GSE Hosts South African University Student Leaders

Rutgers Graduate School of Education (GSE) hosted six first-year students and one doctoral student from the University of the Free State (UFS) of Bloemfontein, South Africa, during the first two weeks of the spring semester as a partner in UFS’s “Leadership for Change Programme.”
Dr. Darren Clarke, Senior Director of Strategic Alliances and Outreach at the GSE and co-founder of GSE’s South Africa Initiative (SAI), embraced the opportunity to organize programming for UFS students at Rutgers University. The partnership evolved from Clarke’s relationships built through SAI’s graduate course, an ongoing service learning program through which Rutgers students and alumni can increase cultural awareness, explore the complex social and educational issues facing South Africans, and work directly with educators and learners in local schools and empowerment projects.
Clarke coordinated the collaborative effort across many departments and campuses at Rutgers so that the UFS students had the opportunity to learn and exchange ideas with leaders in Rutgers Future Scholars, Student Affairs, the Honors College, Douglass Global Village, Africana Studies, and Cultural Centers. They participated in workshops and discussions lead by Rutgers Student Affairs’ Leadership and Experiential Learning Division that focused on empowering each student to address topics that are experienced in both South Africa and the United Sates such as: race, gender, poverty, and higher education.

“Each year our students gain new perspective when we take them to learn about educational challenges and to experience the culture in South Africa,” said Clarke.  “This engagement with UFS allowed us to foster a true exchange in which we could provide similar experiences for their students, while also enhancing the point of view of the individuals with which they engaged with here at Rutgers during the trip.”
The UFS students were paired with first-year students with similar majors and interests at the Honors College and attended courses to gain an international exchange of ideas, perspectives, and beliefs. The UFS students were panelists at the Honors College Forum, an integrated, interdisciplinary common mission course dedicated to social innovation, change-maker challenges. They attended GSE Professor Abu El-Haj’s graduate seminar where they discussed cross-cutting issues around race and inequity and engaged in a panel discussion with master’s students in the GSE’s College Student Affairs program. The experience in the United States included a full day at the Rutgers University-Newark campus and a day in New York City, visiting New York University, the South African Consulate General, Thulisile Mathula Nkosi, Jacob’s Restaurant in Harlem, and Times Square.
Winter Storm Jonas gave the UFS students more than their fill of Northeastern weather but soggy sneakers and mittens didn’t their dampen their enthusiasm.  The visit culminated with a closing ceremony where students reflected on their experiences with their new friends. Upon return to South Africa, the students will present a group video and individual action plans to faculty and other UFS student leaders, addressing the issues they identified in their application.
Learn more about the GSE’s South Africa Initiative and how you can participate in the upcoming summer cultural immersion course on the program webpage