Fulbright scholar turns spotlight on Africa

September 30, 2008

Christopher Molem, at McDaniel College this semester as a visiting Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence from Cameroon, hopes that by the time he leaves campus anyone he has met, taught or chatted with will have a deeper appreciation of the rich diversity of culture, issues and ideas among Africa’s numerous countries.

He especially hopes to change students’ perspectives.

“Students who will be the leaders of tomorrow need a clearer picture of Africa,” he said during a recent interview after teaching one of two classes, Economic Rights and Development. He also is teaching African Political Economy.

Molem, whose expertise is in African development and political economies and globalization, added that he has been impressed with his American students’ intense curiosity.

“They want to pass the class, but they also really want to know” about Africa, he said. “They come to class having read way ahead of the lecturer. They are eager to know more.”

McDaniel students seem just as impressed with Molem’s teaching style as he is with their academic prowess.

“It started out as just a class to take,” said Shawn Christianson ’11, a Political Science major who took Advanced Placement economics in high school and had a passing interest in Molem’s courses. “But now it has become a personal interest of mine. He’s by far the best professor I’ve had. He really knows his stuff. He’s from Africa. He’s not just coming from a textbook.”

Rebecca Odegaard ’10, who is interested in a career in international social work, said she appreciates that Molem has taken the time to learn his students’ majors and relates issues in class to their interests.

“He tell us, ‘What I teach you, I really want you to know,’” said Odegaard, who plans to see Molem in Cameroon during Jan. Term.

Molem is chairman of the Department of Economics and Management at the University of Buea in Cameroon, which he said is the only English-speaking university in the central African sub-region. About 16,000 students attend the university, and about a fourth of them major in economics, management, banking and finance or accountancy, he said.

At the University of Buea, Molem said he is working on launching an MBA program. Next month, the university is scheduled to start offering post-graduate programs, an effort that he was integral in establishing.

Molem has taught development economics at the University of Buea for 11 years. A typical class, he said, enrolls about 800 students, and sometimes as many as 1,150 – a huge difference from his classes at McDaniel, where, for example, he is teaching eight students in his Economic Rights and Development course.

In addition to his teaching duties, Molem has joined his McDaniel host, Debora Johnson-Ross, associate professor of Political Science and International Studies, in several public speaking engagements.

In September, Molem and Ross-Johnson addressed the National Council of Negro Women’s Black Family Reunion in Washington, D.C., with a presentation titled, “Women Negotiating Livelihoods in a Fragile Economy: Cameroon.” While there, Molem also was part of a panel discussion called, “One Shared World: African American Women & Our Global Responsibility.”

The two professors also recently spoke at the Peace and Justice Studies Association in Portland, Ore. In November, they will be presenting a paper at the African Studies Association Meeting in Chicago.

Soon, the two hope to schedule a presentation on Cameroon for the Carroll County Public Library. And Molem plans to present a public lecture at McDaniel before he leaves the United States at the end of the semester.

Molem said he worked with Johnson-Ross two years ago when she spent a year in Cameroon on a Fulbright grant. This year, she received a Fulbright Scholarship-in-Residence award to bring him to McDaniel.

The Fulbright program is the U.S. flagship program for international academic exchange with more than 140 nations. It offers a variety of awards for long-and short-term exchanges from senior scholars to students and for research and teaching.

Molem, who is married and has a 6-year-old daughter, Cindy, said he is hopeful that other McDaniel professors will have the opportunity to spend time in Cameroon, and in particular at the University of Buea.

And he hopes to stay in touch with his McDaniel students.

“My class is like family to me,” he said.