On Monday, the University announced the expansion of the Yale Young African Scholars Program, a summer academic and leadership training program connecting African high school students to Yale students, faculty and staff.
The expansion is supported by a new partnership with the Higherlife Foundation, a philanthropic organization that focuses on empowering African children through education. Through the partnership, the program will be offered in three countries each summer; over the next three years, 900 African high school students will be able to participate in the program. The expansion was announced simultaneously in New Haven and in Rwanda at the African Philanthropy Forum, which aims to build a community of African philanthropists and social investors.
YYAS was founded in 2013 and held its first session in the summer of 2014. It was the first student-led initiative to connect students and resources from Yale to African high school students. During its first year, YYAS held sessions in Ethiopia and Ghana. The following year, sessions were held in Zimbabwe and Rwanda.
“We realized there was a lot of talent on the continent and definitely a need for one of these programs,” said Nicola Soekoe ’16, a YYAS founding member and instructor for the past two years.
Soekoe said the program’s purpose is twofold: In addition to introducing African students to the liberal arts, the program aims to increase access to opportunities for study in the United States and to help students complete college applications. For African students who do not know anyone who has studied in the United States, the application system for American universities can be daunting, she said.
“My goal is to encourage students and to open up the possibility of what’s out there,” said Rebekah Westphal, Yale’s director of international admissions.
In addition to providing workshops for YYAS teachers and counselors, Westphal will work with Rebecca Zeigler-Mano — founder of the United States Achievers Program, a higher education program for low-income youth — to organize a conference bringing together NGOs that work with high-achieving, low-income students from Africa.
Similar collaboration among various University entities has helped make YYAS successful. In addition to the new partnership with the Higherlife Foundation, YYAS is administrated by the Yale Young Global Scholars Program, a summer academic enrichment program hosted by Yale in coordination with Yale Undergraduate Admissions and the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies. According to Westphal, YYAS also reflects the goals of the Africa Initiative — Yale’s larger commitment to increase the visibility and presence of African scholarship and teaching at Yale, and vice versa — which was announced by University President Peter Salovey in his inaugural speech in 2013.
“[YYAS] was started with the knowledge that this was something Yale, with its current focus on Africa, was committed to, that [Yale] would be excited to help found new ventures and new ideas,” Soekoe said.
The relatively recent founding of the program has made it difficult to assess its impact on Yale’s admission of African international students. In the 2015 summer session of YYAS, for example, students who attended were still completing secondary school and would not be applying to American universities for two years. Four freshmen this fall are former YYAS students from the 2014 session.
Westphal said there has been a gradual increase of African applicants to Yale for a number of years, but that the partnership between Yale and Higherlife is about more than bringing students to the University.
Ultimately, the program aims to facilitate scholastic and intellectual exchange between continents, regardless of impact on admissions at Yale.
“We want to create that intellectual spark to inspire African high school students to be creative, to think about what each has to offer and to think about how to realize that vision through the American college application process,” said Ted Wittenstein, executive director of YYGS.
Wittenstein said many students who have attended YYAS in the past would be eligible for scholarships to attend YYGS on the Yale campus the following summer.
The 2016 YYAS program will be held in Ghana from July 29 to Aug. 4, in Rwanda from Aug. 9 to Aug. 15 and in Zimbabwe from Aug. 20 to Aug. 26.