Texas Tech hosts young professionals from Africa to participate in first in-person experience since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
For the first time in over two years, the Texas Tech University's Office of International Affairs (OIA) will have in-person participants in the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders program. The global COVID-19 pandemic brought the program to a halt in 2020, causing what was a very hands-on fellowship to convert to a virtual program.
“Conducting the fellowship virtually was a challenge,” said Michael Johnson, assistant director of International Grants Administration and Partnerships. “Keeping the fellows engaged, especially with the 8-hour time difference was difficult. It was a rewarding experience, but we're looking forward to having them back on campus the next six weeks to really build the sense of community that results from an on-campus program.”
The Mandela Washington Fellowship began in 2014 in conjunction with the Young African Leaders Initiative to cultivate leaders between the ages of 25 and 35 from every Sub-Saharan region of the continent by bringing them to the U.S. for six weeks of academic and leadership training. OIA will host 24 Fellows from over 20 countries for this year's fellowship program.
“These fellows come from such different backgrounds and have made tremendous impact on their communities. It is very inspiring to interact with them and realize how much more I can be doing in my own community,” Johnson said. “Overall, it is a very humbling experience to see what they have been able to achieve in such a relatively short time.”
Just 27 higher education institutes from 35 states across the U.S. are participating in the Mandela Washington Fellowship in 2022, with only Texas Tech and the University of Texas as host programs in the state of Texas. Each institute is divided into three leadership sectors of business, civic engagement, and public management. Texas Tech's OIA first became one of the host institutions in 2017.
“Being selected as a host university has brought huge recognition to Texas Tech as well as opened the door with the Department of State for other grant-funded programs,” Johnson said.
Over the next six weeks fellows will observe and participate in various activities to support the development of leadership skills through academic study, workshops, mentoring and networking. The goal of this multi-week fellowship is to share ideas and experiences to both improve the fellows' communities as well as the participating individuals, hosts and instructors.
“We have such a full schedule of so many engaging opportunities, it is hard to just pick one,” said Johnson. “The fellows are always excited for the Lubbock Police ride-alongs and talk about that experience throughout the institute. Other favorite experiences are host family dinners, delivering meals with Meals on Wheels, volunteering with the South Plains Food Bank and travelling to Austin for joint programming with the UT Austin Fellows.”
Johnson is hopeful these young professionals will gain a new perspective on public management and public service during their fellowship.
“Americans have a very servant-leadership mindset that is somewhat unique to other cultures,” he said. “This also helps breakdown some of the typical American stereotypes and shows these young professionals the global perspective we all share. I also hope they experience the welcoming nature of Texas Tech and the Lubbock community and build strong relationships and partnerships that will positively impact their home countries.”
The fellows arrived Wednesday, June 8 and will depart for home on Sunday, July 17.