Liberia: First Female President of Cuttington University Talks Creativity, Innovation and Technology for the Advancement of the Varsity
Few days ago, the President of one of Africa’s prestigious higher learning institutions, Cuttington University (CU), granted this newspaper the opportunity to sit with her and lecture about activities at CU, her leadership style, education in Liberia and parents’ role in their child or children’s education and upbringing.
Dr. Romelle A. Horton is a native of Liberia and a strong advocate for educational, developmental, gender equality, service-learning and refugee issues. Dr. Horton is currently the President of Cuttington University in Liberia, making her the First Female President in the University’s 133-year history. She graduated Summa Cum Laude (Valedictorian) with a degree in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) from Voorhees College, a private Episcopal College in Denmark, South Carolina.
After graduation, she worked as a Solution Delivery Analyst with Accenture, LTD, a global consultancy for several years before pursuing graduate studies and obtained a M.A. with Distinction, in International Service and Development at the University of Surrey, now Roehampton University, London.
She reviewed and edited the book, “Sustaining Liberia’s Peace”, authored by Hon. Olubanke King-Akerele and wrote the Prologue for the Questionnaire for Volume Two; she also wrote the Concept Note for and participated in the 2019 Queens Commonwealth Essay Competition and Awards Ceremony held at Buckingham Palace in October 2019. She chairs the Board of Trustees of Kids Educational Engagement Project (KEEP), an organization that is instrumental in building schools and reading rooms across Liberia; serves on the Board of EcoBank, Liberia; is a Human Development Panelist on Education at Warwick University’s Annual Africa Summit in the United Kingdom and authored Chapter 11 (Education) of the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Legacy Project now published.
She has a Ph.D. in Educational Administration and Leadership (Education Management) from the University of Botswana; was called to national duty and served as Deputy Minister for Instruction at the Ministry of Education, Republic of Liberia; Chief Government Nominee for the West African Examination Council (WAEC), Liberia, Vice-Chairperson of WAEC, International, Vice President for Academic Support Services at AME University and is an African Women Academics in Research & Development (AWARD) Fellow. A competent, dynamic and progressive Liberian professional, her ethos is to transform, impact and inspire.
She continues to play an important role in the human development sector. Her track record to date speaks for itself as her work has directly contributed to Liberia’s Development Goals, The Agenda for Transformation, Education 2030 and the SDGs. She is an avid reader who loves to travel to learn and experience new things and meet new people. Her research interest centers on educational matters, gender, refugees, development and service-learning.
FPA: Let’s begin by you introducing yourself, Doc.
DR RH: Well, me introducing myself is really short. I am Romelle, daughter of P. Agnes Thompson and Dr. A. Romeo Horton, what you see is what you get…
FPA: Thank you, Doc. Sometime in November this year, you are going to be declared President proper for Cuttington University (CU). As the First Female President, what would your first plans of action, I mean your first 100-day plan(s). Well, I know you have been working…
DR RH: I have always been working (chuckles)… The work started more than a year ago and will continue with the vision to position Cuttington University as the premier institution of higher learning by ensuring our faculty is creative, and innovative and embrace technology to train and empower our students for national development and to compete and succeed in the global market.
DR RH: For us all days are our first 100 days. So, we’re going to continue with the plans in place for all of our students, staff and infrastructures. The vision talked about above rests on three pillars: Pathway to Greatness, Greatness through Innovation and Scholarly Integrity. These three pillars have three projects – Light Cuttington, Feed Cuttington and Grow Cuttington. This is a clarion call to all Cuttingtonians, the Mighty Scorpions and those impacted and transformed by the Scorpion Nation to join us in realizing these initiatives.
FPA: At the last graduation ceremony, there was an announcement of the introduction of some new programs. Please bring the public up to speed with those new programs and whether you have already started implementing them.
