Passion for agricultural development leads Sierra Leonean to Penn State

Over the summer in State College, many students focused on relaxation, sun, and leisure. School of International Affairs student Ahmed Banya spent most of each day in the library at Lewis Katz Building, in view of the lush campus lawns and the sparkling fountain of the arboretum. His summer was anything but relaxing; Banya assisted with an international agriculture research project, worked on his dissertation, and prepared for a prestigious fall internship with the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program. If a question remained unanswered from his daytime research, he opened his computer in the evening, connected to the Internet, and kept searching. Having overcome the scant infrastructure and limited educational system of Sierra Leone to get to Penn State, Banya wouldn't have it any other way.

“I am always striving,” he said.

Banya pursues a master's degree in international affairs and, concurrently, a Ph.D. in agriculture extension education. Banya first heard of Penn State when his mentor, Dr. A.K. Lakoh at Njala University, encouraged him to apply. He was attracted to Penn State's focus on research and outreach.

Development Goals

Banya's interest in pursuing a degree with the School of International Affairs stems from his desire to reach out and make a difference in the lives of the people in the developing world. His goal is to help guide, teach, facilitate, and administer people-led-programs for capacity building and empowerment through education and advocacy.

“I am confident that when people are empowered to make choices, they have their own voice and are politically inclusive, socially aware, and civically engaged,” said Banya. “I believe that empowerment causes a life-changing and long-lasting effect on people. The opportunity to make choices leads to freedom and social advancement.

Banya plans to take his career international by working for the United Nations or the World Bank.

“I would like to work for the UN or the World Bank because they are involved in helping to create opportunities for positive change in the lives of people. They effectively promote social progress and efficiently assist in bettering standards of the lives of men, women, and children supporting their greater freedom in nations large and small,” said Banya. “The UN, in particular, because of my varied and extensive experiences, and long-standing commitment to the United Nations Association (UNA), which upholds and embraces the ideals of the UN. Positioning myself between the UN and the grass roots would provide me with the opportunity to serve an intermediary or consulting role.”

Banya's international experience goes beyond his involvement with the UNA. Before attending Penn State, he worked in the Social Services Section of the Ministry of Development and Economic Planning, Sierra Leone, the Prevention Department of the Anti-Corruption Commission, and the Peace Corps. He also volunteered with church educational programs, spent two years in Ghana serving as a missionary, and earned a master's degree from Brigham Young University.

As a member of the UNA, Banya had the opportunity to participate in discussions on global issues as a delegate for the UNA-USA Biennial National Convention in 2007. He also served as a delegate to discuss UN activities and civil society organizations for the World Federation of United Nations Associations, Academy for a Better United Nation Conference in 2002.

In 2008, Banya served as an intern for the Alliance Towards Harnessing Global Opportunities (ATHGO) International. During his internship, he provided assistance in hosting the third annual global forum, “Miracles of Development: The Effects of Good Governance and Capacity Building.”

In Doha, Qatar, Banya attended the 2008 UN-sponsored finance for development conference and presented a workshop titled “The Nexus of Partnership Relations among Development Actors: A multidimensional approach in a 21st Century Discourse.” The conference theme, “People Centered Development,” emphasized investment in people, while looking at government-civil society partnership and cooperation in financing for development and the millennium development goals.

Outstanding Faculty

By this point in his academic career, Banya has lived in several countries and spent time in several schools. He is impressed with the quality of Penn State School of International Affairs faculty.

“The experience School of International Affairs professors have is just incredible,” he said. Banya particularly enjoyed learning the Fundamental of Diplomacy and International Relations from Professor Dennis Jett, a former U.S. ambassador.

“Thanks to the outstanding interdisciplinary faculty mentors in the School of International Affairs program, I could not have had a better foundation to address international issues that I have been taught,” he said.