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Mandela's beliefs guide Cottey teacher

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Erica Sigauke demonstrates tribal music from her native Zimbabwe Tuesday in her office at Cottey College, where she is the director of spiritual life and campus diversity. She has earned two American university and seminary degrees, one in composing and conducting choral music, and is working on a doctorate. Photo by James R. Campbell/Daily Mail
Growing up in Zimbabwe in southern Africa, Erica Sigauke was encouraged by her parents and culture to dream big.

That's what led her to get a bachelor's degree at Africa University in her hometown of Mutare and move to the U.S. to further her knowledge at the University of Minnesota and the Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities.

Now she is on her way to earning a doctoral degree while serving as the spiritual life and campus diversity director at Cottey College.

Sigauke (pronounced Sig-ow-U-kay) credits her late father, who was head waiter at a hotel, and mother for letting her get her first taste of pastoral activities as a youngster who "loved to work in the community with elderly people of all denominations."

Raised an Episcopalian, she taught at Methodist missions and used her talent on African drums, shakers and thumb piano to augment her lessons on Christian love. "Most of my professors were international and they made me feel I could excel in my life," said Sigauke, who has a brother and a son in Zimbabwe and two daughters in Minneapolis.

"As a woman, I felt empowered to keep doing more in my studies. Education is valued in my country. We have a high percentage of literacy because people sacrifice goats and cows to send their children to school.

"I felt a connection with the American culture because it is open to embracing different cultures with opportunities for everyone to excel in their own gifts. It supports education so that you can go to school for as long as you want to go."

Sigauke cited the inspiration of South African national patriarch Nelson Mandela for her devotion to the southern African philosophy of Ubuntu, an ethical system focusing on people's allegiances and relations with one another. "My culture is a welcoming one that adapts by accommodating and always leaves room for people to explore," she said.

"It is very inclusive and extends time for visits."

Sigauke said Cottey "is a unique college that encourages women from all over the world to go out and make a difference.

"I'd like for the world to know how powerful this college is, the unity we have together in one family collaboration of the organizations that surround us," she said. "The faculty supports my goals to help renew the spiritual and moral support that girls of all different backgrounds need in terms of whatever faith they have."

Having earned a master's degree in musical composition and choral conducting at the University of Minnesota, Sigauke enjoys the music of CeCe Winans and the hymns of Methodism co-founder Charles Wesley (1707-1788), whose songs include "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" and "Soldiers of Christ, Arise." Her bachelor's degree at Africa University is in English.

Cottey's experiential learning and student success coordinator, Renee Hampton, said Sigauke "has a powerful gift in relating with people and bringing out the best in them.

"Erica encourages the students to use leadership within their community and is always providing awareness on diversity, not only what we have in common but also to celebrate our differences and come together from different backgrounds, whether it's cultural, special needs or rural versus urban," said Hampton, who has worked with Sigauke since her arrival here in 2010.

"She is very friendly and passionate about her work."

Hampton said Sigauke organized the recent Martin Luther King Jr. Day chapel service and is a leader in the college's Christmastime "Hanging of the Greens" program.

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