Former Sierra Leone diplomat and professor emeritus Andrew Conteh honored for lifetime dedication to students

Andrew Conteh started his teaching career at Minnesota State University Moorhead in 1985 as a visiting professor of political science at then Moorhead State University. The former ambassador to the Soviet Union (1976 to 1981) for the government of Sierra Leone taught Soviet foreign policy and international politics.

In a Sept. 19, 1985, Advocate story, he said, “I really appreciated the warmth of all the people in the political science department and the friendship of F.C. Richardson (vice president for academic affairs). I see coming to MSU as an extension of my learning. I decided I wanted to come here because I wanted to know more about Minnesota.” In the article he said he enjoys being at MSU. “I’m in the midst of good people here, and I appreciate all they have done for me. In turn I will contribute my knowledge and try to be available when needed by the university or Fargo-Moorhead Community.

Conteh stayed in Moorhead and retired in May 2017 after a 31-year teaching career. His accolades are many: professor of the year and outstanding advisor multiple times, published author, study tour leader, distinguished lecturer, visiting professor, community leader awards, and the 1999 Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching/CASE Minnesota Professor of the Year. He was a leader on many campus committees, a developer of new programs, an advocate for faculty and student engagement, and the brainchild of the MSUM Andrew B. Conteh Student Academic Conference.

He's being recognized at this year’s homecoming with the Outstanding Service Award, another recognition to add to his resume.

“It really humbles me, from the bottom of my heart,” Conteh said. “I look forward to stepping on the soil of MSUM, meeting up with my former colleagues in the political science department, and above all, seeing Mrs. (Jo) Berg. I have lived in many countries and many places. I consider Moorhead, Minnesota, my home. I value this place; I value the people.”

Awards and honors aside, Conteh’s entire career has always focused on one thing: doing the right thing for our students.

Andrew Conteh talks with students at the Student Academic Conference
Andrew Conteh talks with students at the Student Academic Conference. “It is no exaggeration to say that Andrew was the soul of the SAC,” said Oscar Flores, MSUM economics professor.

“If we talk about the student academic conference, it’s for the students. If we talk about the Model UN, it’s for the students. A new program in international studies? It’s for the students. The Constitution Series? For the students. I’ve always tried to focus on what we can do for our students,” he said.

The most visible sign of his MSU Moorhead legacy is the student academic conference named in his honor in 2017.

“It is no exaggeration to say that Andrew was the soul of the SAC,” said Oscar Flores, MSUM economics professor.

His servant’s heart extends beyond his MSUM tenure. When he retired from MSUM in 2017, he says he still had “gas in the tank.” He moved to Turlock, Calif., to be closer to family and joined the Political Science, Public Administration & Leadership Studies Department faculty at California State University Stanislaus (CSUS).

And true to his laser focus on students, he offers what he can “for the students.” He’s teaching courses that have never been taught at CSUS, such as international human rights and international security intelligence. (He’s teaching courses in the honors program. He’s helping to revitalize the Model UN program. He’s mentoring law students as a senior fellow at Golden Gate University School of Law.

As always, his students inspire him. CSUS’s population is predominantly Hispanic, Iranian and Syrian. He’s excited to learn more about them and to study their countries and backgrounds. “They are eager to learn,” Conteh said. As is he.

Conteh is actively engaged in the Turlock community, a desire fueled by one of his heroes, Msgr. William (Father Bill) Mehrkens, who was the chaplain at the Newman Center on the MSU Moorhead campus from 1977 to 1991.

Father Bill sparked controversy when he began inviting the homeless into the Moorhead Newman Center before the city had a homeless shelter. He was a well-known advocate for homeless and low-income people. Mehrkens went on to co-found the Dorothy Day House and helped with the formation of Churches United for the Homeless.

Words of thanks and gratitude shared with Andrew Conteh upon his retirement in 2017
Words of thanks and gratitude shared with Andrew Conteh upon his retirement in 2017.

“He (Father Bill) had a lot of impact on me and our students,” Conteh said. That's why Conteh himself actively feeds the poor and works with people experiencing homelessness. “I think it's a very important thing to do.”

Serving students, as well as people experiencing poverty and homelessness, is what Andrew Conteh does best.

A native of Sierra Leon, Professor Conteh attended Christ the King College West Africa in Sierra Leone, Oxford University in Great Britain, and received his Ph.D. from Kiev State University in the Soviet Union. In addition to extensive academic experience around the world, Professor Conteh served as Sierra Leone’s Ambassador to the Soviet Union from 1976 to 1981, as a delegate to the United Nations General Assembly, as Deputy High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, and as Senior Assistant Secretary in Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A specialist in international relations, his interests focus on international law.

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