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John Mbaku
February 17, 2022

Economics Professor and Lawyer Applies Berry Values to Better the World

John Mbaku ’77, a chemistry major who worked on a farm crew at Berry, graduated with the intention of going to medical school. However, life took Mbaku in a different direction, and he went on to earned four additional degrees: a Ph.D. in economics (University of Georgia), J.D. in law and graduate certificate in natural resources and environmental law from the S.J., Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah B.A. in French language and literature (Weber State University) and an International MBA. (University of South Carolina). Currently, Mbaku resides in Ogden, Utah, where he serves as a Brady Presidential Distinguished Professor of Economics at Weber State University.

In addition to his career in higher education, Mbaku has held prestigious positions, including non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington, D.C., and serves as a consultant to news organizations and multi-lateral organizations such as the Africa Development Bank. He’s also licensed to practice in the Supreme Court of the State of Utah, the U.S. District Court for the State of Utah and the U.S. Supreme Court.

Even with a demanding teaching, speaking and publishing schedule, Mbaku shows a deep commitment to others — from helping international students adjust to college life to engaging local students about the Constitution of the United States. Firmly dedicated to building a society of educated citizens, he notes that the value of careers extends beyond making money, saying, “ … there are more noble goals, and that is trying to be able to maintain our democratic system, maintain a set of laws that make it possible for us to live together peacefully.”

Though Mbaku left Berry more than four decades ago, he remembers the hard work and value system that Berry reinforced — and that he has applied throughout his storied career. He shares his reflections here.

The teaching profession:

“One of the things that teaching has taught me is that teaching is a noble profession, whether at the elementary school level, at the secondary school level or at the university school level. It is a very important profession because it can provide the solid foundation for a great country, such as the one we live in. Without well-educated citizens, you would not be able to have a country as great as the one we have here.

The journey to his current career:

”When I graduated from Berry College, I planned to go to medical school, but being a foreign student, and coming from a relatively poor family in Africa, I didn’t have the funds to go to medical school. So, I went to the University of South Carolina and completed a master's in international business.”

The Berry connection to graduate studies, service to others and lifelong values:

“The study of chemistry required me to study a lot of mathematics, and economics is also a very mathematics-oriented discipline. So, what I learned at Berry made it possible for me to go into economics and do very well, even though I did not have an undergraduate background in economics.

“The second thing is that some of the things that I learned at Berry College like hard work, honesty, of course, I already had those values, but they were reemphasized at Berry College. ... They actually helped me in my career, and most importantly, the desire among Berry people to help other people. This idea of community service has been very useful for me in my career. That’s one of the reasons why I go to Africa so many times to work on projects over there that deal with economic development and social justice.

“At Berry College, I worked on the farm with the brother of the former president of Berry College. I also cleaned toilets in the dormitory and washed dishes in the dining hall. Those things are very important because they teach you the value of work and also teach you that it isn’t the type of work that you do, it’s how you do it. Every work that you do is important, whether you’re a professor or someone who sweeps the dormitory or someone who washes dishes; the important thing is to do your job effectively and honestly. That is what I have carried into my career as a professor and as a lawyer.”

Advice for current or future Berry students:

“Use your time in college to acquire the skills and competencies that you will need to evolve into a productive and contributing member of your community. Your stay at Berry College can help you develop a value system that will enhance your ability to deal effectively with difficult situations in life. Such a value system will help you avoid making the small mistakes that can derail your life and that of your loved ones and put you far away from your intended destination.”

Formative life accomplishment:

“ … My stay at Berry College actually gave me an opportunity to develop the skills and the world thinking that has allowed me to continue to think about what I can do to make life better for other people so that when I finally exit this world, I would have left it better than when I first came into it. I think that my experience at Berry College made that possible.”

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