15. September 2022 | Magazine:

“I want to build a bridge between cultures” From CSE student to university founder

Christian Kouam came to Technische Universität Braunschweig in the year 2000 as one of the first students to enrol in the Computational Sciences in Engineering (CSE) degree programme, which had been launched shortly before. In his home country Cameroon, he has founded a university this year and is also an ambassador for an automobile manufacturer. He is still closely connected to Braunschweig and the University today.

 Christian Kouam describes himself as having a truly intercultural and multidisciplinary mindset. The 48-year-old was born in Cameroon and grew up in a home that considered internationalist values to be essential. Already Kouam’s father spent some time studying in Spain and Great Britain, motivating his son to study automotive engineering in Russia after finishing school. After all, apart from his interest in other cultures, Kouam was fascinated by one thing in particular: cars. “I was born in the same year the Volkswagen Golf was first introduced, so I guess that’s a sign,” Kouam laughs. During his studies in Russia, he made his first contacts in Germany. Some German students the Cameroonian met in Russia invited him to Berlin. An invitation that the young student naturally did not turn down, because Germany had a special appeal for him.

Christian Kouam sitzt auf einer Palettenbank vor dem Altgebäude der TU Braunschweig.

Christian Kouam regularly visits the campus of TU Braunschweig and exchanges ideas with CSE students and lecturers. Picture credits: Daniel Götjen/TU Braunschweig

Arriving in Braunschweig

It was through a cousin who lived in Braunschweig that Kouam ended up in the city known as the “Löwenstadt” (Lion City) after completing his studies in Russia at the end of 1999. In just four months, he acquired German language skills at C1 level. During a tour around the campus of TU Braunschweig in February of the following year, Frank Fischer, then head of the International Office, recommended to him the Master’s degree programme Computational Sciences in Engineering, which had started in the Winter Semester 1999/00. Kouam was quick to make his decision and chose to enrol in the interdisciplinary degree programme. It was the combination of engineering sciences, mathematics and applied computer sciences that convinced him. The international approach of the bilingual degree programme was an added bonus.

Looking back, Kouam is convinced that he made the right decision: “Studying at TU Braunschweig was a great time. The University was my home and I had a very close relationship with the professors, who made a lot of time for us students,” he recalls. Kouam also quickly found his feet in Braunschweig outside of the classroom, especially through his involvement in various student associations such as the Cameroonian Student Association, which he also chaired as president for a long time. “I felt integrated right from the start and perceived Braunschweig as a very open and international city,” Kouam affirms.

A special Christmas

The CSE student also quickly made friends in the Evangelical Student Community (ESG) and the Catholic University Community (KHG) in Braunschweig and experienced a Christmas that had a significant influence on his future life: On the initiative of the KHG, Braunschweig families invited international students to spend Christmas with them. Christian Kouam not only tasted roast saddle of venison with croquettes for the first time in his life and learned the German word “lecker” (delicious), but also forged a bond for life as Kouam still has close ties with his host family today. Family father Hans-Hermann von Lucke also brought him into contact with the car manufacturer Volkswagen. After getting his Master’s degree, Kouam began an internship at the Wolfsburg-based company and then took a position as design engineer—the first step in his professional career. “Hans-Hermann von Lucke always supported me as a mentor and told me: You have a lot more potential, you have to go into management! That motivated me,” Kouam adds.

By working in procurement and sales and spending time abroad in Russia and China, the CSE graduate worked his way up the career ladder at the car manufacturer. At the same time, he completed his doctorate in business management at Clausthal University of Technology. To hold a chair at Ostfalia University of Applied Sciences, Kouam suspended his employment contract in the economy and went into university teaching for several years. It was this experience that had a significant impact on him and contributed to the idea of educating young people in Cameroon. Alongside his work in Germany, Christian Kouam had already set up a car repair shop in his home country Cameroon, where he offered young people the opportunity to train in vehicle mechanics. As a professor at Ostfalia University, he used his time to launch the first Bachelor’s degree programme in automotive engineering in sub-Saharan Africa.

Cooperation planned between university in Cameroon and CSE

“It was always clear to me that I would like to return to Cameroon at some point. I never had any plans to leave the country permanently,” explains Kouam, who now speaks six languages fluently. “That is why I was particularly pleased to become Volkswagen’s official importer in Cameroon in 2021 and now get to speak as the company’s ambassador in the country.”

Christian Kouam stands in front of a blackboard in a lecture hall at TU Braunschweig.

By founding his own university, the CSE graduate wants to introduce international standards in university teaching to Cameroon. Picture credits: Daniel Götjen/TU Braunschweig

Kouam spends one to two months a year in Germany, but most of the year he is now back in his home country Cameroon, where he is already working on his next project. The idea of founding his own university has been on his mind for a long time: “I want to bring education at an international level to Cameroon and build a bridge between the cultures. That is why I founded the private university called ASTA (Advanced Sciences and Technologies Academy), where courses will start in September this year.” The language of instruction at Kouam’s university will be English, but German courses will also be offered. There are also plans to cooperate with the CSE degree programme, with which Kouam has remained in close contact through the alumni network since his student days.

This year, he also visited the summer festival in Braunschweig and exchanged ideas with students and professors. Professor Dirk Langemann teaches in the CSE degree programme and is pleased about the close ties between the University and many alumni: “Our graduates are in close contact with our students, help them start their studies in Braunschweig and pass on their experience to younger CSE students. The meetings organised by the CSE Office every semester are very important for personal exchange.”

A “Letter of Intent” for cooperation between the CSE and the ASTA university in Douala-Yassa is to be signed this autumn. Langemann himself will then also offer online lectures for the Cameroonian students. In his view, Christian Kouam’s curriculum vitae shows how important it is for TU Braunschweig to sharpen its international profile: “With his Master’s degree in CSE, which at the time was still a fairly new degree programme, Christian Kouam combined theory and practice of engineering problems in computer simulations, but also built a bridge between Cameroon and Europe. Given his international career, he surely has made the most of the opportunities arising from these connections. The founding of a university in Cameroon, whose graduates will also be future CSE students, represents a further development of the bridges built during his CSE studies, a connection between the countries and between theory and application,” Langemann points out.