Board of Directors


Anene Ejikeme, Ph.D.
Trinity University, Executive Director of Africa Network

A historian by training, Anene is on the faculty at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, where she also directs the African Studies Concentration in the International Studies Program.  In her capacity as African Studies advisor, Anene supervises students and also works to maintain the visibility of Africa on campus in general.  Prior to Trinity, Anene taught at Barnard College, where she also served as Director of the Pan-African Studies Program.   In 2010-2011 Anene was the NEH Scholar in the Humanities at Albright College in Reading, Pennsylvania.   Anene received her PhD in History from Columbia University and her MA from The Ohio State University.  Her research interests center around issues of identity.  As well as the survey Customs and Cultures of Namibia, Anene has published essays on, among other subjects, the boxer Hogan Bassey and Christian women in southern Nigeria.  

Matt Carotenuto, Ph.D.
St. Lawrence University, Chair of the Board of Africa Network

“My work with Africa Network represents my commitment to increasing the study of Africa in the liberal arts and the essential skills students learn from intercultural education. As a broad supporter of international and intercultural learning, I strongly believe that immersive engagement with Africa’s complex history and cultural diversity is essential for students to be successful throughout their academic, personal and professional lives.”

At St. Lawrence (SLU) I teach survey courses in African history and African studies, upper division classes on constructions of identity and conflict, and seminars on colonial and urban history. As a specialist in East Africa, I recently published a co-authored book with Katherine Luongo, Obama and Kenya: Contested Histories and the Politics of Belonging (Ohio University Press, 2016), which examines the ways African and non-African audiences have used controversial readings of Kenya’s past to interpret the political assendency of a U.S. president. Previous work has focused on Kenyan sport history and politics of ethnicity in colonial and postcolonial Kenya. I have also written popular critques of representations of African history and study abroad for Politico Magazine, Salon,  The Huffington Post , and The Washington Post.

At St. Lawrence, I am also the coordinator of the African Studies program and an active supporter of study abroad. As an alumnus, and campus coordinator of SLU’s Kenya Semester Program (KSP) I always love to discuss study abroad opportunities in East Africa (so please don’t hesitate to contact me). To learn more join the KSP Facebook Group or hear about current student experiences on the official Kenya Semester Program Blog.

Jim Pletcher, Ph.D.
Denison University

Jim received his PhD in Political Science from the University of Wisconsin in 1982.  His scholarly work focuses on the design of agricultural marketing institutions in Southern and Eastern Africa and Malaysia.  He taught courses in the politics of Africa, Asia and Latin America, environmental politics, and international political economy.  Besides his teaching duties, Jim has worked in the fellowships advising office of Denison University and has been involved in University governance.  Since 2013 Jim has served as the Associate Provost for Academic Affairs at Denison.  He has been involved with the Africa Network since about 2003. He became the Executive Director in 2010 and was Chair of the Board of Directors from 2014-2016.

Thomas L. Benson, Ph.D.
Executive Director of the World Leadership Corps and Emeritus Chair of the Board

Dr. Thomas L. Benson is the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Council for International Culture and Education. He is the founder and former executive director of the World Education Corps, an international service organization that merged in 2013 with the Atlas Service Corps. Dr. Benson is the President Emeritus of Green Mountain College, an innovative liberal arts college in Poultney, Vermont. Green Mountain adopted an environmental liberal arts mission during his tenure and was named America’s top environmental college in 2010 by the Sierra Club. Dr. Benson served for fifteen years as a professor of philosophy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, where he established the Interdisciplinary Studies Program and served as the first director of the Honors Program (now the Honors College).


Robert A. Leonard, Ph.D.
Hofstra University

Professor Leonard is Professor of Linguistics, Director of the Graduate Program in Forensic Linguistics, and Director of the Institute for Forensic Linguistics, Threat Assessment and Strategic Analysis at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York.

A Fulbright Fellow for his Ph.D. research, he received his B.A. from Columbia College, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and his M.A., M.Phil., and Ph.D. from Columbia Graduate School, where he was a Faculty Fellow. He is lead researcher at Robert Leonard Associates, a consulting firm.

