Learning So He Can Teach in the Workforce: The Driving Aspiration of Philip Acheampong
by Joe Savrock (June 2010)
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Philip Acheampong knows that if he wants to teach effectively, he must first be a learner. And even though he has already taught school for eight years, he embraces his current classroom role: that of a student.
Philip is a Ph.D. candidate in Penn State’s Workforce Education and Development (WFED) program. The ultimate goal of this teacher-turned-student is simply to teach others in the best possible way.
His road to Penn State has not been a straight line from his native Ghana, located in the western region of Africa. In between, he lived and worked in Swaziland, in South Africa, and more recently in Savannah, Ga. Along the way, he has obtained a solid background in a variety of fields: vocational industrial education, architecture, and teaching.
Born in Ghana, Philip grew up in a small village near Kumasi, the capital of the Ashanti region. That is where he started his primary school education. “Ghana is a beautiful country with hospitable, respectable, and peace loving people,” says Philip. “For the past several years, Ghana has been playing host to an ever-increasing number of visitors. Tourists from all over the world are visiting.”
Philip notes that Ghana’s education system has implemented policies which, coupled with economic factors, are a positive driving force on the global workforce there. “These policies are intended to focus on tertiary/higher education initiatives to boost economic growth,” says Philip. “Implementation can produce public and private benefits, improve quality of life, reduce poverty, improve technology, and strengthen governance.”
Philip learned good values at an early age. “Graduating from Technical Teachers’ College in Ghana obviously laid a strong foundation for me to pursue academic and professional goals,” he notes. “But I credit my parents for instilling in me the value of excellence, resourcefulness, and pride in myself, my family, and the work I do.”
Philip taught for more than three years in junior and senior secondary schools in Ghana. He left his home country in 1985 to assume a teaching job in Swaziland with the Ministry of Education. After two years, he moved on to South Africa, where he taught until 1993.
He taught a variety of technical and hands-on subjects during his career: geometry, technical drawing, engineering and architectural drawing, furniture making and cabinet making, woodworking, carpentry, and mathematics. “It was a formative time in the development of my academic interests in technical education,” he says. “I enjoyed it—it felt good to make a difference in people’s lives.”
Even though Philip was a veteran teacher, he wanted to continue being a learner. “Education is what drove me to America,” says Philip. “I wanted to practice architecture, so I left South Africa in 1993 and went to Florida A&M University in Tallahassee to pursue studies in both architecture and education.”
After receiving his education degree and the pre-professional degree in architecture, Philip moved to Savannah, where he earned his professional degree from Savannah College of Art & Design in 2006. Soon afterward, he secured a position with the City of Savannah as an architectural and preservation coordinator.
But Philip wanted to continue on the path of learning—a pathway that, he felt, someday would help him be a better teacher. He enrolled in Penn State’s Workforce Education doctoral program. “I envisioned that backgrounds in education and construction would be a good combination,” explains Philip. “I chose Penn State because it has all the courses that meet my career goals, and because Penn State is globally recognized.”
His wife, Shakeh, continues to live in Savannah, where she works for the Council of Girls Scout. She fully supports Philip’s educational goals. “It is difficult living apart—it’s a hard decision to make,” says Philip. “However, we do not allow distance to separate us. She is waiting patiently for me and I cannot wait to see her at the end of my summer classes.”
Philip claims that Shakeh is “a brilliant, beautiful, and magical wife. She makes me promise to earn all A’s.” The Acheampongs have two children—daughter Gina (age 13) and son Kwabena (11).
“Philip has just completed his first year in the WFED program and is doing quite well,” says his advisor, Professor Edgar Farmer. “Currently he and I are writing a journal article on perspectives of postsecondary technical education and community colleges.” The article will soon be ready for publication.
Philip is enjoying his Penn State experience. “It’s amazing,” he says. “It’s been a great learning experience with diverse cohorts and instructors willing to share ideas and offer advice on how I can reach the heights of my career aspirations. My wife laughs and says that she never hears me complain about my workload or deadlines, as is common with students.”
After he completes his Ph.D., Philip plans to return with his family to Africa. Not surprisingly, he is looking at a multitude of professions. He’d like to be a planner for workforce education programs; he’s interested in being a higher education administrator, practitioner, and researcher of workforce education; and he would like to pursue opportunities to participate and influence others in educational policies affecting workforce and higher education.