International superstar

In a career that has sent him from his native West Africa to Washington, D.C., Earl Conteh-Morgan’s love for teaching has been reinforced by his experience in global issues.

“I love academia,” Conteh-Morgan said. “A lot of students take a long time to decide what they want to do. When I was a high school student, I had already made up my mind that I wanted to be a professor.”

As a young man in Sierra Leone, West Africa, Conteh-Morgan found interest in global issues and as a result he persistently followed current events worldwide, which in 1985 brought him to USF to teach in the International Studies department.

“I used to listen to the BBC. I went to college and I studied French and would read Le Monde (a French newspaper), which has a very global focus,” he said. “Even back in Africa I used to read Time and Newsweek and a lot of very international publications. So at a very early age, actually, international issues became a passion for me.”

The 19-year veteran professor said his job as an educator is mainly to stimulate the students that walk into his classroom.

“Basically, (my spirituality) inspired me to be a teacher. It led me to want to transmit knowledge to others, and to point them in the right direction if possible,” Conteh-Morgan said. “And dealing with the young minds, I try to mold them in the positive direction.”

Conteh-Morgan earned a Ph.D. at Northwestern University in 1984. Also an author, his latest book, Collective Political Violence: Competing Theories and Cases of Violent Conflicts was released earlier this month.

During his time at USF, he has authored seven books that cover international conflicts and has worked on several domestic and international committees.

“(My experience) helps me a great deal when I interact with students here, because I can often tell them about my experiences,” Conteh-Morgan said. “I have consulted with the (U.S.) State Department, talking about war and peace building and peacekeeping. It takes away the dullness of a textbook, instead giving them a real-life experience.”

The professor was invited to the U.S. State Department, where he was able to discuss resource wars in Washington while writing a paper that explained the nature of different types of conflicts.

“Some of those wars have a lot to do with the struggle over resources and less to do with identity problems, such as ethnicity, tribalism, (and) things like that,” he said. “Now, wars occur over human need, like food, clothing and shelter.”

Conteh-Morgan said his work with the State Department was exhilarating, but it paled in comparison to an honor he received from the Nobel Institute in 1995.

“One of my most memorable experiences was when I actually got a senior research fellowship from Nobel Institute in Oslo, Norway. These are the people who hand out the Nobel Prizes each year, and I was fortunate enough to be a Nobel Fellow,” he said.

While at Oslo, the Nobel Fellows did research for about four months on several things, such as the development of democracy in Africa, an experience he said was noteworthy.

“What was most memorable about it, though, was the ceremonies for awarding the peace prize. I was able to sit at a ceremony recognizing activists who would eventually help bring an end to the Cold War and the struggle between the super powers,” he said.

Festus Ohaegbulam, another African native in international studies, said professors such as Conteh-Morgan and himself bring higher standards to the department.

“We had to work pretty hard when we were younger in order to earn an education,” Ohaegbulam said. “While things here tend to be a little easier, and often times much more affordable, we put a lot of work into gaining the knowledge we both strive for. We expect more of our students as a result.”

Ohaegbulam, a colleague of Conteh-Morgan for the past 19 years, commended Conteh-Morgan his academic work as well as his experience as an International Studies professor.

“He is a scholar and he does excellent research and has produced many books,” Ohaegbulam said. “His experience and teaching method is a great asset to the department and to the university. His experience and thorough, research-oriented teaching methods make him very challenging. He is someone who I would like to work with in any department.”

Although Conteh-Morgan said he has influenced many, he insists there are goals that he has yet to meet.

“Sometimes I feel like I have influenced a lot of people,” he said. “When I get invited to participate in conferences or on research committees, or am asked to work with scholars from around the world, I feel like I am accomplishing something with my studies and it really makes all the work worth it.”

Ultimately, Conteh-Morgan said, it pays off when his students leave his classroom.

“Generally my teacher evaluations from my students are very high,” he said. “I try to mix substance with real-life examples and stories, which (students) find very interesting. Not just about the United States or the rest of the Western world, but about conditions back in the developing world, where I came from.”

However, despite student feedback, Conteh-Morgan still has one goal he wants to meet.

“What I really would love to accomplish is to continue writing. When I find myself having completed a whole book that I have written, it gets me excited. It may seem like a selfish thing, but that is what gives my life meaning. I just love the writing, the teaching and the interacting with students and colleagues,” he said.