not.”

Kwame adds that the geography, environment, and society department, especially his advisor and professor Abdi Samatar, greatly shaped his experience in Minnesota. Kwame holds Samatar in high regard, saying, “He has a very willful personality, [and he is] very supportive of his students.”

Kwame adds that Samatar pushed him, and all of his students, to do their best and better their intellectual development. During their mentorship, Samatar pushed Kwame to understand how to do his work well and take it seriously.

“There’s always a constant machine that reproduces discourse [around] the narrative about the developing world,” Kwame explains about the ideologies surrounding developing countries. He adds that “those who are committed to the intellectual trajectory [of studying the developmental divide] should always push themselves to make sure that the discourse is changed” to better the lives of and attitudes toward people who live there.

In fall 2019, Kwame defended his dissertation on synergies in China-Africa relations, focusing on the impact their connection would have on both countries’ political economies and sustainabilities.

From the Land of 10,000 Lakes to the Land of Lincoln

After completing his PhD, Kwame was hired as a visiting assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Kwame explains that while he was searching for post-graduate employment, Urbana-Champaign drew him in because the school was comparable to the University of Minnesota in terms of their reputation, as well as the rich and rewarding quality of work done by their Department of Geography & Geographic Information Science.

Last fall he taught two courses, Contemporary Social and Environmental Issues in Geography, and Global Development and Environment. This semester, he is also teaching a third course called The Geographies of Globalization. He explains how the environment in graduate school versus teaching as a professor has given him new perspectives on not only his field of study, but also the academic experience as a whole. He says, “By this time, you are your own boss, even though you go to the department chair—but they trust you [enough] to give you those courses to teach [on your own], so you have to deliver.”

Kwame attributes his independence and skills as a professor to the wide variety of skills he developed during his time in the Department of Geography, Environment & Society. As he continues his professional career in Illinois, Kwame has no doubt taken the knowledge and experience he gained from the U with him, along with that classic Minnesota nice.

“[My graduate school experience at UMN] was profound in shaping what I wanted to do, and I haven't looked back since,” he emphasizes.

This story was written by an undergraduate student in Backpack. Meet the team.