DR RH: And what a great graduation it was. We celebrated our Diamond Jubilee (60th) Commencement Convocation. I am going to start with the Doctoral one first because we are immensely excited about that as it is the first Doctoral program in Liberia. So, it’s historic in this way. If you look at the Seal of the University, you will see a palm tree, representing Agriculture, a Cross, representing Religion and Ministry, our anchor and stronghold and a book, representing Education. These are our roots and as we, Cuttington, is fathered by the Episcopal Church of Liberia, we are starting our Doctoral program in that milieu. As you may know, Cuttington was the first Institution to start a Master’s program in Divinity, so we are doing what we do best. The program is expected to be launched in January of 2023 with two tracks: Doctoral in Ministry (DMin) and Doctoral in Theology (ThD) and a significant amount of work is being done for the actualization of this.
Another program that we have started is the Liberia Dental Therapy School; it’s another gap that we are filling. We are in partnership with Trinity Dental at ELWA Hospital. This program actually started today (October 3rd, 2022). It is a two-year program, and the students are going to graduate with an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Dental Therapy. An essential part of this will have the new therapists returning to their original locations (counties) after been assisted in identifying a suitable location to work, then be equipped and enabled via on-going support from the project, to provide dental care to their local communities. The plan right now is when they graduate, each student will be provided a Dental kit that fits in a bag. The kit comes with a Dental chair and all the accoutrements they will need for cleaning, extraction and dental hygiene. Anything beyond that will be referred to the Trinity Dental Clinic at ELWA Hospital or another hospital. The goal is to equipped all 15 counties with dental hygienists and thus alleviate people coming to Monrovia for Dental care and actually saving lives. We do not want us reverting to our youthful days where we used to put the thread on the door handle and pull our tooth out – yikes. You will be surprised how a lot of people are getting serious infections that they actually die from due to pulling their tooth out that way or from bad dental hygiene, so we really need to try and get more dentists out into the rural areas. This is what we are trying to do and we are thrilled to be in partnership with Trinity and Dr. Simon Stretton-Downes, who is the brains behind this and a strong advocate.
FPA: Does one have to be a Nurse or a medical practitioner to be enrolled into the program?
DR RH: Oh no. One doesn’t have to be Nurse. One just needs to have the passion for Dentistry and/or the will to succeed. But one must have graduated high school in order to be enrolled. However, if you are a Nurse and you want to do this, we will welcome you into the program as you already have the Science background.
FPA: How much does it cost?
DR RH: It’s a flat rate of US$450.00 per semester.
FPA: Let’s talk about Cuttington Campus Bong County. How’s the enrollment for this academic year?
DR RH: For this semester, we are still registering but currently close to 1200. For the Schools of Graduate and Professional Studies, we have 650 and the Junior College, 264. Whilst we are not where we would like to be, we are in a good place student-wise and we are very excited to have our students back on campus. We also have more than 200 who are now in the dorms. So yes, it is great having our students back and we look forward to a transformative academic year.
FPA: Is it true that many students are not living in the dormitories?
DR RH: Students were opting to stay off campus which can be attributed to a number of reasons. One of which I believe is the limited number of electricity on campus. This is why the success of our November 5th Fundraising Gala at the EJS Ministerial Complex is key as we are looking to LIGHT, FEED and GROW CU. It is good that students are starting to come back to stay on campus. We have a really good batch of young students, an awesome correlation to the age to grade ideal. Liberia is getting back to the era where you have students who are 16 and 17 years old graduating high school and are enrolling into universities. This is something the Ministry of Education has been endeavoring for a long time and I am sure they see this as a plus for the education sector. Before one could walk on campus, see a young student and think they are from the Cuttington Campus School. But now these are students who are actually college students. Additionally, we have more females going into the sciences: kudos to our girls.
FPA: Is it difficult teaching or instructing people who already have their families and those kids that you are talking about?
