New Provost Looks to Lessons From Guiding a Village in Ghana

Washington & Lee U.

July 29, 2013

Daniel A. Wubah, 52, started a new job as the provost of Washington & Lee University on July 1. Previously, he was vice president for undergraduate education and deputy provost of Virginia Tech. He believes that the leadership skills he learned growing up in Ghana will help him in his new role. As told to Sara Grossman.

Becoming provost at Washington & Lee is a step up for me. It offers me an opportunity to work with President Kenneth P. Ruscio, a committed leader in liberal-arts education, to advance the mission of one of the nation's top-rated universities.

When I was growing up in Ghana, I was often told that the sky was the limit. My mother raised my three siblings and me after my father died in an automobile accident when I was 8 years old. One of the major value systems that was instilled in me was that a person can accomplish a lot so long as one is willing to work hard and also be selfless. We believe in the cycle of destiny whereby individuals know that their fate is determined by their actions.

During my formative years, families had to cover the costs of their children's education from kindergarten through high school, with limited subsidy by the government. Students took a national examination at the 12th grade and the government selected the top 5 percent to enter the university. These students were provided full scholarship at one of the three universities in a manner similar to the British educational system because Ghana had been a British colony.

I attended the University of Cape Coast, a liberal-arts university with a focus on teacher education. After I earned my master's degree at the University of Akron, I enrolled in the doctoral program at the University of Georgia in the laboratory of Melvin S. Fuller.

I was one of a few minority doctoral students in the life sciences, and he encouraged me to work twice as hard as my colleagues because of the dearth of minorities in the field of mycology and the potential skepticism about my capabilities. That suggestion was a good challenge; it enabled me to complete my degree in four years, a year less than the average for students in that department. His advice has contributed immensely to my development as an academic administrator.

My grandfather started a town in Ghana, Gyinadze, which I now lead. My sister runs the daily affairs of the town on my behalf, but I visit Ghana every year for festivals and to ensure the smooth operations of the town. The word "ruler" suggests a person on top looking down at others. My grandfather taught me that the way to move people forward is to make them comfortable to believe and share the leader's vision. My mother taught me to listen more than I speak because I have two ears and one mouth; that has been helpful in my career when I had to exercise leadership.