As NMU experiences its sixth straight year of declining enrollment, there are three things we as faculty members can do. We can blame someone or something for causing this situation, we can do nothing, or we can do something innovative to bring new students to our university. Assistant Professor Madison Ngafeeson in the College of Business has chosen to do the latter.
Dr. Ngafeeson is a native of Cameroon, and he spent two weeks this past summer meeting with heads of state, college officials and prospective students in Cameroon and Rwanda. Biology major and pre-med student Rebecca Nyinawabeza, is from Rwanda, and she also helped with recruiting in her home country.
Their goal was to meet with at least 400 students. Through attending academic fairs and personal connections, they met over 600 students and obtained their names and contact information. Professor Ngafeeson knows first hand how important personal connections are. He came to the United States to study largely because he knew someone at Southern University in New Orleans, Louisiana. Ngafeeson would later earn a master’s degree in management information systems from Southern University. “When I was living in Cameroon, there was very little information available about studying in the U.S. It took a friend of mine who knew my interests to bring me here,” said Ngafeeson.
Ngafeeson is no stranger to recruiting. He was engaged in recruiting efforts while he was a grad student at Southern University and a doctoral student at the University of Texas-Pan American. “Africa has some of the best and brightest students in the world who without knowing about these opportunities might never pursue an education they might have wanted,” said Ngafeeson.
Ngafeeson said he got involved in this project after President Erickson invited NMU’s international faculty to help recruit students in their home countries. So, Ngafeeson wrote a proposal to NMU Vice-President for Extended Learning and Community Engagement Steve VandenAvond in the winter of 2016, and funding was made available for Dr. Ngafeeson and Ms. Nyinawabeza to reach out to students in Cameroon and Rwanda. “Their work has more than met our expectations,” said VandenAvond.
In addition to meeting with students, Ngafeeson met with university officials to make sure all documentation would be processed properly. “It would be useless for NMU to issue admission letters only to find out the students were unable to come due to paperwork. “We wanted to know what they needed, so we can increase the chances of them getting a visa and coming to NMU,” said Ngafeeson.
Dr. Ngfeeson also met with the Prime Minister of Cameroon Philemon Yang. After the meeting, Prime Minister Yang invited Ngafeeson to meet with his entire cabinet the following week. “When he asked me, I said, Your Excellency, I will do that any day any time,” said Ngafeeson. During the meeting, Professor Ngafeeson shared some of his research regarding the use of information technologies to solve health care problems and the role of leadership in this endeavor.
Ngafeeson says an American education in is highly valued in Africa, and adds that the students there are very motivated. Another reason an education in the U.S. is appealing is resources here are far here better than what students would encounter in Africa. “In Cameroon, a student will go to college for three years, but they will not touch a computer until their third year because there are too many students and too few computers. For example, I did my undergraduate degree in bio-chemistry, but it wasn’t until the last year that we got a chance to go to the labs,” says Ngafeeson.
Dr. Ngafeeson will not know the full results of his recruiting trip for about nine months because it takes about one full year to process clearances for students, but applications are already starting to arrive at NMU. “I believe we can truly partner with the administration to bring more students here,” says Ngafeeson. “First of all, we can revise our curricula and we can teach more online courses and engage in recruitment efforts in whatever way is a good fit for each faculty member. For me, when I go to my country, I don’t connect with the people simply because I’m from Northern Michigan University, but because of my personal connections. I have met with all of the university presidents in Cameroon because they know me and they respect me,” said Ngafeeson.
Dr. Ngafeeson says the traditional markets for international students are China, India, South Korea and to a certain extent Brazil. But he says there are new and emerging markets in Africa. “When I met with the university presidents, I did not see evidence of other U.S. universities having a presence there. So if we are the first to go there, they will choose us even though there are many other universities to choose from in the U.S.” Vice-President VandenAvond says a recent report shows Africa is likely to be targeted by other universities for recruiting international students, “It’s good to be ahead of the trend, and this project not only advances president Erickson’s goal of growing enrollment, it also helps meet another important goal of increasing cultural diversity at NMU,” said VandenAvond.
Ngafeeson feels that if twenty students come to NMU as a result of this trip, it will be a huge
success and could lead to many more students to follow. “Africa is a very collectivist culture, so for each person who comes here, there will be about one hundred people directly aware of where this student is.” Ngafeeson feels this will be natural advertisement for NMU.
VandenAvond says Dr. Ngafeeson’s work builds upon knowledge gained from a previous recruiting trip to China last year led by Sociology Professor Yan Ciupak. VandenAvond also says his staff is still entertaining proposals for continued international outreach, and Dr. Ciupack has been reassigned as the Faculty Director for International Initiatives. “As we try to recruit new students and internationalize our campus, we want to make sure the faculty perspective is maintained,” said VandenAvond. Faculty interested in finding out more about faculty recruitment efforts can contact Dr. VandenAvond or Dr. Ciupack.