Maghan Keita, PhD, professor of History and Global Interdisciplinary Studies
This globally minded professor travels with students on an intellectual journey that bridges many disciplines and cultures
The world is full of big, complex problems related to poverty, economics, political systems and health care that need to be addressed by creative problem-solvers. Villanova’s Global Interdisciplinary Studies Department is preparing students to fill that role by encouraging them to look at the world and its issues from a variety of perspectives, to collaborate and apply critical thinking to develop solutions, and to travel to experience other cultures.
“When we talk about global studies, it is not simply a matter of looking at various geographic locations,” explains Maghan Keita, the founding director of the Institute of Global Interdisciplinary Studies, now known as the GIS Department. “It also involves developing a comprehensive perspective, thinking in a global sense.”
It’s just the type of perspective and work that countries are looking for Fulbright grantees to do: to promote international good will through cultural partnership and the exchange of knowledge. So it’s no wonder that such a high percentage of students from the GIS program have received the award. This past year alone, eight of the 16 GIS graduates were Fulbright recipients or semifinalists.
“They achieve Fulbright awards in order to serve a broader community, but they also give witness to the community of service they develop in GIS and at Villanova,” Dr. Keita says. “We always emphasize that we are a community of scholars and we acquire knowledge in order to share it with others, which is part of our Augustinian ethos.”
That ethos is deeply woven into the DNA of the GIS program. Its goal is to provide students with a skill set that will foster critical and analytical thinking and problem-solving, preparing them to be responsible global citizens and leaders and to thrive in careers that span many disciplines and continents—including public service, international business and law, global health and nonprofit advocacy.
“Our students have the potential for doing the most serious kinds of intellectual work, and we help them to develop and rise to that occasion,” Dr. Keita says. This mutual pursuit of knowledge has had a personal impact on him as well, as he’s arrived at new places and new perspectives in his research and in his roles as a teacher, mentor and scholar.
“Teaching and working with students is always a rich experience,” Dr. Keita says. “ I walk in every day knowing that someone is going to say something that’s going to inspire me, and it’s kept me coming back for 32 years.”
One Class, Two Disciplines
A hallmark of the Global Interdisciplinary Studies program, team-taught classes allow students to explore a topic with guidance from faculty in two different disciplines. For example, in their course on the African Diaspora, Dr. Keita looks at the historical events and context of this movement of peoples, and Chiji Akoma, PhD, associate professor of English, director of Africana Studies and chair of GIS, looks at the literature and works of art produced by the diaspora.