Indiana State University Newsroom

Professor presents on higher education in South Africa

April 25, 2011

A group in South Africa made an offer that left Mary Howard-Hamilton confused.

"They said they would give ISU 100 cattle to keep me," the Indiana State University professor of educational leadership said with a smile.

Later as she recounted that offer to others, Howard-Hamilton learned that 100 cattle represented a large sum of money.

"I really bonded with my group," she said of those who made the offer.

Howard-Hamilton recently spent two weeks this spring training higher education officials in South Africa.

"They have the passion and the drive but they don't have the training," she said. "It's how we started many years ago."

She made the journey in her new role as the knowledge enhancement director for the Association for College and University Housing Officers - International's (ACUHO-I) Executive Board. As knowledge enhancement director for a three-year term, she will assist the association with research of new knowledge, make connections with graduate programs; and work with volunteers and staff to produce publications.

"I had to connect with ACUHO," she said. "They are way ahead of the game in student affairs. They developed an international component because they recognized all these countries need consultants in student affairs and that they need tools. I'm loving getting to be a part of it."

Howard-Hamilton along with other ACUHO-I team members met with chief housing administrators from universities across South Africa at the Stellanbosch University in Cape Town for the inaugural Student Housing Training Institute. They led session in financing, program assessment and crises management. Howard-Hamilton led a session on student development theory.

"It is how students change while living in our residences and on our campuses," she said. She further explained how vertical towers of housing, without common areas, isolate students. Student housing such as living learning residence halls creates a collaborative environment where students can study or relax together. "What you build shapes their behavior," she said.

After a week in Cape Town, Howard-Hamilton flew to Soweto and Johannesburg for a week of individual consultations with universities. She gave the keynote address on "Higher Education and Leadership: A Comparison Between the United States and South African Institutions." In her talk, she spoke of how the two countries handled racial integration.

"I spoke of how amazing it was to see the transformation from apartheid to post apartheid and the similarities in the States to integration," she said. "I really praised them for their vision and being willing to have difficult conversations that we need to have."

She expressed surprise at the open discussion addressing racial issues among the South Africans.

"They're more willing to talk about whites, colored and blacks and the experiences of apartheid," she said.

Listening to the younger generation discuss their experiences reminded Howard-Hamilton of her life during the 1960s and 1970s with integration.

"They were thankful they were finally being allowed to get an education at predominantly white institutions," she said.

Howard-Hamilton visited the prison on Robben Island, where former South American President Nelson Mandela was held. She also visited Mandela's home, which has been turned into a museum about the Nobel Prize winner. She also toured the Hector Pieterson Museum, which documents the 1976 Soweto uprising when police officers fired upon children. A photo of a boy carrying the body of Hector called international attention to the violence that left 500 people dead in the uprising.

"It thrust me back to my days in college with the Black Student Movement trying to get universities to stop investing in South African gold and diamond mines," she said. "It made me remember some of my social justice activities in college."

Howard-Hamilton plans to return to South Africa with a group of ISU graduate and doctoral students in July 2012. ISU students would present their research during poster sessions in Cape Town and lead workshops to train South African staff members in higher education leadership in Johannesburg as well as tour primary and secondary schools in both cities.

Students could learn from how South Africa decided to meet educational problems, such as a campus for first-year college students that need extra support before transitioning to universities, Howard-Hamilton said.

"They're trying to decrease that achievement gap that we have here," she said. "We've got some things we could learn on the study tour."

Mary Howard-Hamilton (far right) with her group that offered 100 cattle to stay in South Africa: Kenneth Ntombela, T S Nedohe, Ilse Reuter, Maropeng Masenya, Shirene Klink and Laetitia Permall.
Vuyokazi Mntuyedwa from the University of Western Cape in South Africa gives a book to Mary Howard-Hamilton

Contact: Mary Howard-Hamilton, Indiana State University, professor of educational leadership, at 812-237-2907 or

Writer: Jennifer Sicking, Indiana State University, associate director of media relations, at 812-237-7972 or