Oakton students head to Ghana for unique learning experience

(L-R): Students Tyson Dean, Kori Riley, Gerri Smith, Trinton Jones and Jernone Smith prepare to depart to the Republic of Ghana on June 4.
Des Plaines, Ill. (June 5, 2023) - To say Oakton College student Trinton Jones is excited to begin his study-abroad experience in the Republic of Ghana would be an understatement.

"On a scale of 1-10, I'm at 100," Jones said during a send-off celebration at Oakton College on June 4.

Jones, an Evanston resident, is one of four Oakton students heading to the West African nation for a three-plus week journey, broadening their horizons and growing personally and professionally through immersion in Ghana's unique culture.

"Just really taking in the air, taking in that experience, being able to see people of my color and being able to experience their history and culture. That's really what I want to do, take in the whole experience," Jones added.

Joining Jones are Oakton students Tyson Dean, Jernone Smith, Gerri Smith, Oakton faculty member Lara Roemer, and Chicago State University student Kori Riley. The group departed from O'Hare airport on Sunday, June 4, along with additional participants from Malcolm X College in Chicago. The students will take two courses on Ghanaian History and Literature at the University of Ghana in Accra, Ghana's capital city.

Students will explore both rural and urban areas, gaining a holistic understanding of Ghana's cultural identity expressed through music, art and other traditions. Students will reflect on Ghana's global impact by visiting historical sites and engaging in immersive cultural experiences. Highlights include visits to the Cape Coast Castle and Accra's Independence Square, illuminating Ghana's journey and struggle towards independence from colonial rule, as well as the history of the postcolonial period.

For Jernone Smith, an Evanston resident, this unique learning experience also provides an opportunity to walk in the steps of his ancestors.

“Personally, I’ve studied genealogy and family history, and I’ve taken ancestry tests that show I have some West African ancestry. I’m interested in making connections and seeing what kind of research they have that I can bring back to my genealogy groups and family to share,” he said.

The learning opportunity is facilitated through Oakton College's study abroad program in partnership with EDU Africa, which organizes study abroad and other learning experiences in Sub-Saharan Africa. In 2022 — through a U.S. Department of Education Fulbright Hays grant — Oakton faculty members traveled to Ghana to study West African culture and infuse West African content into Oakton's curriculum.

"Experiential learning opportunities like study abroad play a key role in preparing students to develop skills needed to reach their academic and personal goals and help Oakton realize our vision of creating just and thriving communities,” said Katherine Schuster, distinguished professor of Education and coordinator of Oakton's study abroad program.

Through Oakton's study abroad program, students have studied in India, Italy, Ireland and Poland. Oakton partners with the Illinois Consortium for International Studies and Programs (ICISP) to increase study-abroad offerings to other locations around the world.

Support for students traveling to Ghana was provided by the generosity of donors to the Oakton College Educational Foundation’s Study Abroad Fund. Additional support was provided by the Oakton College Student Government Association, Evanston Cradle to Career, Evanston North Shore Branch NAACP, and L&J's YoFresh Foundation. The College hopes to make the study-abroad program in Ghana an annual experience. If you would like to support future study-abroad experiences for Oakton College students, please contact the Educational Foundation at 847-635-1893 or foundation@oakton.edu.

Oakton is committed to advancing equity for all students, including those from minoritized communities, by removing barriers and providing access to educational opportunities. Three of the traveling students are enrolled at Oakton through the Emory Williams Academy for Black Men, a program designed for historically underserved and underrepresented students, emphasizing focused support for Black male-identifying students.