Founding Universities At Age 60!

One of the delightful aspects of being in Ghana has been the chance to  meet  some amazing people. Here's an example:

Why not start a University for Women in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia? Princess Lolowah al Faisal was in charge of the project her mother, Queen Effat, had started, and the need was certainly there. At 60 years old in 1999, when most of her generation were contemplating retirement, Marcia Grant  “leaned in” and moved to Saudi Arabia to help start the University.  She arrived on August 2nd.  By September 8th, 37 students were enrolled and Effat College was born.

Dr Grant 2

Marcia ran the college for almost two years, and was “on again, off again” for the following two years. The remarkable Saudi woman who took over the helm, President Haifa Jamal al-Lail proceeded to start an engineering School for women and Effat University now enrolls 1500 students.

But that’s not all. Marcia spent four years pioneering the liberal arts in planning the Faculty of Arts and Sciences for the Aga Khan University in Karachi, Pakistan, and then two years developing the liberal arts in Forman Christian College (no relation!) in Lahore, Pakistan. She’s currently the Provost at  Ashesi University College outside of Accra, Ghana, an extraordinary new university focused on educating a new generation of ethical, entrepreneurial leaders who will transform Africa.

Marcia Grant is no ordinary woman.  Higher Education in the developing world is better because of her contributions. We joined her for lunch in Accra recently and learned about her life journey.

Marsha Grant

At age 6, she moved with her family from Walnut Creek, California (right next to the town where Jan grew up) to Colombia where her father designed the American School in Bogota.  In fact, he designed it after Acalanes High School in Lafayette—Jan’s alma matter!

At age 9, now living in Mexico City, she decided that she wanted to pursue an international career.  She told her mother that she didn’t like the American School in Mexico City at that time, and switched to be the only American in a local Mexican school.

When she returned to Walnut Creek, she lamented, “will I ever get to travel internationally again?”  She became an accomplished flautist, and earned money by teaching flute lessons, washing cars, and babysitting to purchase her own custom made Powell Flute for $450.  (She still has this instrument, and it was recently appraised for over $7,000.)

At age 16, she graduated from Las Lomas High School and headed for Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania.  She flew in blue linen suit, hat with veil and white gloves!  These items of clothing did not get much wear once she arrived at the college, as Swarthmore provided quite the culture shock.  There were many New Yorkers, and guys with beards. Hey, it was 1956!

One of the reasons she selected Swarthmore was that it offered a scholarship to Peru.  Of course, she applied for this and was granted the scholarship, so off she went.  During one summer, she also traveled to Africa as part of the Crossroads Africa program, where she learned construction and fell in love with Africa. She graduated from Swarthmore at age 20.

She spent two years at the Fletcher School at Tufts and received two Masters Degrees.  Then, she moved to England on a Fulbright, and then ended up in Nigeria to work on her PhD, studying the workings of the press in Nigeria. She received her doctorate from The London School of Economics.

She became a tenured Professor at Oberlin and was a member of the Faculty Council. She later worked for the State Department in various roles, including as the cultural attaché for youth programs in Paris. Her career spans many countries, continents, and leadership positions.  There are too many fascinating positions to list in this limited article. But the central thread is challenge and contribution.  This is one dynamic woman who never stops!

As an illustrious alumna, Marcia received an honorary doctorate from Swarthmore. You can read Marcia’s commencement address that she delivered in 2007 at: .   She focuses on “lessons learned.”  What an amazing journey.

And we spent part of our lunch pondering, “where she wants to live when she grows up.”

marcia grant


5 thoughts on “Founding Universities At Age 60!

  1. Bobpa

    Jan - love your blog!
    How about more detail - from your perspective - of Ashesi?
    We were extremely impressed with the what and the how.
    Bob and Dottie

  2. Jan

    Post author

    Bob and Dottie,
    We haven't actually visited Ashesi yet, but we plan to in the future. So we can't give you any more details, but it sounds very interesting!

  3. Paula

    Marcia Grant is an inspiration to us all. You should nominate her to be a CNN hero. Just the information contained in this blog should be enough for serious consideration.

    I'm curious about primary schools in Ghana. Are they mandatory for all children. Enough teachers, buildings, supplies? Is there support for public education??

  4. Azra Qureshi

    Dr. Marcia Grant is definitely inspiration to a lot of women, young and old around the world.
    The ease with which she adapts herself to different cultures is amazing. I consider myself
    lucky to have associated with her at the Aga Khan University, Karachi, Pakistan where I was Head
    of Health Sciences Library.

    Her energy and drive to create a pleasant environment for co-workers is contagious. She is a leader in true sense. I just loved her for what she is.

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