DR RH: Not at all, 5 or 500, if you want to learn, we are here to teach. In the past, we had a lot of mature students and they were keen to learn and excelled at their studies. We had a really big orientation the last week of September and all of our students mixed it up and had an informative session. There were representatives from all the colleges where they provided salient information to our students and encouraged them to pay attention to CU 101. This is a course that is mandatory for all students and it was developed by two of our Alumni, Jerry Mwagbe and Lovette Azango Tucker and me in 2010. It tells you all about Cuttington University and everything that the University stands for. It also teaches students how to study, manage their time and basic life skills.
FPA: Let’s talk about the Graduate School. How are things there?
DR RH: The Schools of Graduate and Professional Studies are our face in Monrovia and have been on the rise since their inception in 2005. They are one of the first, if not the first graduate schools that started. As I stated previously, we started the Program with Divinity, same like we are doing with the Doctoral Program. And we had all of the churches sending their priests and pastors there to do their Master’s. Now, most of these churches have also established master’s programs: a small pond for a variety of fish. That is great because it keeps us growing. We have added a fifth school and it’s called The School of Global Affairs and Policy. The Dean of that School is Hon. Elias B. Shoniyin, who worked at the Foreign Ministry for many years. In that School, they also award a degree in Sustainable Development, another program that only Cuttington offers in Liberia. Also, at that School, there are tracks for Hospitality Management and Tourism; International Relations; Foreign Service and Diplomatic Studies. A number of new programs were also added to the School of Public Health; MSc. in Maternal Child Health, Public Health Nutrition and others.
FPA: Doc, let’s leave CU a bit and look at the general education sector of Liberia. You have been an Educator for a long time, give us your own perspectives on the Educational Sector.
DR RH: I say this and I will continue to say it. Education is not one person’s business. It is everybody’s business. So, whether it is Early Childhood or Higher Education, we all need to be interested in education for this nation and for our children. Education doesn’t start at the school, it starts at home. The onus is on all of us to train our children and not leave it to the school to do so. This is a partnership, parents do their part and teachers do their part. It is all of us working collectively to make this work. Remember the old adage: “It takes a village…” That is exactly what it is. Villagers, rise up and take a stand for the sake of our children and this nation Rise UP!
FPA: How long have you been teaching and been at Cuttington?
DR RH: I have always been an educator and every moment is a teaching moment for me. I got to Cuttington in 2009 but in an administrative role. With another colleague, Lovette Tucker and the support of Dr. Henrique Tokpa, the President of Cuttington, we started the Master’s in Teaching at Cuttington. We were one of the first teachers for that course. Cuttington also has a course that I also taught called “Service-Learning”, which is a required course, where the Service informs the Learning, vice versa. What happens is that the students come to class for certain amount of time, and then they go into the field to do voluntary work in different communities. After they had done the voluntary work, they come back into the classroom and do presentations on what is it that they had learned from the communities and how that had imparted their learning. So, it’s the theory and practical coming together. My other teaching experience was when I was doing my Master’s program and I was in Jamaica and I worked at a maximum security prison for death-role inmates. I thought those inmates computer skills and other life skills. That was a transformational time for me there as I was able to actually measure the impact made. Additionally, as Deputy Minister of Instruction, I was “Head Teacher”. So yes, I am always teaching. When I got to Cuttington in 2009, I was on a six month Sabbatical from my post as Director of Student Programs at the International Partnership for Service-learning and Leadership. Hmmm, which year is this now (chuckles) and I am still on Sabbatical.
FPA: And how do you like being at Cuttington?
