Tuesday, April 23rd, 2024
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The Inspirational Journey of a Scientist & University First Lady

Long before she became the first lady of MU, Dr. Judith Wubah worked in higher education in many roles.

When Dr. Judith Wubah arrived in 2018 as first lady of Millersville University, one of the first things she realized was that the role of a first lady does not have a job description. After working as a faculty member and administrator in higher education, she had a mindset that the first thing you need to know about a job is what is required of you.

“The first year was challenging,” says Judith, “because PASSHE regulations do not allow presidential spouses to work at the same institution. I had to figure out what to do. I can tell you it is a difficult but fulfilling job. I travel with the president to numerous events on and off campus and act as an ambassador for the University at all times. That first year, we traveled to Arizona, California, Florida, Massachusetts, Texas and China to meet with alums. I take care of professional and personal matters so Daniel does not have to worry and can focus on his role as president.”

Judith was born in Winneba, in the Central Region of Ghana and met Daniel in 1980 at the University of Cape Coast. “It was not love at first sight. He talked too much,” says Judith. “He sat in front of me in class, and I knocked him on the head during class because he was so talkative.”

During the Wubahs’ time at UCC, there were constant political upheavals in Ghana. In 1983, while preparing for their final comprehensive exams, students at all three universities demonstrated against the government. In retaliation, the universities were closed, and students were sent home for 10 months.

“When we came back for our final exams in March 1984, Daniel and I formed a study group with our cohort for botany. At our first meeting, I began to see Daniel’s leadership skills based on how he structured the group. At our next meeting, it was obvious that the student scheduled to present had not prepared. We had been given only two months to prepare for exams, so there was no time to lose. That is when Daniel and I decided to meet on our own to study. We were both middle-class kids and more studious than some – and I had the smarts! Daniel was meticulous in his preparations and studying skills, an attribute I liked about him. We were studious, to the point that we could answer every question on the final exams and crushed it! We graduated at the top of our class.”

Daniel left for the U.S. in August 1984 to pursue his master’s degree in biology at the University of Akron in Ohio. Judith followed in August 1985, where they worked with the same professor, Dr. Don Ott. She received her master’s degree in biology in 1989.

They were married in 1993 in Baltimore. “Our wedding in the U.S. was at the courthouse with my sister-in-law and a family friend as witnesses,” says Judith. “We returned home to Ghana for a full-blown wedding – which was for our parents – the following year. My parents were the ultimate event planners, as this wedding was for their only daughter! I can tell you that my mother had a blast! To this day, I celebrate our first wedding date, and Daniel celebrates our second wedding date.”

As the daughter of an Anglican bishop, Judith is a lifelong Episcopalian. Therefore, faith is important to her, and she believes in angels. “Angels have played a large part in my life,” she says. “One angel, Jessie Pervall, saved a spot for me in the Ph.D. program at Thomas Jefferson University when I had to delay acceptance for a year to become a legal U.S. resident.”

“The program is designed to train molecular scientists to undertake research in how humans are formed from conception to birth and what cellular or metabolic pathways are disrupted, leading to birth defects,” says Judith. “It’s mind-boggling how many processes can go wrong during pregnancy, but most of the time, we end up with a healthy human.”

She then started a two-year postdoctoral program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Working in the lab of Dr. Chuck Bieberich, whom Judith calls another one of her angels, she studied the molecular aspects of prostate development and prostate cancer. In the second year of her postdoc, the Wubahs moved to James Madison University.

The Wubahs continued to move as Daniel climbed the academic administrative ladder.  “I was a faculty member at JMU and later at the University of Florida Medical School. I loved working with students in the lab,” says Judith.

 

From Florida, the couple moved to Virginia Tech, and Judith became the founding director of the Office of Health Professions Advising. The office focused on advising and preparing students interested in health-related careers. “We arranged mock interviews on campus, where I got retired VT professors and local health professionals to serve on panels. It was the most rewarding job I have ever had.”

Fast-forward to 2013, when Daniel became provost, and the family moved to Washington and Lee University in Virginia. At W&L, Judith was appointed the Associate Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations, responsible for the management of externally funded grants.

While at W&L, Daniel became a tribal king (Toapentenhene) at Breman Asikuma in the Central Region of Ghana. “I never knew he was going to be king,” says Judith. “I had some inkling of his royal lineage, but his mother was initially against his ascending to the throne. When his uncle died, the throne passed on to Daniel. My other title, therefore, is Nanayere (literal translation: “the king’s wife”), where my role is similar to first lady responsibilities, ensuring that everything is carried out as needed in order for Daniel to perform his duties as the king. I also have the responsibility of leading the women in the tribe, and so we have set up a microfinance program for them.”

Judith says they both consider the U.S. as home. “We’ve lived here longer than our birthplace of Ghana. Both daughters and our two grandchildren were born and raised here – this is home.”

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