The much-anticipated 14th Commencement Ceremony of the American University of Nigeria (AUN), scheduled for May 27, has the potential to become a watershed in the history of the prestigious institution.
Graduation events build up their own momentum, and no two events tell the same story. Nonetheless, this year’s graduation at AUN will be unique and memorable for the graduating seniors, their families and loved ones, and the community at large. For the graduating students, it marks the end of a remarkable personal journey for academic excellence and self-discovery in a university campus in Sub-Saharan Africa that compares with the best anywhere in the world regarding learning and residential facilities. They would be ending one crucial life journey and embarking on another. As they make choices and physically depart the campus that was their comfort zone for the past four or five years, theirs is a mix of joy, sadness, and great expectations.
The graduating students and their parents will converge on one point though. It is not the same students who enrolled at AUN four or five years ago who will graduate on May 27. The transformation has been phenomenal in content, character, and attitude. The AUN experience has a comprehensive and permanent effect on those who receive it.
AUN’s American-style liberal arts education has a unique learning approach that encourages critical thinking and creativity in students. A country like Nigeria, with a fast-growing youth population and expanding opportunities in the ICT, technology, and service sectors, will increasingly depend on graduates of AUN-style education who have received an education that challenges their critical aptitude and can think outside the box.
A liberal arts education, in the American tradition, is interdisciplinary and aims to equip students for success in a modern, interconnected world. For example, at the American University in Nigeria, all students must take courses in writing, mathematics, algebra, science, history, language proficiency, civic and cultural studies, entrepreneurship, logic, information and communication technology, and community service learning, regardless of their intended field of study.
The outcome is a graduate with all the necessary skills and knowledge to succeed in their chosen field. It is axiomatic that students who pursue a liberal arts education are more likely to think critically, solve problems creatively, and grow into influential leaders.
The AUN-style liberal arts education is, arguably, best suited for a developing country like Nigeria which requires a new generation of leaders who are not afraid to raise their voices or take risks in considering their options; graduates confident in applying global solutions to local problems. It is a model that emphasises a strong ethical foundation, analytical thinking, independent-mindedness, excellent communication skills, and interdisciplinary knowledge of the complex modern world.
The small class size is another distinguishing feature of the American educational model obtained at AUN. It provides the latitude for professors to better cater to each student’s needs. The learning curve at AUN is intense and never passive. Students must engage analytically with course materials and contribute their ideas and perspectives. As one student put it, inside the Class at AUN, there are no stupid questions. They are expected to participate actively in a class by asking questions, discussing thoughtfully and knowledgeably with classmates and lecturers, and confidently defending their arguments. Thanks to the small class sizes, AUN students and teachers can spend more time constructively interacting with one another.
Students of the American University in Nigeria also get a highly valued strong ICT foundation. The university requires all its students, regardless of major, to take technology and computing courses and use computers for all academic activities. Those who have interacted with them in the larger society confirm that AUN graduates are tech-savvy. It is no coincidence. High-speed Internet, wireless technology services, and depth in bandwidth coverage make the AUN campus one of the most technologically advanced educational institutions in sub-Saharan Africa.
AUN’s widespread adoption of learning technology also enhances academic integrity. Because of AUN’s zero-tolerance policy on academic dishonesty, checking for plagiarism in written assignments is simplified for students and their professors. It is safe to say that AUN students are better equipped to succeed in today’s complex knowledge economy not by a cut-and-paste approach but by being innovative, more motivated and confident in decision-making.
As one of the graduating seniors this year succinctly put it while addressing a class of incoming students: “Choosing AUN as your place of higher education will prove to be one of the best decisions you make for your future. You have all you need to not only get by as those who pass through it stand out in their respective careers”. Ms. Halima Mohammed, the President of the AUN Student Government Association, was referring to the vast opportunities and resources available at the university to students.
The Politics and International Studies Major urged incoming students to discover their passions and develop their full potential using the university’s many opportunities.
“Many of my new classmates and I were extremely reserved during our first few months at AUN,” according to Ms Mohammed. “We used to be shy about raising our hands and voices in class, but now we have much more self-assurance. This is how AUN changes you, and I know that every one of you will push yourself beyond your limits and accomplish wonderful things thanks to the inspiring lectures and unwavering encouragement of your fellow students”.
She was referring to the numerous academic support services at AUN, including the Writing Centre, the Math Resource Centre, the Academic Advising and Retention Unit, and the Career Services Unit, which helps prepare students for post-graduation careers and assists them secure internship and work-study places to earn helpful work experience in blue-chip firms while in School.
She was also referring to the numerous academic organisations like the Honor Society, which organises peer-to-peer tutoring classes for struggling students, and extracurricular activities like the Art Club, the Women Leadership Society, the Entrepreneurship Club, the Sustainability Club, the Public Speaking Club, and others which groom students for leadership and decision making.
As they are joined by families and loved ones to celebrate their graduation, AUN’s industry-ready graduates will have great expectations in the months and years ahead. If they choose to further their studies, they will be in the same company as hundreds of AUN alums studying or have graduated from some reputable graduate schools in Europe, Asia, or North America.
Should they choose to start their own businesses, they would find that the rich entrepreneurial education and practical field experience they received at AUN adequately prepared them to manage enterprises, big or small, and become successful corporate leaders.
Those joining the labour force will fit in perfectly as solution providers and change agents under any given scenario. The AUN Career Services Office would have groomed them for a lifelong career.
Mr Okereke is executive director, marketing and communications, at AUN. He can be reached via email@example.com.