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A Reflection on the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program at ALA Orientation

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The following blog was written by Suzanne Hunter, Director of Scholar Search and Selection at African Leadership Academy in South Africa.

Securing opportunities for HALI students can be life-changing, but supporting scholars throughout their transition to university, whilst at university, and back to their home communities are perhaps even more important. At the African Leadership Academy (ALA) and within the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program managed by the ALA, we put a strong emphasis on transitions—ensuring that scholars are adequately supporting during all transition points before, during, and after university.

The Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program at ALA, a collaboration between the Mastercard Foundation and the African Leadership Academy, supports the transition to university by bringing all of its new scholars to a month-long orientation in the United States prior to starting at university. We do not expect our scholars to be sufficiently oriented through a two-day general international student orientation program. Therefore, we give them a high-touch, highly-contextualized orientation program that is designed specifically for HALI students from sub-Saharan Africa.

We want scholars to have a facilitated transition to university, where program staff are present to address academic or social issues that may arise. Students are enrolled full-time in academic, credit-bearing courses and take part in a variety of extracurricular activities. Should we witness a scholar struggling to maintain balance in their coursework or exhibiting poor time management, we can provide immediate intervention and chart a course forward with the scholar. This program is not a walk in the park; we put together a challenging timetable to simulate the stresses of university life. But we provide support and coaching to make sure the scholars are coping well and leave after four weeks with the skills to get through even the toughest times at university.

We work with scholars on topics such as mental health, financial management, professionalism and relationship building. We also run an extensive transformational leadership curriculum that has the scholars thinking about the impact that they can have on their home communities and to work with peers to begin to actualize ‘give-back’ projects.

Below is a blog post written by Tanaka Khondowe, a student that the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program recruited from Makomborero Zimbabwe. Tanaka is now studying Economics at St. Olaf College in Minnesota.


A thousand dreams in one place. The Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program at ALA orientation at the University of Rochester was phenomenal from the outset. Here, I met an incredibly diverse group of amazing people that forever changed the way that I think with regards to success, relationships, and innovation.

To be honest, when at the beginning of the program, I did not anticipate that the program would be a challenging one—which it well turned out to be. In my mind, I did not envision five academic classes and graded exams. I imagined seminars and group assignments where we would discuss ideas and how to implement them to change lives. We did that too, on top of the classes. At the beginning of the program, it seemed all too overwhelming but as time went, it all started to really make sense. Gradually, I could see that I was being molded and prepared for a time to come. A time of intense pressure, numerous challenges, and great opportunities that can easily stress one out. In the end, I could see how the program had set me on a path for better chances of achievement through the way that it changed my mind.

Perhaps more than anything, the greatest gift that I received from the orientation program lay in the connections, the stories. Dining in a room full of bright and ambitious young people every night for four weeks challenged my belief concerning possibility. I sat for hours listening to the stories, memories, and aspirations that my new friends carry. Their journeys and accomplishments so far were nothing short of amazing and inspirational. One started a community bank that fosters financial inclusion for thousands, another started a company that advocates and supports women from minority tribes. Being a part of a group hungry for high impact initiatives is simply uplifting. And the challenges that many had to endure and overcome left me with no excuses for going the extra mile, for taking the high road.

The orientation experience was packed with valuable lessons and insights. I formed new and powerful connections that may very well prove to be the foundation for the solutions that Africa needs. The Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program at ALA drives amazing connections, it lays a strong foundation for strategic collaborations, and it opens the gateway for a truly innovative landscape.

This orientation was a robust and wide bridge that connects the student to the college experience and I am deeply grateful for having been able to cross it.

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