College’s African Initiative is creating partnerships, broadening horizons


Photo provided to The Clarion

Dr. Geoffrey Bradshaw, the associate vice president of international education at Madison College, joins Acting Minister Madi Jacca at a signing ceremony marking the college’s partnership agreement with the Ministry of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology in The Gambia in West Africa.

Kelly Feng, Managing Editor

In November, Dr. Geoffrey Bradshaw traveled to Africa to sign a partnership agreement with the Ministry of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology (MoHERST) for the national government of The Gambia in West Africa.
The partnership between Madison College and The Gambia allows opportunities with all higher education institutions in the country, including the University of The Gambia, the University of Science, Engineering and Technology and the Gambian Technical and Vocational Education and Training system.
The agreement includes partnering areas, including online learning, course articulation, faculty and student exchange, grants development and capacity-building training and consulting. Bradshaw arrived at The Gambia as part of a formal Madison-Kanifing Gambia Sister City delegation that included Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes Conway and Wisconsin State Assembly Representative Samba Baldeh.
The representatives met with a wide range of national, regional and local leaders including the President of The Gambia, Adama Barrow. On Nov. 29, Bradshaw participated in a formal signing ceremony, creating an alliance for the agreement at the MoHERST offices.
The associate vice president of International Education at Madison College sees the signing as more than the final seal on an agreement. He considers the partnership enriching and providing opportunities to people who may otherwise not get the chance.

Sister Cities
Sister cities since 2016, Kanifing, Gambia, and Madison recognized a significant need for educational possibilities that Madison College could support.
Because 70% of sub-Saharan Africa’s population is under 30 years old, they saw a need for higher education for the people to grow and develop their careers. However, they were acutely aware that more African colleges and universities needed to meet this need.
“We are interested in both having students from The Gambia come to Wisconsin as international students and for us to deliver online learning and training in The Gambia,” said Bradshaw. “If we can help Gambian students earn a certificate or degree from Madison College, hopefully, that U.S. degree will help them stand out in the job market.”
While this need for educational pathways is present in most African countries, The Gambia presents unique opportunities for collaboration with academic institutions because of the close ties between the college and city to that region.
Bradshaw believes sister cities are essential to how Madison connects to the world.
“Because of that special connection of friendship, you have an opportunity to meet and connect with leaders in the partner community, and you have the support of local people in Madison who are part of the sister city committee,” Bradshaw said.
Bradshaw quickly noted that Madison College has another link to the origin of the sister cities — alum Samba Baldeh. Baldeh is one of the Madison-Kanifing sister city founders who came to Wisconsin as an immigrant from The Gambia. Baldeh enrolled and eventually graduated from Madison College. Today, Baldeh is a Wisconsin State Assembly Representative.
This agreement is the first stage in growing a long-term relationship between Madison College and schools in The Gambia. “By documenting our interests in collaboration, a Memorandum of Understanding makes it easier for us to apply for grants and meet with partners,” Bradshaw said.
Bradshaw said systems are in place to welcome international students from The Gambia to apply to Madison College. The college has already received international student applications thanks to the raised awareness about Madison College from this trip.
While the college is building opportunities for study abroad in Africa, Bradshaw noted it takes time and planning to ensure safe and responsible student travel. Madison College’s first Africa study abroad will take place in May 2024 in Kenya.
Although taking part in the formal signing ceremony was the pinnacle of Bradshaw’s visit, other cultural aspects of The Gambia struck the educator.
Despite traveling the world working in international education, Bradshaw said he’s never experienced such warm and welcoming people as he did in The Gambia. He said that everyone he met was kind and hospitable, whether he was walking down the street or attending formal meetings.

Culture, Music and Religion
Although the official language of The Gambia is English (it was once a British colony), people speak local languages, including Mandinka, Fulani, Jola and Wolof. Most people also speak some French, Senegal’s official language.
Music is a fundamental part of the culture and daily life in The Gambia.
The delegation enjoyed people singing or playing drums whenever they traveled as part of their welcome and celebration. The region is most known for the kora, a harp-like, stringed instrument that has been played in the area for centuries.
Bradshaw noted that The Gambia is primarily Muslim, and most people do not drink alcohol or eat pork. Unlike many Islamic cultures where loudspeakers announce the call to prayer five times a day, religion is much more an individual matter of faith in The Gambia. People pray alone or in small groups, but there is no pressure to join.
The Gambia is also known for peaceful relations between its Muslim and Christian populations, and he learned that religious leaders are not very active in politics.

Going Forward
This alliance in The Gambia is part of a larger African Initiative at Madison College. Over the next four years, the school plans to create new courses, an African Studies Certificate and a new study abroad. The goal is to expand partnerships not only in West Africa but also in other parts of the continent.
“We want to create opportunities for all students at Madison College to understand the world, and Africa is a big part of that. Almost 20% of the world’s population lives in Africa in more than 50 separate countries, but few of our students can learn from and interact with people from the continent,” said Bradshaw. “Hopefully, through these partnerships, we can help create opportunities for cross-cultural learning, dialogue and exchange that makes our whole campus and community richer.”