Grace Akukwe2017 Rising Alumni

Grace Akukwe

Grace Akukwe finds inspiration in her work when she’s solving complex development challenges. She has a Ph.D. in educational policy and administration with a focus on international education. Her career includes work on education reform in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Sudan; workforce development in Afghanistan; and a youth resilience program in the Eastern Caribbean. Currently, Grace works at Creative Associates, an international development organization, leading economic empowerment projects.


Director of Workforce Development and Youth, Creative Associates International

CEHD Degree

M.Ed., Teacher Leadership, 1999
Ph.D., Educational Policy & Administration, 2004

Please list any professional accomplishments you wish to mention.

  • Author of two children's books.
  • Worked with several government Ministries of Education in Sub-Saharan Africa on educational reforms to improve quality and delivery of education.
  • Contributed to the South Sudan Education Act.
  • Recognized for technical and leadership skills by former employer Academy for Educational Development.
  • Was contributing member of the Inter-Agency Network for Emergency Education's Working Group on Education Fragility. The working group developed the framework for working in fragile education contexts.

Please list any past or current volunteer activities.

  • Volunteering at former parish, St. John the Evangelist in Silver Spring.
  • Personal mentoring and coaching of a few young professionals, about four in total.

Please list any awards or honors from your collegiate, professional, or volunteer experiences.

  • 1998 University of Minnesota Commencement Speaker for the College of Education
  • Academy for Educational Development Leadership Award (2004, 2005, 2010)
  • Academy for Educational Development Technical Achievement Award (2004, 2010)

What professor(s) or course(s) were most influential during your time in CEHD?

  • David Chapman, Ph.D. Advisor – all his courses
  • Karen Seashore – I worked for her at Center for Applied Research and Education Improvement (CAREI) and she was a great advisor overall (and land lady)
  • Art Harkins, Systems Thinking – Art had lots of innovative ideas always pushing the boundaries of what is possible within the education system paradigm. I was his teaching assistant for two years in the leadership program and got to co-teach a few classes with him.
  • Josef Mestenhauser and Michael Paige – the importance of intercultural intelligence
  • John Cogan – academic advisor

What was the impact and benefit of your educational experience in CEHD?

Both my degrees from the university helped my understanding of education systems, the pressure points and how the different stakeholder needs and agendas can derail the best efforts in education reform. It also prepared me to have an open mind in my travels to different parts of the world. The three intense assignments I have had:

  1. Living for three years in South Sudan providing technical assistance to State Ministers of Education in Western Bar el Ghazal and Northern Bar el Ghazal and to the Undersecretary of Education in Juba.
  2. Developing content for an education contingency training for Egyptian education officials from 27 governorates and conducting the training during the height of the tensions following Mubarak's imprisonment.
  3. Traveling to Kabul, Afghanistan to work with project staff on a workforce development project.

What is your favorite memory from the University of Minnesota?

There are so many – mostly the very intellectual and often intense debates in my CIDE classes and being a teaching assistant in the Leadership Program for four consecutive years

Who has inspired you the most during your career?

Several people – my parents, David Chapman, Karen Seashore.

What skills are important to succeed as an emerging professional today?

Critical thinking, flexibility, professionalism, good communication skills.

When you have 30 minutes of free time, what do you do?

Reading, writing, designing the next par3 of my professional journey which I hope will happen within the next two years.

How do others describe you?

Professional, diplomatic, intelligent, a good listener, strong work ethic.

How do you describe yourself?

Professional, diplomatic, hard working, ambitious and kind.

What's a good book you'd recommend to others?

The Two Hearts of Kwasi Boachi, by Arthur Japin. It’s about the duality of identity and nationality – the interactions between one's nationality and a foreign environment. It’s slow reading but very insightful.

If you could have coffee with anyone from history, who would it be?

Yaa Asentewaa, the Queen mother of the Asante people in Ghana who was the first female regent of the Asantes following her brother’s arrest and imprisonment by the British in 1896.

What gets you excited about work?

Solving complex development challenges. Working with female leaders in positions of power in countries where government is predominantly male.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A teacher. For my Ph.D. application I said I wanted to be a social engineer. David Chapman laughed.

Outside of your job, how do you grow professionally?

I read a lot. Try to meet new people that can expand my knowledge and who will challenge me to be better.

What is a "fun fact" about you?

I secretly want to write a script for a children's movie.