DR RH: I truly, truly, truly love Cuttington. I never went to Cuttington. I didn’t graduate from Cuttington. And at the risk of being redundant, I truly truly love Cuttington. Cuttington has impacted and transformed so many lives and I am just so happy to be at this school that has touched so many people. Cuttington University (CU) was established to train ministers and facilitate learning in Liberia, and in Africa – a simple and challenging mission that began in 1889 and continues to this day, 133 years later. We are proud of our history as sub-Saharan Africa’s first private, coeducational, four-year degree granting institution; of our resilience in coming through Liberia’s civil war and the destruction of our main campus facilities to offer former combatants and soldiers scholarship opportunities to pursue an education; of our strength and fortitude during Ebola to train the caregivers and open our campus to health practitioners; of our steadfast belief that a Liberian institution can educate and empower the kind of leaders our country and our world need now – leaders with the requisite intellectual curiosity, moral character, critical thinking, civic mindedness, entrepreneurial courage, and global perspective to meet the demands of 21st century realities, succeed in life, and make a positive difference in the lives of others.
With more than 75 degree programs and certifications that serve over 2,500 junior college, undergraduate, graduate and professional/continuing education students across the more than 1500 acres of our four campuses – Suakoko (Bong), Kakata (Margibi), Monrovia (Montserrado) and on-line (global) – Cuttington’s impact is undeniable, and in many ways, just beginning.
We are continually seeking new ways and means to honor our legacy, achieve ever higher levels of academic excellence, and transform the future. Cuttington is still standing and will continue to stand because we believe in holistic education, educating the whole-self – this is what sets us apart. We are SCORPIONS and our sting is felt wherever we go.
FPA: In that light, where do we see Cuttington in the next 10 years?
DR RH: Where it has always been: developing minds and producing leaders. This is where we are going to continue to go; that is what makes Cuttington great; that’s why Cuttington stands above, because we are developing leaders to develop nations. And, this is where we will be in the next five, 10, 100 years, at the top making a difference in lives and communities by developing leaders for nation building.
FPA: How do you feel being the first Female President of this prestigious university in a male-dominated society?
DR RH: Have you met me – I feel fantabulous – no one told you – the future is female (laughs out loud). Actually, it has been wonderful as we have a winning team. As I tell people, it is not about me, it is the people that surround me. From a dynamic and progressive Board of Trustees, my visionary Vice Presidents, the innovative and creative faculty and staff; my precious jewels, my students, and the most supportive and forward thinking Alumni Association; we are a family and we are all working to ensure that CU WINS ALL DAY EVERY DAY! It is a really great time to be at Cuttington. It’s all about innovation, and how we impact and transform lives and communities. Fun Fact – the Interim President of the Student Union at the Main Campus is female, the President-elect at the Junior College is female and the President for the Student Government at the Campus School is female. Want to ask that question again☺!
FPA: So, the males aren’t angry with you, when you are asking them to do things?
DR RH: As with most things in life, often times, it is not what you say, but how you say it. It is like the method of instruction our instructors use for the students – one has to employ the best methods that will garner the best results. That being said, I do believe I have a top-notch team. No one person, policy or idea can do this, it takes us all working together, bringing all of our ideas to the table and having a great time. And, if they are being mad with me, they are doing a really good job of hiding it – do you know something I should know (chuckles). I believe we are all together on Flight CU 1889, rising to meteoric heights to ensure that Cuttington University is giving these students who have been entrusted to us the best of the best.
FPA: Do you still have the Cuttington Campus School, is it still operating?
DR RH: Yes, most definitely. It’s from early childhood education all the way now to the 12 Grade. It’s still operating. My students won the National Debate last year and came in third this year. We are bringing it back home next year. As you may know, USAID has launched a new program called TESTS, which is aimed at Transforming the Educational System for Teachers and Students and Cuttington has been selected as one of the partners. There are eight universities in this program and our campus school will be used as a demonstration school for that program. We look forward to that to upgrade and showcase our campus school.
FPA: The Campus School is it only for the children of teachers who are teaching the university to attend or it is open for outsiders?
DR RH: There are no outsiders at Cuttington, all are welcome. The original idea was to ensure that there was someplace close for those that worked on campus to have a place to send their kids but we have evolved and open our doors to our neighbors as they are part of our family.
FPA: It has the capacity of taking how many students?
