Building leadership and educational capacity in Africa

By

Jennifer Priest Mitchell

Madit Yel, who is from Wunrok, South Sudan, plans to use his business degree and leadership skills to set up a reliable college preparatory program in Africa to connect promising students to education opportunities within and beyond their home countries.

Yel is a 24-year-old business major studying at ASU through the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program. He spent the summer of 2015 interning in his home country as an assistant academic advisor for the Education-USA Program in Juba, where he counseled younger students on pursuing education abroad. He said, “I have helped two students gain admission to Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana through the Mastercard Foundation Scholarship Program. I helped students with assembling required documents, writing and editing essays and preparing for interviews.”

Yel is one of 120 students supported by the first $27.7 million grant from the Mastercard Foundation to ASU in 2012 to expand educational opportunities for African students. An additional 150 students will be sponsored through a second phase of this grant, designed to empower students to make a difference in their home countries. These grants are administered by the Center for Advanced Studies in Global Education in Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College.  Aryn Baxter, assistant research professor and director of the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program at ASU, said, “The program aligns with CASGE's mission to engage with people, institutions and ideas on a global level and address education quality and equity.”

Yel said that he began studying English at age 8, and his family always emphasized education as a way to overcome any adversity. He said, “I grew up in a farming community, and there were no schools open in the area due to Sudan’s civil war. Everyone was waiting and hoping for an opportunity to attend school, and then my parents sent me away to school. That marked the beginning of my own value for education. It was important to them, and it was important to me.”

He is studying business, public policy and economics. He said the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program will give him and others the opportunity to help younger people in South Sudan, and it will also help educate people in other parts of Africa. He said that having more citizens who are well-educated will aid in the various countries’ economies and in the daily lives of citizens there.

Professor Iveta Silova, director of CASGE, added, “The Mastercard Foundation Scholars program is central to ASU efforts to internationalize its student population, curriculum and research. It opens global and intercultural learning opportunities and builds strong professional networks across geographic, cultural and disciplinary boundaries.”

The first grant, phase 1 of the project, supports 120 undergraduate students, including Yel, from 20 countries in the sub-Saharan region of Africa. The students came to ASU in four cohorts, the first of which graduated in May 2016 and the last of which begin their senior year in fall 2016. They are pursuing a range of majors, with the majority concentrated in STEM fields and business. All recipients engage in leadership development and community service opportunities throughout their academic endeavors.

The second phase, supported by a $23.7 million grant, supports a new initiative, Strengthening Institutional Linkages, which connects ASU and KNUST. The focus of this grant is students and faculty in Ghana. One component of the initiative supports students who are pursuing international accelerated graduate programs at ASU. Students study for three years at a university in Ghana and then for two years at ASU while they complete their bachelor’s degrees and a one-year master’s degree program.

This project will lead to 150 students from Ghana earning master’s degrees. Their majors will initially be in areas such as mechanical or biomedical engineering, global logistics and supply chain management in order to meet workforce needs in Ghana. Program coordinators at ASU are exploring expansion of the program to include majors in higher education and sustainability.

The second component of Strengthening Institutional Linkages is providing professional development opportunities for professors in Ghana and creating opportunities for learning and collaborative research with ASU faculty. In January 2017, the first group of educators from Ghana will come to ASU for a three-week seminar, including sessions led by faculty in Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College and the W. P. Carey School of Business. One month after the session, ASU faculty will travel to Ghana for a one-day symposium showcasing teaching practices and research initiatives. This will be an annual two-part event over the course of four years.

ASU received a third grant for $9.718 million over five years to develop an online platform for 30,000 students, a number that will grow as the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program continues. The platform will be a professional and social network to connect scholars and support lifelong learning. The grant includes funding for research to examine the role of social networks in supporting students’ career objectives. CASGE will conduct the research in an effort to address gaps in research on international scholarship programs.

The three principal investigators of Strengthening Institutional Linkages are Aryn Baxter; Ajay Vinze, professor in the W. P. Carey School of Business; and Jacqueline Smith, assistant vice president and executive director of university initiatives.