Joseph Mbele, Ph.D.
St. Olaf College

Joseph Mbele‘s offerings at St. Olaf include a popular course he calls “The Hero and the Trickster.” Specializing in folklore and the connection between folklore and literature, Joseph describes himself as an “intellectual claustrophobe, allergic to walls and limits”; fascinated by tales of tricksters, outlaws, and epic heroes. He has done folklore fieldwork in Kenya, Tanzania, and the USA, and given lectures and conference papers on folklore in Canada, Finland, India, Israel, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and USA.

Joseph always wanted to be a teacher, and, though there were many job options in his country, never applied for anything other than teaching. After earning a Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin and before coming to St. Olaf in 1990 to teach post-colonial and third-world literature, he taught in the Literature Department of the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Over the years, he has taught courses such as Swahili Literature, Theory of Literature, African Literature, Sociology of Literature, Post-Colonial and Third World Literature, The Epic, and African-American Literature.

Joseph likes western classical music, traditional folk music of different countries, reggae, rap, and “any great dance music, from Michael Jackson and Madonna to Zairian tunes.” He lives in Northfield with his wife Heribertha, and they have three daughters.

Elizabeth Morton, Ph.D.
Wabash College

Dr. Morton began her career at Wabash in 2007 after earning her bachelor’s degree from Indiana University, a master’s degree in Botswana, and a master’s and Ph.D. in art history from Emory University.

Dr. Morton curated the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s exhibition, “Dynasty and Divinity: Ife Art in Ancient Nigeria,” which opened in July and has been extended through January. During the course of her work on the exhibition, she involved Wabash students, faculty, and staff.

Cheryl Mwaria, Ph.D.
Hofstra University and Emeritus Chair of the Board

Cheryl Mwaria received her Ph.D from Columbia University in 1985.  Currently, Dr. Mwaria is a Professor of Anthropology and Chair of the Department of Anthropology at Hofstra University.

As a medical anthropologist she has conducted fieldwork in Kenya, Botswana, Namibia, the Caribbean and the United States writing on bioethics, women’s health, race relations and differential access to health care.  She served on the National Academy of Sciences Committee to establish the scientific guidelines for Human Embryonic Stem Cell research (hESC). She has also served on the executive boards of the American Anthropological Association, the American Ethnological Society, and the Society for the Study of Anthropology of North America and the Association of Feminist Anthropology.  She was an invited participant in the American Anthropological Association Race Project Conference on Race, Human Variation, and Disease:  Consensus and Frontiers. She has written on minority access to cancer-related clinical trials: “From Conspiracy Theories to Clinical Trials:  Questioning the Role of Race and Culture versus Racism and Poverty in Medical Decision-Making” in Gender, Race, Class & Health.

Her current work is on cross-cultural approaches to the use of preimplantation genetic diagnosis.  She served as a member of the Center for Urban Bioethics at the New York Academy of Medicine.  She is currently Chair of the Board of the Africa Network, a nonprofit consortium of liberal arts colleges committed to literacy about and concern for Africa in Americans higher education.

Angel David Nieves, Ph D.
Hamilton College

Angel David Nieves is an Associate Professor at Hamilton College, Clinton, N.Y., USA.  He is currently Co-Directing Hamilton’s Digital Humanities Initiative (DHi) (w/Janet Simons), funded by $1.75 million in grants from the Mellon Foundation (  He is also the Director of the American Studies Program and is a founding member of the Cinema and Media Studies (CNMS) concentration.  His articles have appeared in, among others, The Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy; The Journal of Planning History; The International Journal of Media and Cultural Politics; Safundi: The Journal of South African and American Studies; and in several edited volumes, including Places of Pain and Shame: Dealing With Difficult Heritage (Routledge, 2009) and The Afterlife of Iconic Planned Communities: Heritage, Preservation, and Challenges of Change, (UPenn Press, 2017).  He was also the Associate Editor, of Fire!!!: A Multimedia Journal of Black Studies.  

