How a professor found her calling in Ghana by bringing hundreds of Northeastern students to West Africa

Key Takeaways

  • Professor Vanessa Johnson leads two Northeastern University dialogues in Ghana—one called “Education and Learning in Ghana” and the second named ”Health Systems, Services And Education In Ghana.”

  • In March 9-11 this year, Northeastern University held its fifth Global Leadership Summit in Accra, Ghana. Close to 300 people, including top Ghanaian civic and business leaders, convened at Kempinski Gold Coast Hotel.

  • In Ghana, Northeastern students attend lectures by the faculty of the University of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah University, University of Cape Coast, University of Education at Winneba and Garden City University in Kumasi. 

Northeastern Professor Vanessa Johnson explains the infamous history of Elmina Castle to members of the 2023 Global Leadership Summit, which included alumni, incoming students, faculty and staff of Northeastern University. The castle was used to hold enslaved Africans before they were loaded onto ships and sold in the Americas, especially, the Caribbean. This “gate of no return” was the last stop before crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

ACCRA, Ghana—Vanessa Johnson grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, but when she first stepped on the tarmac of the airport in Accra in 2006 it felt like Ghana had called her—like in the W.E.B. Du Bois poem.

“I just got this feeling,” she says. “All of two weeks [of the trip] every minute was something that felt special to me. I felt connected.”

At that time Johnson was the director of the College Student Development and Counseling program at Northeastern University. The American College Personnel Association was organizing a trip to Ghana to see how student affairs and administrative hiring is handled in that country, and Johnson decided to go. The following year she joined a Northeastern delegation that went to Ghana to sign a memorandum of understanding with the University of Cape Coast. After the visit she was asked to design a Dialogue of Civilizations in Ghana.

“I have been coming back and forth ever since because of my love for the country,” says Johnson, who is currently an associate professor in the department of applied psychology in the Bouvé College of Health Sciences.

After leading more than a dozen dialogue programs in Ghana, Johnson recently helped Northeastern organize its 2023 Global Leadership Summit in Accra.

Read more at Northeastern Global News.