This graduate student has found a home away from home in Texas Tech’s College of Media & Communication.
Nii Armah Ammah was always going to be a communicator.
“In grade school, I was always trying to convince my teacher to let me tell stories to the class,” Ammah said. “I really loved to talk, much to her dismay.”
Ammah even loved watching national news as a young child. He would sit on the floor in the living room of his family's home in Ghana and fix his gaze on the anchors filling the screen; their suits and high buttoned shirts creating a world young Ammah escaped to every evening.
However, many would not consider the news in Ghana an escape; rather, something to escape.
“There is immense corruption in Ghana,” Ammah said. “There are issues created by the government that profoundly impact its citizens, and not for the better.”
Yet, even as a young child, Ammah couldn't turn his eyes away as he tried to wrap his mind around what he was seeing – he hoped someday, somehow, he could change it.
After graduating from high school in 2014, Ammah enrolled at the University of Ghana and studied psychology.
“The mentors I had at the time told me I didn't have to study journalism to be a broadcast journalist,” Ammah explained. “They said to study something I was passionate about and get a lot of experience interning at radio or television stations during college.”
News stations were looking for experience with technology and production more than they were looking for “journalism” as an applicant's major.
Ammah is glad he studied psychology, as he's seen its unending relevance in his reporting.
“I took the advice I was given and volunteered at Radio Univers (Studio) during college, which is a place many up-and-coming journalists in Ghana get their start,” he said.
The advice paid off.
Upon graduating from college in 2018, Ammah immediately was hired at Citi FM/TV, one of Ghana's largest news stations. The station hosts television, video reports and radio shows as well as on-demand streaming.
Ammah started there as a reporter. After a few months, he was promoted to head producer of three shows, all of which he wrote, anchored and produced.
“It was wonderful experience,” he said. “I learned so much through that role.”
Amid the adrenaline of making his deadline each day, a frustration slowly grew within Ammah.
“There is a lot of corruption in Ghana,” he said. “This was something I had to report on day after day. When you keep reporting on a problem and it's not changing, it's easy to burn out.”
Ammah felt helpless. He would upload another article, and the corruption would only grow.
In a study done by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (2022), it found more than 25% of the Ghanian adult population had paid a bribe to a public official in 2021. The study discovered that the two public officials most likely to ask directly for a bribe were police officers (53%) and immigration service officers (37%).
After a year of seeing these stories over and over, Ammah decided to shift his focus to human interest stories.
“If I informed one million people but couldn't change one life, I didn't see the point,” he said. “I started worrying less about how many people I was anchoring in front of and focused on stories that might create change.”
That's when Ammah crossed paths with Innocent Quaye.
Quaye was a 13-year-old boy hit by a stray bullet while riding his bike to the town of Papase in 2010. The bullet was fired by a soldier who was on duty in the area. While the soldier did not intend to hit Quaye, he left the boy on the side of the road to bleed out.
Luckily for Quaye, a good Samaritan came along and acted quickly. The stranger got the boy to the hospital where doctors saved his life. However, Quaye was left with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and lost his ability to walk.
Ammah heard about Quaye and decided to tell his story.
“Stories like this are inevitable and will continue to be until corruption and its roots are addressed,” Ammah said. “Horrific things like this happen a lot in Ghana, but those in power don't want to see the effects. They don't want to look.”
Ammah was going to make Quaye's story one they could not ignore.
“Quaye had to leave school because of his brain injury and his mother was overwhelmed with medical bills she could not pay,” Ammah recalls. “None of this was their fault, but they were left to deal with the consequences.”
Ammah walked the road to justice with the Quaye family. He covered the story for four years from 2018 to 2022, updating the public on the government's response to the incident, and the payout in court.
Ammah finally felt his reporting was doing some good.
A dozen years after the tragedy, Quaye finally received GH₵ 150,000 ($12,500) in compensation from the forestry commission and military.
While moments like this were a win, they were the exception, not the rule. And in the meantime, Ammah was struggling to make ends meet as a journalist.
“Not only were outcomes like Quaye's very uncommon, but on a personal level, I was becoming very depressed,” Ammah said.
He was working 12 days straight, those days being more than 12 hours long. He was missing holidays with his family and doing all this for less than $500 per month. The experience with Citi FM/TV had been a good start to his career, but Ammah knew it couldn't last.
The pace was simply unsustainable.
Beyond the financial and emotional strain of the job, Ammah also felt ready for a new experience.
“I gave my job as a reporter everything I had,” he said. “I worked hard and gained many skills, but by 2021, I was longing for more of a challenge.
“Nothing grows in your comfort zone.”
