Meet the New Assistant Dean of the School for Public Purpose and Professional Advancement

Dr. Kafui Kouakou is teaching Albion students to understand and appreciate the benefits of experiential learning not just for career success tomorrow, but also for college success today.

September 15, 2021

Dr. Kafui Kouakou, Albion College

Dr. Kafui Kouakou holds in high regard a quote from Italian Renaissance sculptor and painter Michelangelo: “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.” The assistant dean of Albion College’s School for Public Purpose and Professional Advancement says, “The reason I like that quote is because no matter where you are, it applies. We need to be sure we make Albion a national model when it comes to experiential learning. That’s the goal.”

By John Perney

Dr. Kafui Kouakou easily recalls the day he received his bachelor’s degree in mathematics from York College, located in the Jamaica neighborhood of Queens and part of the City University of New York (CUNY).

And it wasn’t only because the achievement added to his bachelor’s in business administration from the same institution the year prior.

“By the time I graduated with my second degree, I was already a faculty member,” says Kouakou, as if still surprised 15 years later about that unlikely scenario.

By then the Togo native who had moved to New York in 2004 knew he wanted to pursue a career in higher education. He realized that was his path, however, only after a prolonged and unsuccessful job search with the B.B.A., despite a high GPA and coming from a family of educators.

“When I went back to get a second degree I made sure to take advantage of every co-curricular opportunity I could get,” Kouakou says. He participated and became a leader in student government and the African student association; he became assistant coach of the soccer team he had played for while completing his first degree.

“And it made a difference,” he continues. “I became involved in so much on campus that I was building relationships as well, which builds trust in people to say that I am qualified.”

Now, after 15 years as an administrator and faculty member in the CUNY system, including seven years as university associate director of continuing education and workforce programs, Dr. Kouakou’s path brings him to Michigan and Albion College, where, as assistant dean for the School for Public Purpose and Professional Advancement (SPP), he will regularly advise students on the importance and meaning of experiential learning as a core element in any undergraduate program of study.

“It took me a while to understand that the academics are really important, getting the degree is important, but there is an additional component you need to have, in addition to the degree, that will give you the opportunity to be able to be successful right out of the gate,” Kouakou says. “It’s experiential learning, and it allows students to find their purpose.”

Creating a Credential

One way that purpose will manifest itself will be in the form of the experiential learning certificate, which Dr. Kouakou; SPP Dean Dr. Ashley Woodson; institute and center directors, Provost Dr. Ron Mourad and additional College leaders are currently incorporating into the overall curriculum. The certificate is envisioned to be a highly focused and individualized “stackable credential” that, together with the bachelor’s degree, will put graduates in an even better position as they launch their careers.

“The goal is to make sure we have the certificate program up and running by this coming spring,” Kouakou says. “Building that structure is what I was hired to do, so that will be driving my day-to-day for now.”

This year’s sophomores are the focus of the rollout of the certificate program, as the new School for Public Purpose and Professional Advancement, announced last spring, becomes a central part of academic and campus life. In August, during his first days on campus, Dr. Kouakou led a retreat with Dr. Woodson for sophomores that engaged them in thinking more deeply about purpose. Different sessions explored the power of self-reflection and the discovery of purpose; steps to build a vibrant network of contacts; and what it will take to draft a plan of action that leads to completion of the experiential learning certificate.

“Dr. Kouakou’s vision for impactful, equitable experiential learning opportunities is necessary for SPP to fulfill its broader purpose,” said Dr. Woodson. “I’m inspired by his scholarship and professional accomplishments at City University of New York, and welcome him as an SPP leader and colleague.”

Developing Patience

Starting in 2022-23, the School and the concepts behind a purpose-oriented college education will be part of first-year students’ introduction to Albion.

To say Dr. Kouakou is excited about the possibilities would be an understatement. But with that excitement comes a certain patience that he wants to impart on students.

“Becoming a professional requires patience—learning patience—and understanding yourself,” he explains. “For me, that came from student government. You build a lot of patience doing that work, putting yourself in other students’ shoes and where they are coming from.”

And, as patience is learned, purpose can emerge.

“I want to help students start to think about what purpose means, and how you can connect that to things that you are doing in college,” Kouakou says. “You need to know the things you need to be doing to make that path available to yourself. If I can open that door for one student, that’s a win. And typically, opening a door for one student means you’re opening a door for a thousand more students.”