March 30, 2006
10 Questions for Guy-Alain Amoussou
story and photo by BOB DORAN
The Journal spoke with Humboldt State University computer sciences professor Guy-Alain Amoussou this weekend, a couple of days after his return from Sri Lanka on behalf of the college's International Program. At the time, he was preparing for the culminating event for a project of his foundation, the Consortium for Education and Technology -- a pair of concerts on Saturday, April 1, bringing West African music and dance to the Van Duzer Theatre.
1. Where are you from?
Côte d'Ivoire, on the west coast of Africa. It's mostly known as the Ivory Coast, but the official name is French: Côte d'Ivoire.
2. How did you end up here in Humboldt?
It's a long story. I was in France, where I lived for 16 years, studying and then teaching, then decided to look for more challenging opportunities. I applied to a couple of American universities and chose to come to Humboldt. That was in the spring 2000. I was hired as a computer science professor, then, about a year ago, I was appointed director of the International Program, housed in the Office of Research and Graduate Studies.
3. What is the International Program? Is it primarily about recruitment?
It includes a number of other things. I also spend time with faculty designing study-abroad programs, and with the advisor for that program, Bernard Michaud, evaluating those programs to make sure they are safe for our students to go abroad.
So it goes both ways: We welcome international students and scholars and also send students abroad. But I have definitely made the recruitment piece my top priority. We desperately need more international students on campus because of what it brings us.
4. I understand you just returned from Sri Lanka. Why Sri Lanka?
Sri Lanka because we have welcomed two students from there who are currently in our MBA program. I talked at length with those students when they joined Humboldt State. They loved the way they've been treated when they got here. I was able to do a number of things for them: Welcome them, find a place for them to live at a really cheap price. I was able to find them a fee waiver and connect them with the faculty. All the attention provided to them prompted them to encourage me to go to Sri Lanka. And many, many Sri Lankan students go abroad to study. They helped me prepare for my trip, and they were there as my guides in Sri Lanka when I was there [during] spring break. It was very successful, more than I could expect.
5. Why is it important to bring international students here?
Well, I have been an international student myself. I know what the international perspective brought to me as a student. I see, when I teach something like a computer science class, how the international perspective impacts my teaching. We could go on and on about how it can benefit our campus.
Let me start here: We talk about diversity. This has been high on the campus agenda. And truly one element that adds to diversity is the presence of international students, and also professors. For me there is no question about it. International students bring a diverse perspective, not only by their race, their color, their ethnicity, but also what I call the diversity of the mind. Just imagine a classroom setting, a business class; a student from Sri Lanka will bring to the discussion something that Americans may never know or may never have talked about. We're talking about a global village here, and people who are going to decide tomorrow are the ones we're educating today.
6. Is there a connection between your work on campus and your organization, the Consortium for Education and Technology?
I would say yes and no. The Consortium is a foundation that I started with my wife three years ago. It has no link with the university; the only connection is me. But the purpose [of CET] is the same. The goal of the foundation is to build bridges between Africa and the West ... to bring West African culture and diversity into the elementary schools.
7. Are you talking specifically about the program La Légende des Djialy (The Legend of the Storyteller)?
That project was geared toward bringing more of Africa into the classroom. How do you educate children here in Humboldt County to know more about that part of the world? The common denominator with the International Program is in the goal: To help people realize that we can learn from other places, that there is something else outside the U.S. And it can be rich.
8. And the Caravan Djialy has been touring schools this last month?
We actually started working on the project last summer, planning and executing. Our vision was to provide resources on West African culture to the teachers, who in turn take them back to the kids and explore with them. We had two workshops in February. At those workshops I learned so much from the teachers, learned that they were hungry, that they needed more resources and wanted to include more about Africa. But unfortunately they are limited, they have to find the resources themselves, and all that they teach must feed the California requirements.
With the help of Jack Bareilles at McKinleyville High, we showed how teaching about West Africa culture was linked to the California standard. That was the first element, providing the teachers with the resources. After that we sent a group of performers to the schools, [including] Assane [Kouyate] and Mohammed [Kouyate]. Assane is a singer and dancer, one of the Djialy twins. Mohammed is a drummer, percussionist and balaphone player. They visited 10 schools, performing [music] and doing some storytelling. It was a great success. Kids loved it, schoolteachers loved it. That showed again, the need is there, at all levels.
The last phase is to open the experience up to the whole community. So we are providing two performances on April 1, a matinee from 2-3:15 p.m. at the Van Duzer Theatre, then another in the evening, beginning at 8 p.m. This time around it will be a full program. We are bringing West African players from all over, for an extended, more elaborate program. The evening performance will be two hours, from 8-10 p.m., again with music, dance and also some storytelling. People who attend will learn about different instruments: the balaphone, ngoni, the African drum, talking drum as well. It's a way to share the rich culture of West Africa with this community.
9. Do you think Americans have misconceptions about Africa?
I was shocked. And that may be one of the reasons that made me want to do this project. You hear people talk about the country of Africa; they do not even know it is a continent. And when you hear about Africa, it's when there is war, when people are dying and shooting at each other. That's all you hear. There's much more than that. People don't know. It's maybe not their fault.
10. So there's more to this project than just providing entertainment?
If I take a step back, what is the purpose of all this? We hope to plant a seed with the kids, and for the same reason I mentioned earlier talking about Humboldt State. Those kids, tomorrow, may be in a position to make decisions about Africa. Hopefully what they have learned will help open their minds to learn more about Africa. We have this opportunity to bring them more knowledge, and hopefully it will contribute to a better future for all of us.
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