September 19, 2019 | 47° F

U.S. State Department chooses Rutgers for fellowship for 3rd year in row

Photo by Greg Costalas |

Rutgers is one of 40 schools in the United States to be selected for President Barack Obama's Young African Leaders Initiative, and the only one in New Jersey. This program invites youth from various African countries to the school to further their education.

For the third consecutive year, the U.S. Department of State has selected Rutgers as a partner with the Mandela Washington Fellowship, the flagship program of President Barack Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative.

The University will host 50 young leaders from Sub-Saharan Africa to participate in a six-week leadership training institute this summer. Rutgers is 1 of 40 schools, and the only one in New Jersey, to be selected for the fellowship that will bring 1,000 emerging African leaders to the U.S. this year.

“The University has poised itself to be a leader in the international arena. Securing this fellowship for the third year in a row proves that we are succeeding in our mission to ensure that Rutgers is a global wide institution,” said Carissa Sestito, public relations specialist for the Rutgers Centers for Global Advancement and International Affairs (GAIA).

Rutgers has been in this position since 2011, Sestito said.

The White House initiative is an attempt to establish deeper bonds between the U.S. and Sub-Saharan Africa. The fellowship is designed to foster development and prosperity in the region, said Greg Costalas, senior program coordinator of the GAIA Centers.

“The program allows these young leaders within Africa to come to the United States to learn about our methods and ideas in their respective fields of expertise to better their own local areas and communities,” Costalas said.

Over the past two years, the University has hosted 25 fellows for the Civic Leadership Institute, a joint venture by the GAIA Centers, the School of Social Work and the Center for African Studies. This year, Rutgers was chosen to hold an additional institute, and will host another 25 fellows, Sestito said.

The Sustainable Business Institute has been organized by the GAIA Centers, Rutgers Business School, Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Rutgers Energy Institute, Rutgers EcoComplex and other private partners, she said.

The fellows participating in both institutes are already established leaders in their own respective communities in the African continent. They are bringing their work experience in the government, schools and community projects to Rutgers, said Johanna Bernstein, assistant dean for International Programs in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology.

The Young African Leaders Initiative was launched by President Obama in 2010 in an effort to invest in Africa’s young generation and to secure future sustained progress in the region. About 60 percent of the African population is under age 35, according to the U.S. Department of State.

Ousseina Alidou, an associate in the Department of African, Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages and Literatures, and Abena Busia, chair of the Department of Women's and Gender Studies, are taking charge of the Civic Leadership Institute.

“This particular fellowship helps strengthen these leaders and the organizations they represent,” Busia said. “They are from countries that are severely challenged in terms of resources other than human resources.”

Alidou emphasized the young leaders’ humble upbringings and praised their valiant and compassionate decisions to give back and help cultivate growth in their native communities.

“The majority of these leaders come from underprivileged communities, but they had the opportunity to have access to some education,” she said. “They maximized this to help their communities and chose not to run away from them.”

Alidou believes that the story of Aarthi Burtony, a past Mandela Washington fellow from the island nation of Mauritius who participated in Rutgers’ Civic Leadership Institute, is the prime example of the program’s fundamental objective.

“(Burtony) lost her eyesight at a sudden stage of her life. Her leadership is in trying to help young people who are challenged with a specific disability,” Alidou said. “She tells them that their disability is not the end of their ability in life.”

The issues encountered in the homes of these African leaders, and in all of Sub-Saharan Africa, are not that different from the ones present throughout America and the globe, all that varies is the magnitude and manifestation of the problems, Busia said.

Rutgers’ commitment to the transnational initiative illustrates the University’s standing as a global academic leader, Busia said.

“Putting together the human capital from these African countries with the resources that the University has is a wonderful way for Rutgers’ strengths to be recognized and to be brought to a use that reaches out to the world,” she said.


Camilo Montoya-Galvez is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student majoring in Spanish and journalism and media studies. He is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum. Follow him on Twitter @camiloooom.

Camilo Montoya-Galvez

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