It was at this fork in the road that Ammah decided to investigate graduate school. Wanting to gain perspectives in cultures unlike his own, he applied to a few schools around the globe.
He was accepted into both Brunel University London and the London School of Economics. However, the financial assistance just wasn't there to make either of those schools a reality.
Feeling so close yet so far, Ammah fell into an even deeper depression.
“It was hard to be accepted and not be able to attend,” he said. “I knew the logical course of action was to work one more year and apply to even more schools the following year.”
Ammah quickly realized he'd rushed through the financial assistance applications and knew he had to give them closer attention if he tried again.
In the meantime, he committed to one more year on the job. During this time, he had a few more wins. He followed the story of students from a religious minority group who were being banned from school because they wore dreadlocks.
Ammah's reporting followed the teenagers to high court where the students won their religious freedom and were allowed into school.
Meanwhile, Ammah meticulously reapplied to more graduate schools and came up with new strategies for financial aid.
“I decided to talk with people who'd successfully gotten through graduate school and get their advice this time around,” he said. “That was really helpful.”
This time, Ammah looked at schools in the U.S.
A family member recommended a university in New Mexico, so Ammah put in an application to the school's graduate communication program and was accepted with a full teaching assistantship.
From West Africa to West Texas
In August of 2022, Ammah said goodbye to his family and made his way to the American Southwest.
“I was in New Mexico only three months when I realized it wasn't what I'd hoped for,” he said. “It just felt too easy and was not challenging me at all. I loved the people and the surrounding community, but the school itself was not a good fit.”
Around this time, Ammah's roommate was celebrating his birthday and invited Ammah and a few of their friends to Lubbock to celebrate. The friends rented an Airbnb that was very close to the Texas Tech University campus, which caught Ammah's eye.
“It immediately reminded me of home,” he said. “The University of Ghana also has red-tiles roofs across campus; I immediately felt nostalgic. I also loved how big the Texas Tech campus was, how far it sprawled. I missed being at a large research institution like that.”
The friends enjoyed the birthday weekend and returned to New Mexico. But Ammah couldn't get Texas Tech off his mind.
“The minute I got back to my room, I threw my laptop open and went to Texas Tech's website,” he said. “I looked for master's programs in communication and saw they had not one, but three. The master's in mass communication looked impressive, so I requested a call from an adviser.”
That same day, Mary Stevenson Norman, assistant dean of graduate affairs and assistant professor of practice in public relations and strategic communication management, gave him a call.
“We don't often have students transfer programs in graduate school,” Stevenson Norman said. “But Nii Armah demonstrated his desire for more opportunity early in our correspondence. I learned of his journalism background and stories he'd covered that documented religious discrimination and corruption in Ghana.
“Hearing about the people Nii Armah helped through his reporting, I knew he'd be a wonderful asset to the College of Media & Communication and to Texas Tech.”
One of Ammah's biggest concerns was if Texas Tech was a financially feasible option.
“Norman helped me find a graduate assistantship that made my decision for me,” Ammah said.
He applied that same day and two days later he was accepted and planning to transfer to Texas Tech for the Spring 2023 term.
While Ammah has been a Red Raider for only a semester, he feels at home.
“Texas Tech has been a great fit for me,” he said. “It's such a superior education and is what a graduate program should be.”
He also said the faculty have gone above and beyond his expectations.
“They're there to answer any questions I've had, even outside of academic questions,” he said. “Many of them helped me get settled in Lubbock and find my way around the city.”
While Ammah is still getting his bearings, he's already begun to map out his degree plan, thesis ideas and what his post-graduation plans might be.
“One of the reasons I moved from reporting to graduate school was the hope it could open doors into corporate communications one day,” Ammah said. “I do believe reporting does good, but I want to do good on an even larger scale.”
Ammah hopes to work for a company or nonprofit that changes the lives of people around the world.
“My generation is calling out corporations on their greed,” Ammah said. “Yes, making a living is important, but treating people right is more important.”
In one of Ammah's first classes at Texas Tech, he had to write a worldview paper. Part of the assignment was outlining his personal values and how they drive his research.
“Justice and fairness are really important to me,” Ammah said. “Ever since I was young, it always bothered me when someone was treated unfairly for no fault of their own.”
Perhaps that's why young Ammah would spend so much time watching the news.
Wherever Ammah's career takes him from here, it will be focused on fighting corruption on a corporate and global level.
“There are so many Innocent Quayes in the world,” he said. “I want to continue to help them not only by telling their story, but by using communications to do something about the underlying problem.
“I don't want to look away from that. I want to change it.”