Economics Professor Richard Mshomba, a respected and honored member of the La Salle University community, is the 2013 recipient of the Warren E. Smith, M.D., ’54, Award. The award is presented by the University’s African American Alumni Association to an outstanding African or African American leader who has achieved success in his or her profession, demonstrated a commitment to traditional Lasallian values, made significant contributions to the community, and served as an outstanding example to students.
A 1954 graduate of La Salle, Warren E. Smith, M.D., was one of the first African Americans to graduate from La Salle University’s pre-med program. He served as a psychiatrist for the La Salle community for 15 years before retiring in 1984.
Dr. Smith was revered as a highly principled man who was deeply sensitive to the problems of the students he served. He was always available to those in need of his services and was a champion for equal rights. He died on Sept. 13, 1990. The La Salle community established a scholarship and an award in his honor.
Mshomba was born and raised in the village of Sinon, three miles south of the city of Arusha in Tanzania.
“When I was in my last two years of elementary school, I went to Mass almost every day, praying for one thing and one thing only—that I would be selected to go to secondary school,” he said.
His prayers were answered, and he continued his education. Later, he went on to a two-year agricultural school and subsequently worked for the local government.
In 1981, Mshomba’s close friend, Bishop Dennis Durning of Arusha, a native Philadelphian, returned home to visit family. Durning carried with him Mshomba’s school transcript, and he hoped to make it available to college officials. One of Durning’s friends worked at La Salle and agreed to take Mshomba’s transcript to the administration.
Eventually, the transcript found its way to then-President Brother Patrick Ellis, F.S.C., and then-Provost Brother Emery Mollenhauer, F.S.C.
Br. Emery recalled that after he and Br. Patrick reviewed the transcript, they agreed to admit Mshomba to La Salle and awarded him a full-tuition Christian Brothers Scholarship. Mshomba was 27 years old at the time.
“It was quite an adjustment to go back to school as an adult, in a foreign country no less, but I had the best professors anyone could ask for—all of them,” Mshomba said. “My first economics and philosophy courses were with Dr. Richard Geruson and Dr. William Sullivan, respectively, and they both encouraged me to major in their respective fields.” He did, graduating maxima cum laude in only three years.
While studying at La Salle, Mshomba lived with Bishop Durning’s relatives in Glenside, Pa.
“They welcomed me to live with them for the entire period of my undergraduate studies,” Mshomba said. “They didn’t even know me except for what their relative (Bishop Durning) told them about me. They welcomed me into their family.”
Mshomba later earned a master’s degree in economics from the University of Delaware and a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He and his wife, Elaine, met at the University of Illinois.
Mshomba returned to La Salle in 1991 as a faculty member. He has since been honored with the Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching and the Distinguished Lasallian Educator Award.
Since 1992, Mshomba and his family have visited Tanzania every other summer to see family and friends and engage in community development in Sinon. Their children, Alphonce, Dennis, and Charles, were baptized in Tanzania.
“My wife and I have focused our efforts on helping people in Tanzania, especially with regard to education. We have been helping students with elementary, secondary, and high school education, and a few with college tuition. In addition, we established the Durning-O’Halloran scholarship at a local secondary school, which supports two students a year. It has been quite rewarding to see young people that we have helped with their education now helping their siblings, supporting their parents, and participating in community development,” Mshomba said.
The Mshombas are currently building a free library in Arusha, which they hope to complete next year. “We received significant support from my in-laws, the O’Hallorans, to start the project. The library will help hundreds of students who have no access to textbooks or computer services,” he said.
“What is perhaps most fascinating for me is to see the interplay between what I do at La Salle and what we do in Tanzania,” he added. “What we do in Tanzania allows me to bring real world examples of economic development initiatives. At the same time, my research, as a faculty member, informs me regarding policy recommendations for Tanzania and other African countries.”
Among Mshomba’s publications are two books: Africa in the Global Economy (a Choice Magazine Outstanding Academic Book), published by Lynne Rienner Publishers, which he dedicated to his family; and Africa and the World Trade Organization, published by Cambridge University Press, which he dedicated to the De La Salle Christian Brothers for their dedication to education throughout the world. He is a frequent analyst for Voice of America and a contributor of op-ed pieces to The Citizen, a national newspaper in Tanzania, and The Arusha Times, a regional newspaper in Tanzania.
A short video of Mshomba’s life and career was shown at the Warren E. Smith, M.D., ’54, ceremony:
La Salle University was established in 1863 through the legacy of St. John Baptist de La Salle and the Christian Brothers teaching order, which St. La Salle founded in 1680. La Salle is an educational community shaped by traditional Catholic and Lasallian values.