The last week of April brought me to Lake Kivu in Rwanda for the 2nd annual HALI Indaba.
Founded in 2016, the High Achieving Low Income (HALI) Access Network has grown from 19 to 28 organizations in just one year. All organizations work with students of little means but marked academic achievement, helping them to gain access to higher education. I was incredibly fortunate to join representatives from these organizations and several other universities for two and half days of meetings. The theme this year was success, and we spent a day talking about what success looks like on three separate fronts – before, during, and after a HALI student’s university education. We explored the fact that we all may need to question our own assumptions surrounding what is best for students at times, and learn from them what their own best drivers toward success look like.
The HALI membership views education as a long-term means of strengthening systems of governance and economic development in Africa. An interesting topic was what constituted “success” on this level from an individual student lens. Should students return home directly following their education? Must students live on the continent to be considered a success story, or could the work done off continent drive development just as effectively? How can HALI organizations help individual students envision a successful life in their home communities and countries following graduation? Are HALI students immune to corruption once they return?
My institution supported my attendance because we have recently received funding to bring HALI students to the University of Wisconsin-Madison through the King-Morgridge Scholars Program; we are preparing for our first cohort of six scholars in August. Having not previously worked with international students from low-income backgrounds, we have studied the selection and student services practices of peer institutions who work with HALI students. But limiting our learning to institutions in the United States only gives us one side of the picture. The organizations and African universities in attendance at HALI blew me away with their willingness to share and learn from one another. For two and a half days I was a sponge, soaking up the steady stream of knowledge, lessons learned, and best practices articulated by those in attendance.
My task now is to squeeze my sponge back to dry, pouring everything I learned into practice at UW-Madison. We know that our HALI students will benefit from a great support network to help contextualize the American university experience and their paths after graduation. But I’ve come home realizing that what constitutes a “great” support network may be very different than our preconceived notions. And it may be different for each student. Just as our HALI students have a lot to learn, they also have a lot to teach us. I can’t wait to see where our mutual learning takes us, and I can’t wait for the 2018 HALI Indaba!
Written by Emilie Dickson, University of Wisconsin-Madison