Brett O’Bannon, Ph.D.
DePauw University

Brett O’Bannon is Leonard B. and Mary E. Howell Professor of Political Science, and Director of Conflict Studies at DePauw University, in Greencastle, Indiana. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Canadian Centre for the Responsibility to Protect. His teaching and research interests have morphed over the last decade from a focus on local-scale conflict management, particularly among herders and farmers in Senegal, to larger-scale civil conflict, and the atrocity crimes often associated with these “new wars.” Long interested in gender issues as they relate to development, Brett’s recent work on gender, including as a conflict analyst for the UN in Côte d’Ivoire, also reflects this transition to peace and security concerns. He continues to draw on his fieldwork studying herder-farmer conflict, however, as a means of theorizing new forms of larger-scale conflict early warning systems. He has recently published Reassessing the Responsibility to Protect: Conceptual and Operational Challenges, an edited volume with Routledge Press (2015) that explores problems of mass atrocity prevention and response with an emphasis on the particular human protection challenges in the African context. His current course offerings include: Comparative Politics, African Politics, Gender and World Politics, Humanitarian Intervention, and the senior seminar in Conflict Studies, (Un)Civil Conflict: New War in Africa. Brett remains convinced of the transformative power of working and studying abroad, and nowhere has this proved truer than in Africa. He has led three winter term courses to Africa (Senegal and Botswana) and continues to hear from students even a decade later that their encounter with Africa changed their lives.

John Pfautz, D.M.A.
Augustana College – Rock Island

John Pfautz joined Augustana College’s music department in 1987, making him a senior faculty member.  Perhaps he’s known for being the guy who says: “we’ve always done it this way.”  However, that’s usually followed immediately with: “let’s try something new.”

In 2005, Pfautz began teaching church music courses and directing sacred music drama at the Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary in Ogbomoso, Nigeria. His relationship with the Nigerian Seminary continues with short- term teaching experiences during breaks in the Augustana College academic schedule, including two sabbaticals.

Dr. Pfautz has brought his expertise in church music and in the music of West African into Augustana College’s learning community arena, where he has taught with Dr. Rachel Magdalene (Hebrew Bible specialist,) Dr. Matthew Marohl (Christian Traditions,) Dr. Jason Mahn (his course on Martin Luther,) and professors Rowen Schussheim-Anderson and Megan Quinn (Studio Art of Africa.)  He taught on the West Africa Term during Spring term, 2010, co-directed and taught on Ghana term during Winter of 2012-13, and, again as co-director, is preparing for an Africa term in Spring 2015 that will include both Ghana and Tanzania.

Sandra L. Sprayberry, Ph.D.
Birmingham-Southern College

Dr. Sandra L. Sprayberry is Robert Luckie Professor of English and Coordinator of the Human Rights and Conflict Studies program at Birmingham-Southern College, where she teaches, among others, courses in post-colonial literature and human rights.  While a professor at BSC, she has studied in Ghana and also in South Africa, and she has sponsored travel-study projects in Zimbabwe, Kenya, and South Africa.  As part of an ongoing interdisciplinary project, she and colleagues in the Associated Colleges of the South consortium were awarded a grant to present a teaching workshop on Atlantic Africa.

Joanna Tague, Ph.D.
Denison University

Jo Tague is an Assistant Professor of African History at Denison University, where she teaches survey courses on Pre-Colonial Africa and Africa After 1800, as well as upper-level courses on Gender andAfrica, Humanitarian History, Apartheid South Africa, and 19th and 20th Century East Africa. Professor Tague received her BA from the George Washington University, during which she studied abroad in Zimbabwe with the School for International Training (SIT). She then served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in South Africa and went on to complete her MA at Ohio University, and her PhD at the University of California, Davis. Her research explores the relationship between refugee settlement, international humanitarianism, rural development, and decolonization in East Africa in the 1960s and 1970s. Her work has been supported by Fulbright-Hays, the American Historical Association (AHA), the Mellon Foundation, the Kluge Center, and the Woodrow Wilson Foundation.

