The path to a university education in the United States has become smoother for African school kids thanks to the introduction of Yale University’s Young African Scholars Program (YYAS).
The idea of the program to help talented secondary school pupils in Africa discover academic opportunities in the U.S. came from African undergraduates studying at Yale. In partnership with the HigherLife Foundation and Yale University, YYAS is free of charge to participating pupils and the application is open until March 16, 2017.
Navigating college application process
The 2017 YYAS program will run week-long sessions at three locations in Rwanda, Ghana and Mauritius during July and August. Modelled off of the Yale Young Global Scholars Program, selected students will take part in a high-intensity academic and leadership program given by Yale professors and students. This includes practical workshops on what U.S. university admissions committees look for in competitive applicants.
Helinna Ayalew started working with the program as a Yale graduate student instructor in summer 2014. “From my own experience as a high school student in Ethiopia, I know the challenges of preparing for and navigating the U.S. university application process,” Ayalew explains. “In the first two pilot years of YYAS, I witnessed the program’s potential first-hand, as participants completed the program and successfully applied to university.”
Eddie Mandhry, Yale’s Director for Africa explains that “the Yale Young African Scholars Program is open to secondary school pupils who show the drive to make an impact as young leaders even before they start university studies. We’re looking for students with high academic potential who demonstrate leadership skills, a passion to engage with their communities and to see Africa prosper.”
Selection criteria vary from country to country based on national curricula, but generally YYAS is open to students who still have one-and-a-half to two years of secondary school to complete before they graduate.
Currently, Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, and Ethiopia send the most students to the program, but in 2016 participants came from 25 African nations. The program is working to create even more diversity within YYAS and particularly hopes to see more participants applying from Francophone and northern Africa, as well as from more rural and underserved communities all across the continent.
Funded by donations
Philanthropy is critical in helping participants get to the YYAS programme. Eddie Mandhry says that “YYAS is financed by a generous gift from the HigherLife Foundation. This non-profit organization founded by Zimbabwean entrepreneurs Strive and Tsitsi Masiyiwa is committed to using education for social impact. Yale’s Whitney and Betty MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies also contributes funds to support Yale students and faculty taking part in the program. Thanks to these donors’ generosity, YYAS is free to all African school pupils admitted. The program even covers travel expenses for students from lower-income families to ensure equal opportunities to participate.”
Springboard to opportunities
As YYAS only started in 2014 it’s too early to say how participants’ career paths are developing. Eddie Mandhry explains that “the program is not specifically a pipeline to Yale, but a springboard to academic opportunities across the U.S. This year YYAS partnered with admissions offices from Stanford University, University of Pennsylvania,
Columbia University, University of Rochester, and others. We also work closely with partners in Africa such as Akili Dada, The Kenyatta Trust, Ikamva Youth, Al Mustakbal, and many more to identify the most talented students from under-resourced communities”.
Yale’s commitment to Africa
YYAS is just one of the programs in the Yale Africa Initiative, which launched in 2013. The focus is on leadership development and capacity building programs. Eddie Mandhry adds that “the Yale Africa Initiative demonstrates our university’s deep commitment to expanding scholarship on Africa at Yale, to increasing the number of African students at Yale, and to establishing partnerships between Yale and African institutions.”
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