From Ghana to Whitworth: A Journey to a Quality Education

by Josethe Schatz, ’13

Elorm Atisu, ’12, is always thinking of the next step. Whether it’s on the track, as a sprinter on Whitworth’s track team, or as a student deciding what he needs to do next educationally, Atisu is a one-step-at-a-time individual.  And it’s an unorthodox series of steps that’s brought him to where he is today: He’s one of the newest staff members in Whitworth’s Admissions Office.

But his entire journey has been driven by an overarching goal: to get the best education possible. Hailing from Accra, Ghana, Atisu came to the United States not only because he wanted to experience a new place, but because he knew the schools in the United States could provide him with what he believed was most important: “a quality education.” Atisu chose Whitworth because he wanted to attend a smaller institution with strong personal connections within the community.

“[Whitworth was] a campus where people were actually personable,” Atisu says of his first contact with the community. “I experienced being on the other side of the globe, but it was the good things I had heard about the communication between people on campus which was how I ended up here.”  

Atisu’s move from Ghana’s education system to the education system at Whitworth took some adjusting. “I sort of knew what to expect,” Atisu says, referring to the change in culture. “I went in expecting people to be different. Some people don’t think about the fact that other people are going to be different and so they get here and it shocks them. I came in knowing the difference, and I just went with the flow.

One challenge was the difficulty in keeping up with the quick pace at which Whitworth functioned.  “When you come to college, people forget that you didn’t come to school in the United States,” Atisu says. “Coming to Whitworth, you have to be ready for a lot of work. I ran track, too. So that was another thing that made [the pace of Whitworth] more difficult.”

Atisu had been an avid track athlete in high school. So, going to a school in the United States where he had the opportunity to run track was important to him. Atisu joined the Whitworth track team the moment he enrolled at Whitworth. He ran the 100 meter, 200 meter, and 400 meter sprints, as well as the 4x4 relay.

Atisu grew up running track during his school years in Ghana. Before attending Whitworth, Atisu had attended Achimota Secondary School, or Achimota College, in Accra. It was at Achimota College that Atisu found he could engage in studying translations. “One thing I really enjoy is languages,” Atisu says. “I pick up languages very easily, so I was in the school learning how to translate from English to French, mostly, and then to Spanish and to Arabic.” After graduating from Achimota, Atisu chose to attend school in the United States. The education offered at Whitworth looked more promising than what Ghana’s educational system had to offer him.

“The quality of education [in Ghana] was not what I wanted,” Atisu says. “You go to class and you could have a thousand to two thousand people in your lecture room, whereas at Whitworth you might have 15.” Atisu believed that the environment of a much smaller community of students was more conducive to what he wanted to achieve – personal connections and a high quality education.

At schools in Ghana, Atisu says that it’s possible that students don’t have seats to sit in during class. It makes for a tough classroom environment. Students who go there to attend class often cannot see or hear the professor due to the lack of seating, and at times the students can’t even get into the classroom.  “You have to [stand outside] because the lecture hall is so packed,” Atisu said. “That’s hard. That’s not education. That is a manufacturing center where they’re producing people, just running them through the mill. I did not want that at all.”

Atisu believes the harsh structure of Ghana’s education system revolves around its societal resources. “Ghana is a developing country, a country that has very limited resources when it comes to a lot of things,” Atisu says. “We have not really tried to progress beyond where we were. We have not expanded the facilities at the rate that we need to expand them.” Atisu also says that with the limited educational opportunities in Ghana, you end up with having only what is offered but with more people wanting it. “Less supply but always more demand,” Atisu says.

By coming to the United States, Atisu found that his opportunities to pursue a career in a field he enjoyed were within his reach. Attending school at Whitworth helped to make his reach even closer to his goals. At Whitworth, Atisu studied Communications, immersing himself in creating personal connections and utilizing his skill of languages. “Language is a part of culture, and I come from a different culture,” Atisu says. “If you want to study how people communicate, you have to study their culture in general and not just one piece of that culture.” Atisu believes that discipline of communications was broad enough for him to study “the different elements of speaking, writing, and thinking,” areas that he finds especially interesting.

Now, as one of Whitworth’s admissions counselors, Atisu is “one of the many faces” that represent the university.

During his time at Whitworth, Atisu believed the best things he got were the personal connections he made. “A lot of people don’t realize that you can actually make great connections with people here in Spokane and beyond,” Atisu said. The people he got to know became vital aspects in gaining a great education which were useful in pursuing a career.

“Overall, I think that I am able to work now because of the education that I got. A lot of people say, ‘Well, how am I going to use this?’ The way you’re going to use it is that you’re used to the rigor of life,” Atisu says. “In life after college, people are going to expect and demand more from you. That’s one thing that Whitworth got me ready for.”

But in his current position as one of the Whitworth’s admissions counselors, Atisu sees himself as having just left the starting blocks. He is constantly thinking of what more life has to offer him here in the United States before making the decision to return home to Ghana. Now, striding forward, he’s looking for that one open lane ahead.