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Asumah receives distinguished professor honor at SUNY Cortland

Seth N. Asumah

Seth N. Asumah compares his teaching style to the African xylophone.

“There are soft keys and there are hard keys, but you need to combine the soft and hard keys to create beautiful music,” says Asumah.

Asumah’s sweet music has been heard these days at SUNY Cortland in Albany, New York, where he’s been a professor for the past 18 years in the political science department.

Asumah, who received a master’s degree in public administration in 1985 and a doctorate in government and international relations in 1988 from Lehigh, was awarded the title of distinguished professor by the SUNY Board of Trustees in late May. The Distinguished Teaching Professorship recognizes and honors mastery of teaching. Asumah is one of 31 faculty members awarded this honor since it was created in 1973.

According to the State University of New York’s Board of Trustees, for this prestigious tribute to be conferred, “candidates must have demonstrated consistently superior mastery of teaching, outstanding service to students and commitment to their ongoing intellectual growth, scholarship and professional growth, and adherence to rigorous academic standards and requirements.”

Born in Ghana, Asumah moved to Tottenham, England when he was 18. After moving back to Ghana, Asumah looked forward to receiving his college education in the United States. He earned a bachelor’s degree in business economics and studio arts from SUNY Oneonta.

Lehigh’s “wonderful package”

Asumah’s thirst for knowledge still wasn’t quenched and Lehigh had just what he was looking for.

“I was looking at a number of universities to pursue my graduate program and I had admission to Cornell University and the University of Missouri, along with about three or four other graduate programs that accepted me,” says Asumah, “but Lehigh had this wonderful package.”

While attending Lehigh back in the mid-1980s, Asumah was able to jumpstart his teaching career as a teaching assistant to professor Jean Oi, Ph.D., educating students on the politics of developing nations.

Asumah, who still teaches the same class today at Cortland, was able to run with the class under the direction of Oi, who is now the William Haas Professor of Chinese Politics at Stanford.

Oi’s strong sense of trust and faith in Asumah allowed him to redesign the course syllabus and create an educational atmosphere that the students would thrive in.

“My pedagogical approach of transcending the traditional boundaries of teaching, engaging students in critical thinking, post colonial, post modern and liberatory learning was supported by Dr. Oi,” Asumah says. “Furthermore, in that class, learners became teachers while they learned and the teachers learned while they taught. It was a dynamic learning community, a safe place for students to acquire knowledge and they had fun in the process.”

Asumah used this experience to help form the strong educational philosophy he holds today.

“My students come in the classroom knowing we are going to work hard, but we are still going to love learning,” Asumah says.

Today, as students pile into Asumah’s class bobbing their heads to the music flowing from his classroom, it is clear to see that he is a master in his field.

“Music has a universal language and most students can relate to different music forms and lyrics. I teach many courses that contain topics and issues of difficult dialogues,” Asumah says. “Music prepares my students to settle down before engaging in cognitive and emotional enquiries.”

While at SUNY Cortland, Asumah is credited with co-founding the Department of African studies in 2005. Asumah has also been a strong proponent of educational diversity at Cortland, helping to develop the Summer Institute for Infusing Diversity into the Curriculum, which has been an annual event at the college since 2004.

He has also received multiple teaching awards, including Dr. Rozanne Brooks Award for Teaching Excellence and Dedication in 1999.

As an author, Asumah has co-edited or co-written seven books, 16 books chapters and 14 scholarly articles.

Asumah says he loves his job and he hopes to add at least another 20 years to his career.

“This award pushes me to do more and to step up to the plate,” Asumah says.

--Madelyn King

Posted on Wednesday, June 27, 2007

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