The Traveling Man: Suffolk University Athletic Director Jim Nelson Visits Dakar, Senegal Campus


By Tony Ferullo

When Suffolk University athletic director Jim Nelson recently traveled to the West African nation of Senegal, he got a workout just carrying his own bags.

"I packed my two super-sized suitcases with basketballs, soccer balls and other athletic equipment to give to the people over there," said Nelson, a longtime resident of Arlington. "Needless to say, my suitcases were much lighter on my trip back home."

Nelson, who is beginning his 37th year working at Suffolk, had a dual role while visiting Suffolk University's Dakar, Senegal campus - one as an administrator, the other as an athletic director/coach.

"There were many purposes for this trip," said Nelson. "It was both an educational and enjoyable experience."

During his two-week stay, Nelson attended the Suffolk graduation ceremony in Senegal. Serving as a goodwill ambassador, Nelson brought the greetings of Suffolk University President David J. Sargent to the delighted Senegal graduates. Two months ago, Harriet Elam-Thomas, the U.S. ambassador to Senegal, was the guest speaker at Suffolk University's undergraduate commencement at the FleetCenter. Nelson, who normally sings the national anthem prior to each graduation ceremony in Boston,
continued his ritual before the Senegal graduates.

While in West Africa, he also witnessed how passionate people from Senegal are about their soccer team. "It was an incredibly exciting and exhilarating time to be in Senegal," said Nelson. "Senegal's soccer team established the Cinderella role throughout the World Cup competition and the hometown people were enthusiastically behind them all the way."

Nelson, who coached the Suffolk men's basketball team for many years, put on a basketball clinic for the students when he visited the Dakar campus for the first time last year. On this occasion, he coordinated a basketball game between Suffolk students and a team representing the U.S. Embassy in Senegal.

He also had an opportunity to assess the current conditions and determine the resources needed to develop an athletic/recreational program for the Suffolk students in Dakar. "One of my goals at this point is to find a funding source for resurfacing the outdoor basketball and volleyball courts, while also providing new basketball backboards and volleyball posts," said Nelson. "The students in Senegal are very appreciative of what we're trying to do. We at Suffolk look forward to the challenge of searching for financial benefactors to assist us in this worthwhile endeavor."

There are more than 300 students representing 18 African countries who attend Suffolk in Senegal throughout the school year. One of the common interests many of them share is participating in athletics or recreational games.

"The students really enjoy all sports or extra-curricular activities," said David Robbins, Academic Director of the Suffolk campus in Dakar, and Associate Dean of Suffolk University's College of Arts and Sciences. "We're extremely pleased with everything Coach Nelson is doing to help our students on those lines, along with the support we've received from Dean Michael Ronayne, Dean William O'Neill and the entire Suffolk University community. We couldn't have accomplished what we have without them."

With French being the predominant language in Senegal, Nelson had to communicate through an interpreter. However, he had no problem talking with Suffolk University professors like Bob Bellinger, Judy Dushku and Shahruz Mohtadi-Haghighi, who were in Senegal teaching as part of a new study abroad program. This summer, American students immersed themselves in the culture and environment of West Africa, sharing dormitory space with African students and choosing from a wide range of courses at Suffolk University's Dakar campus.

"It was wonderful to see the interaction between the African students, the American students and the Suffolk University professors," said Nelson. "I was also pleased to see the continued growth of the number of students attending our Senegal campus, as well as the school's new classrooms, new library, new auditorium and new residence quarters. It feels good to know that Suffolk University has stamped its imprimatur on this progressive country."

Last year, a total of 10 students from Senegal transferred to Suffolk's Boston campus to continue their education. One of those students, Makan Dembele, was a member of the Suffolk men's soccer team last season. This year, 11 more students will make the Dakar to Boston journey to learn and expand their knowledge.

"There is a great interest among the Senegal students to come to Boston," said Nelson. "They are truly dedicated and inspired to make that happen."

Back in the states, Nelson is busy as co-chair of a first-ever capital campaign to raise funds devoted solely to Suffolk University's College of Arts and Sciences and its students, while at the same time paying tribute to Dean Michael Ronayne for his 30 years of service as an educator and leader. A festive dinner celebration in honor of Dean Ronayne will take place on September 19, 2002 at the Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston.

"The Campaign for the College is doing exceptionally well," said Nelson. "People have made generous contributions in these challenging economic times and we applaud their efforts. They recognize how much Suffolk has grown over the years - from a small school on Beacon Hill to one which today stretches across the Atlantic to Madrid, Spain, and Dakar, Senegal. We've come a long way."

For more information, please contact:
Tony Ferullo at 617-573-8448

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