Fiona Vernal, Ph.D.
University of Connecticut

Fiona Vernal is a native of Litchfield, Jamaica and grew up in Trenton, New Jersey. She earned her BA from Princeton University in 1995 and her MA and PhD from Yale. After completing her doctoral work in December 2003, she served as director of African Studies at Kalamazoo College, Kalamazoo, Michigan. Since 2005 she has taught at the University of Connecticut’s Department of History where her courses focus on precolonial, colonial Africa, the history of South Africa and the African diaspora. She is currently completing a manuscript which explores the relationship between African Christian converts, European missionaries and the politics of land access, land alienation and the “civilizing” mission of African social and economic improvement in nineteenth century South Africa.

Dr. Vernal consults with the Connecticut Historical Society on oral history projects, most recently on an exhibit documenting and recording the impact of 9/11 on Connecticut victims, families and first responders: September 11, Connecticut Responds and Reflects. A second exhibit documented the history of West Indian migrants to the greater Hartford’s area: Finding a Place, Maintaining Ties: Greater Hartford’s West Indians. She is currently engaged in a photo documentation project on Caribbean migration to greater Hartford.

Eric Michael Washington
Calvin College

Eric Washington is currently assistant professor of history at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI where he specializes in the history of Africa and Africans in the Western Hemisphere. He is also the director of the African and African Diaspora Studies minor. A native of New Orleans, LA, Washington received his B A in Sociology with a minor in Afro-American history from Loyola University of New Orleans, a Master’s of Arts in History from Miami University specializing in African history, and a Ph.D from Michigan State University specializing in African history with minor fields in Latin American and African American history.

John Watkins, Ph.D.
Colorado College

John Watkins did his graduate work in commutative algebra. Soon after joining the department in 1977, he realized the advantages of introducing graph theory to undergraduate study; it is reasonably accessible, and yet there are many unsolved problems. Watkins retrained himself over the next few years in graph theory and pioneered courses in discrete mathematics and graph theory. In 1993, John introduced a course titled Research in Mathematics. He presented the students with problems selected from discrete mathematics and then helped them develop their ideas. The result: several published papers (six as of 1999).

Watkins’ organizational skills and appreciation for the arts made him a prime candidate to head the college’s summer program; in 1999, he became Dean of the Summer Session. His connection with the mathematics department was by no means severed, but his teaching was reduced to a special course here and there. After three years at the helm of the summer session, he returned to the department in the fall of 2001.

Todd Watkins, Ph.D.
Lehigh University

Todd A. Watkins is the Executive Director of the University’s Martindale Center for the Study of Private Enterprise and director of Lehigh’s Microfinance Program. Prior to his graduate studies, he worked in Optical Design and Optical Manufacturing Engineering for the Eastman Kodak.

Author of more than 50 related publications, his research and teaching focus on the intersection of innovation, entrepreneurship, public policy and economics. He is co-editor of the volume, Moving Beyond Storytelling: Emerging Research in Microfinance(Emerald, 2009) and has published in the journal, Science, and well as Research Policy, Issues in Science and Technology, Technology Review, Defence and Peace Economics, Small Business Economics, Industrial Relations and other journals and books. His teaching areas encompass managerial economics, technology entrepreneurship, new product development and microfinance innovation.

Professor Watkins was the founding executive director of the Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity and Innovation. He also co-founded Lehigh’s Community Research and Policy Service (Lehigh CORPS) and was one of the founders of Lehigh’s Integrated Product Development Program, national winner of the ASME Curriculum Innovation Award. Watkins is a four-time winner of the Outstanding Instructor award from the National Technology University for his teaching via distance learning, and he also received Lehigh’s MBA teaching award. He’s been a research consultant to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s NIST Advanced Technology Program, the U.S. Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, and a member of The National Academies’ Committee on Innovation Models for Aerospace Technologies, advising NASA on improving their innovation processes. He is a founding member of the Faculty Advisory Council for ACCION International’s Center for Financial Inclusion, which seeks to promote innovation and growth of commercial microfinance worldwide.

Carol West, Ph.D.
Hendrix College