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Professor Samuel Zalanga Awarded Fulbright and Carnegie Fellowships

Professor of Sociology Samuel Zalanga

There’s a certain routine to spring at Bethel University. Commencement, banquets, and campus festivities aside, it’s the time of year that faculty and students begin to ask one another about their summer plans.

Professor of Sociology Samuel Zalanga—a decorated scholar and respected presence in Bethel’s undergraduate and graduate programs—wrapped up his semester responsibilities with an extra dose of excitement as he looked forward to spending a year in Nigeria. He’s received not one but two prestigious fellowships that will bring him back to his home country.

This summer, he’ll co-develop undergraduate economics and development studies curricula at Federal University Gashua–Yobe State through the Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship. It’s the second time Zalanga has been awarded the fellowship, which supports short-term projects—proposed by universities in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda—intended to infuse international and interdisciplinary perspectives into program and institutional development. Zalanga is one of 70 African-born scholars working on diverse projects across Africa.

In the fall, he’ll begin a one-year Fulbright Fellowship at Nnamdi Azikiwe University in southeastern Nigeria. For 70 years, Fulbright Fellows have helped build relationships between the people of the United States and citizens of other countries to solve global challenges. The selective program is funded through an annual appropriation by the U.S. Congress and operates in more than 160 countries.

“The key focus of [Zalanga’s] fellowship will be, among other things, a graduate seminar in the university’s postgraduate school focusing on social theory—from the ancient Greek period to 1920—and research methods,” explains Harley Schreck, professor and chair of the anthropology, sociology, and reconciliation studies department.

Zalanga had $100 to his name when he moved to the U.S. in 1993, but the MacArthur Fund sponsored his education and got him started on a lifelong path to academic excellence. That experience—and the national and international ties he has to sociology and higher education—has fostered an ongoing passion and aptitude for increasing educational opportunities and fervor.

“To start with nothing, to go through all of this scholarship, and now to be nominated to represent the United States in my home country—it’s really quite an honor,” says Zalanga. “Higher education is America’s biggest export—even though it’s not a tangible thing. And I’m not just an ‘armchair scholar.’ I’ve been able to be who I am because of the investment of Bethel University. I want to be able to bring the two sides of my life together—to show African scholars that the Western world is not the enemy.”

In addition to these two prestigious fellowships, Zalanga was also recently recognized with the Kwame Nkrumah Award for Service to Pan-Africanism, which is given in remembrance of the first president of Ghana.

“Nkrumah was educated in the United States and became the champion of African identity that transcended colonial boundaries,” Zalanga notes. “Many Africans cannot see beyond their ethnic identity, let alone the national, African, or human race. Nkrumah, however, way ahead of his contemporaries, understood the Western tradition well and drew from it to inform his thinking about the transition of Africa from colonial rule to independence or modernity.”

With a similar international perspective, Zalanga represents Bethel and the United States in constant service to higher education in Africa and beyond.

“Although his absence will be painful, we are enthusiastic about these awards and recognition of Samuel’s scholarship and service,” writes Schreck. “As someone who calls himself an applied anthropologist, I deeply respect the work Samuel has done that is designed to improve the lives of people living in Africa and other parts of the world. He represents Bethel well.” 

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