Skip Ellis wins 2013/2014 Fulbright Award

Published: Nov. 8, 2013

Professor Emeritus Clarence “Skip” Ellis has won a 2013/2014 Fulbright award to teach at Ashesi University in Ghana. His course -- World Simulation: Culture, Technology and Ethics -- will examine how various governments around the world work, teasing out ethical, economic, social and political factors. This course is a result of a decades long relationship of Professor Ellis with Ashesi University and Patrick Awuah, its founder and president.

Ellis, who retired from CU-Boulder’s Department of Computer Science in 2010, met Patrick Awauh while Awauh was working at Microsoft, then a small company which didn’t pay well but gave its employees stock options. Ellis was working at the nearby Xerox PARC Research Lab.

Awuah had had the good fortune of being selected for emigration to the United States through the Visa lottery system in 1985, and he attended Swarthmore College, where he studied Engineering and Economics, then UC Berkeley’s School of Business. Awauh was greatly impressed by Swarthmore’s Liberal Arts Education, which uses an active education system, rather than memorization and regurgitation, featuring hands-on activies, seminars, and courses based on interest rather than being grade based. He wanted to start a college in Africa run on these principles, and when his stock options in Microsoft made this possible, he founded Ashesi University in the village of Berekuso, near Accra, Ghana. Ashesi means “beginning” in Akan, a native Ghanaian language.

Ellis has made over a half dozen trips to Ghana as his friend grew his fledgling college from 30 students in a rented room in a church in 2002 to today’s prestigious institution which has a reputation for innovation and excellence, and is in so much demand that only 12% of applicants were admitted in 2013. Ellis helped informally with ideas about curriculum and funding resources, and when he retired, Awuah asked him to design a new research course around his research into simulation systems and alternative governance. Ellis designed a new type of course that emphasizes active education, subject integration, and collaborative student-driven research in an Afrocentric manner. Ellis taught this course in the spring of 2013 with great success, and is returning in January 2014 to teach a revised version of the course and work with an assistant to make the course sustainable for many years to come.

Students taking Ellis’ course will research how various governments work around the world, and explore new and old possibilities within the spectrum of "alternative governance structures." The goal of the course is to enhance students’ creative thinking, ethical awareness, group problem solving, analysis and simulation ability, and communication skills (writing, web, and public speaking). The framework for attaining these goals is a research question environment focusing on alternative governance structures. The style of the course will be interactive and discussion oriented, and will culminate in every student functioning as head of a country that they create according to principals of their own choosing, using the massively multiplayer simulation network game CyberNations.

Ellis states, “It has been challenging work and extremely rewarding. The students in the [2013] class were from diverse countries within Africa. They were a select bunch of intelligent, creative, and interested young people. More than 50% of Ashesi’s students are poor and on scholarship. The future of the world is dependent upon a fusion of western and non-western ways of knowing. It must be an integration of the new (e.g. computing technology) and the old ( / tribal values and affective ways of knowing.). It was mind-expanding and invigorating to spend some time in Africa, in Ghana, in Berekuso village, and in Ashesi University.”