DR RH: Right now we are close to 300 but we have the capacity for more than that; we have the space – welcome to Cuttington University Family, the Citadel of Excellence.
FPA: Talking about the Campus School, at the beginning of this primary school academic year, parents were crying ‘no money, no money’. At some point, they asked the Ministry of Education to postpone the opening of school. Did you get such complain and how did you handle it? And, do you do ‘sell pay’, where the parents can do payments in bits and pieces to the school?
DR RH: (Chuckles) We don’t want to see our kids out of school. We try to work with our parents in the best way we can. It’s a policy that goes across all of our campuses. We have a 50% rule: to come in you have to pay 50% of your tuition and fees. While we do have community students, most of the students are from faculty and staff. They can do a commitment so that no one is left behind. Should this interview, cause any of my students or parents to come crying, I am coming for you all (all laugh).
FPA: I met a man who said because of the high school fee, he wasn’t going to send his children to school this academic year, what is your message to those kinds of people?
DR RH: We are all in a tight bind economically, but I encourage parents to look out there. They may be surprised by the number of people who are willing to help with something or point them in the right direction of some scholarship or financial aid. I don’t think any parent should give up. Always go with the positive for your child. I am a strong believer of “there is nothing God cannot do.”
FPA: I visited Kpatawee and I saw small huts that people are building around the place, it’s not far from Cuttington. You talked about Tourism in your Graduate School. What help can you give to make that place more attractive?
DR RH: We used to have faculty and staff retreats at Kpatawee. The Tourism and Hospitality Course is a Master’s Degree Course that is within our Graduate School in Monrovia. Will run this by the faculty there and sure they have something up their sleeves about this.
FPA: With the passing of Dr. Joseph S. Guannu, what are you doing about him or his legacy?
DR RH: Give one their flowers while they are alive.In 2018, the University named the Peace Institute, the Joseph Saye Guannu Institute of Peace and Conflict Resolution. We have a memorial service that is planned for the 13th of October on Campus and the funeral is on the 15th of October in Sanniquellie, Nimba County which we will be attending. We have lost a renowned historian and impactful educator. If you did not want your brain scrambled, do not try having a conversation with Dr. G. he would have you rethinking your entire history. Rest in peace great one, you have left an indelible mark in our hearts and minds.
FPA: Before we leave you, as a mother, an educator, what’s your message to Liberians on things that we didn’t ask you about but you would like to speak on?
DR RH: Education is everybody’s business. Let us all continue to educate our children, train them to respect their elders; instill in them high moral aptitude, care for self and others and most importantly, to have integrity. Love your country and speak positively about Liberia – we ARE the ones we have been waiting for. Let us together develop and transform our nation. We have it in us – Rise up Liberians, if not now, when but it is now, RISE UP!
And finally, Cuttington University will be having a Fundraising Gala November 5th at the Ministerial Complex. We are not only going to be looking at raising funds to Light, Feed and Grow Cuttington, this gala is also going to be recognizing Liberia’s First Females. There are lots of females in Liberia, who have done remarkably well in their fields and other areas. We have H.E. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first democratically elected female President in Africa. We have Dr. Evelyn Kandakai, who was the first female Chairperson of WAEC. In all of WEAC years, she became Chairperson in its 63rd year. We have Dr. Abeodu Bowen Jones, who was the first African female PhD in all of Africa. We have great, great women who have accomplished remarkable things. Look at Cllr. Francis Johnson Allison, first Female Chief Justice in Liberia. We now have the third female Chief Justice, who is a Cuttington Grad, Her Honor Chief Justice Sie-A-Nyene G. Youh. Liberia and Cuttington has done great things and we need to tell our story. Women have been the frontrunners in most of these things. We need to be heard and recognized. So, come November 5th, I am looking forward to all of you coming out there to recognize these outstanding women of Liberia and support Cuttington by raising funds to LIGHT, FEED AND GROW CUTTINGTON!