Summer program gives African students bridge to college

Jul 28, 2017

Students, staff, and instructors of Early Connection Africa stop for a photo on the Eastman Quadrangle. Rochester hosts the four-week program, helping students jump start their college careers. (University photo / J. Adam Fenster)

As a boy, Enock Kivuyo would gaze out the window each morning from Moshono Primary School in Tanzania, and watch buses drive children to School of St. Jude a mile down the road.

"The place looked so nice,” he says. “I wanted to go there."

At 7 years old, Kivuyo walked alone to the charity-funded school, which sponsors the poorest and brightest children in the area, and asked for an interview. He left with a scholarship.

Soon, he was teaching his family English and tutoring children in his neighborhood in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Seventeen years later, Kivuyo is ready to conquer another mountain as a first-year student at the University of Rochester.

This summer he’s getting a preview of what’s to come as part of Early Connection Africa. It’s a four-week bridge program for African students from disadvantaged backgrounds who are starting college not just at Rochester, but elsewhere in the United States, as well as Germany, and several African nations.

The program grew out of one started by the African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg, South Africa. The academy—a residential secondary school that draws students from around the continent based on academic and leadership potential—offered a two-day program for 25 students in Kenya in 2012 and sought to expand it from there. In 2014, they selected Rochester as their partner. Since then the academy and the College’s admissions office have jointly run a significantly expanded program.

Rochester has enrolled 61 students from the African Leadership Academy since 2010.

"We earned this opportunity to host due to OMSA’s (Office of Minority Student Affairsmany years of building a successful model with the Early Connection Opportunity program for [mostly] American students enrolling at Rochester, plus our larger commitment to African undergraduate scholars," says Jonathan Burdick, vice provost for enrollment initiatives and dean of admissions and financial aid.

This summer there are 31 students living here and taking classes as part of Early Connection Africa. All are beneficiaries of the MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program, whose mission is to develop young leaders from disadvantaged backgrounds in Africa. Everything from tuition, room and board, health insurance, and laptops are covered.

"We don’t want finances to be a barrier to the students' success," says Suzanne Hunter, who manages recruitment for the scholars program for the African Leadership Academy.

Early Connection Africa reflects Rochester’s commitment to globalism—helping to develop leaders not only at home, but abroad.

"Their commitment to going back home and being agents of change is huge for us," says Joseph Latimer, the University’s assistant dean for enrollment, diversity, and outreach. "It’s what this is all about."

Enoch Kivuyo of Tanzania speaks during his economics class in the Early Connection Africa program. Kivuyo will enroll as a first-year student at Rochester in the fall. (University photo / J. Adam Fenster)

Out of that first group of 12 in Kenya came Eddy Oketch, who graduated from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, and earned his master's at Yale. He's now running for Senate in Kenya.

Last summer's group included Emmanuel Gweamee '20, who, along with Rochester classmate Aime Laurent Twizerimana '20, won a $10,000 Davis Projects for Peace grant for their work expanding voting education and access for young Liberians with physical disabilities.

Students are placed in universities by Hunter and her colleagues based on their academic achievement and interests. Kivuyo, one of three who will attend Rochester, plans to major in financial economics.

The program began July 9 and ends August 5. Students live in Burton Hall and attend classes in math, economics, writing, and politics taught by University masters and PhD students. They eat in Danforth Dining Hall and engage in social and team-building activities.

"It’s been an amazing experience," says Enky Mhlong, a South Africa native headed to Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania. "Time management was a big problem for me, but I’ve learned how to balance my time with this program."

Mhlong lost her mother in 2008 and her aunt, who had been the family’s breadwinner, in 2009. She lives with her grandmother and younger brother in Nkomazi, South Africa, and has been able to excel in academic and leadership roles. She intends to major in nutritional sciences and biomedical engineering at Westminster.

"I don’t know where I would be without this program, or the scholarship," she says.

Originally published in the University of Rochester Newscenter.