Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

Helping others succeed: StFX student Akua Amankwah-Poku is making a difference 

February 1st, 2023
Akua Amankwah-Poku

Editor’s Note: As we celebrate African Heritage Month in February, we’re proud to spotlight some of our own people, Black culture, contributions and history.

Here, we meet StFX honours psychology student Akua Amankwah-Poku of Accra, Ghana who has been actively involved in the StFX community. She has worked as a research assistant, received the Scotia Scholar Undergraduate Research Award, is a Black Student Peer Mentor and a volunteer who is making an impact on the community 

Helping others succeed: StFX student Akua Amankwah-Poku is making a difference 

Helping people succeed has long been a goal of StFX honours psychology student Akua Amankwah-Poku of Accra, Ghana.

“I have always wanted to help people,” says the fourth year student, who plans to work a year or two following her StFX graduation this May before returning to school to study to become a registered clinical psychologist with a focus on child life psychology. 

Ms. Amankwah-Poku says she is drawn to child psychology as she strongly believes issues that happen in childhood can very much impact and affect one’s future. Getting help and proper treatment while young, can help set children up to be more successful later in life, she says. 

A focus on good mental health has always been important to her.

In 2022, Ms. Amankwah-Poku received a Scotia Scholar Undergraduate Research Award from Research Nova Scotia to conduct research, under the supervision of StFX psychology professor Dr. Erin Austen, to learn more about any differences in mental health and help-seeking in university students across two different cultures, in Canada and Ghana.

“The aim of the study is to identify if there are any differences in mental health perception, service access, and help-seeking in university students across the two countries and to find ways to bridge the gap if there are any.”

At StFX, she is also putting her talents to use to help others. 

This year, she is one of three students to take on the role of Black Student Peer Mentor, a new position aimed at providing a resource and support for Black students at StFX. The peer mentors, who offer in-person and virtual office hours, offer a variety of support services as well as a friendly face, helping fellow students talk through an issue to filling out bursary applications. 

“I wanted to make an impact. I felt this fit well,” says Ms. Amankwah-Poku, who says it is important that StFX offers such services, especially for incoming students, who may feel isolated and alone. It’s important to have mentors who can provide that presence for them. 

Additionally, she’s been a peer mentor for X-Act, otherwise known as X-Academic Transition, a six-week program developed by the Student Success Centre and the StFX Health and Counselling Centre and delivered by upper year students to incoming first year students to help give the incoming students the tools they need for success and help make the transition from high school to university.

Ms. Amankwah-Poku has also been active, volunteering her time at international students’ orientation events as well the orientation for incoming Black students. 

Academically, she also works as a research assistant for StFX Faculty of Education professor Dr. Lori McKee.

Ms. Amankwah-Poku says she chose to come to StFX for her undergraduate degree as she was looking for a small school, and an affordable university, to attend. StFX appealed for its tight-knit community and for its psychology program. She and her twin brother both enrolled at StFX. 

The experience has been good, a mixture of highs and lows, she says, with a lot of great opportunities but also the challenges of being an international student, missing her family, experiencing culture shock and navigating the expenses of being an international student.

“All in all, it’s been a good experience. It’s definitely shaped me to be who I am,” she says. 

“It’s helped me be independent and push myself,” she says. “I’ve had a lot of great opportunities, such as the research grant and volunteering.”

Ms. Amankwah-Poku says it’s important for people to educate themselves about Black history, to have a fuller understanding about the rich culture.

“Having knowledge is so important,” she says. 

“The conversation starts with education.” 

Asking questions is important, she says, and so too is being more mindful when asking those questions, doing so with an intent to educate. For instance, Ms. Amankwah-Poku says instead of someone asking her how she speaks English so well, they could rephrase the question to ask ‘what is the dominant language in your country?’ and learn that English is Ghana’s official language. 

Ms. Amankwah-Poku says she has seen positive changes in her four years at StFX, including the introduction of the President’s Action Committee on Anti-Racism (PACAR) as well as the addition of Student Peer Mentors and a Black Student Academic Advisor position. 

These initiatives are great, she says, and she would like to see this conversation keep going. She’d also like to see financial awards and scholarships that are open to all Black students, including international students. 


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