Whenever he visits Ghana, where he was born and raised, the Rev. Bernard Osei Ampong, affectionately called "Father Ben," walks along the same streets he did as a child, striking up conversations with people he meets along the way. Father Ampong is a man of faith, to be sure, but he is also, at his core, a teacher. Inevitably, when he encounters a young person who should clearly be in school and is not, he asks them why. The answers vary. Some have gone to work at a local mine to help support their families; others are teen parents who have to care for children of their own; still others may have struggled academically and left the classroom out of frustration. Whatever the reason, Father Ampong wants them to know that he cares about them and their futures.
“Education is not just important,” he says. “It is the foundation of everything we do.”
Father Ampong, who himself earned a master’s degree in education and a Certificate of Advanced Studies from Le Moyne, is proud of the progress Ghana has made in educating its citizens. Besides Free Compulsory Universal Basic Education, the government has undertaken a number of initiatives to keep its youth in the classroom, including establishing a school feeding program, providing students with free school uniforms, and awarding grants to pay for necessary supplies like textbooks, relieving parents of some of the cost. These strategic investments are paying dividends. According to the World Bank, the literacy rate in Ghana has jumped from 57.9 percent in 2000 to 79 percent today. Still Father Ampong is not content to rest on these successes; he wants to help grow them. And to that end, he is making combatting the drop-out rate in Ghana centerpiece of his research as a student in the College’s Doctorate in Executive Leadership (Ed.D.) Program.
Father Ampong, who is the pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Sydney, N.Y., in the Albany Catholic Diocese, is part of the new program’s first cohort. In that sense, he and his classmates are trailblazers. They are all busy professionals, and they all bring valuable strengths, outlooks and experiences into the program in order to solve common problems. “This is an environment in which you truly benefit from others and others benefit from you,” Father Ampang says. What he appreciates most about the program, though, is the way it blends theory with practice. It is not just about “abstract, beautiful concepts.” It about finding solutions to some of the world’s most significant challenges, promoting change and improving communities.
The program has also imbued in Father Ampong a deeper understanding of what it means to be a leader.
“Some say that leadership is about strength, but I say that leadership is about people,” he says. “At the end of the day, it’s not about power or control or declaring, ‘I’m the head.’ Leadership is about working with others, empowering and building relationships with them, and motivating them to reach a common goal. As pastor, I may be the leader of the flock, but the entire church community works together to fulfill the mission of Christ.”