African Leadership University

Transformative Learning and Cultural Exchange: Professor Ben Gardner’s Visiting Faculty Experience at ALU Rwanda

Every year, the African Leadership University in Rwanda and the African Leadership College in Mauritius, along with the African Leadership hubs, welcome distinguished visiting academics, scholars and experts. These individuals come to ALU with the purpose of engaging in research, teaching and scholarship, as well as fostering cultural and scholarly interactions with the faculty, students and broader ALU community. This April, we are honored to host Professor Ben Gardner, a distinguished professor from the University of Washington Bothell, at our ALU Rwanda campus. With his infectious enthusiasm and expertise, we are confident that his visit to ALU will be a transformative experience for us all.

Professor Ben Gardner is a distinguished scholar with extensive experience in global and African studies. Holding the positions of Associate Professor, Faculty Coordinator for Global Studies, and Chair of the African Studies Program at the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, he has dedicated his career to advancing knowledge and making a positive impact in these fields. According to Ben, his interest in African studies sparked his academic career and is driven by his passion for Tanzania and the issues around politics, development, and conservation in the country. Ben’s experience teaching African studies and working with communities in Tanzania spans decades, but he admits that “I had never really had a chance to teach primarily African students until I came to ALU, and it’s been an incredible experience.” At ALU, Professor Gardner is teaching courses on history and globalization and examining the political economy of development in Africa. He also leads a course on qualitative research methods that delves into developing research questions, conducting interviews, community mapping, and textual and visual analysis. ALU’s Visiting Faculty program, enables distinguished academics like Professor Gardner, to lead lectures, and student seminars, participate in community events, and explore local communities whilst enriching the diversity of the ALU community.

As a visiting faculty member at the African Leadership University, Ben has immersed himself in the vibrant and welcoming community at ALU. He has taken advantage of the ALU staff open desk culture to connect with fellow faculty, learning coaches, and support staff, gaining valuable insights into the ALU’s and Rwanda’s culture. Beyond the classwork and student activities, he has also been exploring the beautiful city of Kigali and the northern region of Rwanda. Ben even had the opportunity to participate in the staff-student basketball game, an event that highlighted the strong sense of community at ALU. The Visiting Faculty Program provides an excellent opportunity to join in the academic life of ALU as well as to experience life in the diverse communities on campus and in Rwanda. From cooking hangouts to yoga classes and excursion trips, visiting faculty gain a wholesome experience teaching and learning from the ALU community.

Reflecting on his experience, Professor Gardner expressed his admiration for ALU students’ hunger to learn and engage. He appreciates the way ALU’s education system values students’ experiences and knowledge and encourages them to apply it in their learning process. “ALU is a really special place and I think what they have been able to do is to bring an education that teaches students to think, question and figure out what questions they need to ask,” he says. Professor Gardner’s teaching style of bringing new questions and information to the students while allowing them to come at that information from a place of experience has been met with excitement from the students. Likewise, it has been a fascinating learning moment for Ben. “It’s really interesting for someone who studies African economies and development to be in Rwanda. I had heard a lot about Rwanda but had never had a chance to visit till now. Just learning about all of the different initiatives and policies and to see the country is a great learning experience. But mostly I have enjoyed working with students; I expected that to be the best part and that has been true so far,” he concludes. Overall, Professor Gardner considers his time at ALU to be a truly special experience that has further deepened his love for teaching and learning.

ALU is committed to nurturing an environment that inspires creativity, innovation, and critical thinking, and Professor Gardner’s unique perspective and bubbly personality will contribute significantly to this mission. We believe that through our collaborations with distinguished scholars like Professor Gardner, we can continue to push the boundaries of knowledge and create new opportunities for positive change in Africa and the world.

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