Wednesday, July 20, 2011

East Africa Day 68 (Wed July 19): US Embassy helping Kenyans access US University

Recap of a previous blog post - while I was in Uganda I stopped by the US Embassy to meet with Alexis, who works for Usap (US Student Achievers Program). From the Usap website:

Usap began in Zimbabwe in 1999 with the aim of providing access to higher education for determined, bright, low-income youth, thus producing highly-skilled and liberally-educated leaders for tomorrow’s Zimbabwe. Eight years later, more than 150 Zimbabwean Usap students have excelled as students at America’s top colleges and universities, and many are continuing graduate studies or are working all over the globe. There are now active Usap programs based at EducationUSA advising centers in 13 countries on 4 continents: Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Latvia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mongolia, Nigeria, Serbia, South Africa, Uganda, the UK and Zimbabwe.

Usap works closely with students through a year-long program of meetings and seminars designed to empower and assist them throughout the application and orientation process while building their confidence and bonding them as a supportive family who share similar backgrounds and will be facing similar challenges while studying in the US. In the US, Usap students run an active listserv, yearly conferences, a trust fund to support application and preparation costs of future Usap students, and provide intensive support for one another. Usap expects a commitment from students to give back of their energy and time to the "Usap family" and to their own communities at home and in school.

Usap provides many benefits to colleges and universities – pre-screened, well-rounded applicants, focused, committed and involved students, and economically-diverse international students.

Alexis suggested that I visit the US Embassy in Nairobi, that would hopefully perform the same function as her office in Uganda. I did a google search the other day and learned that the US Embassy in Kenya has an American Educational Advising Center. I called today and was invited to come in to check it out!

The center is housed in an office building in the Westlands neighborhood (near the malls I've frequented in the past few days), about a 20 minute walk from my compound. In Kampala it was housed in the actual US Embassy. When I arrived I found a suite many times bigger than the Uganda center, full of bookshelves with books about the SAT, American colleges and universities, a grouping of desktop computers that some students were using while I was there, several staff members' cubicles, an area with chairs set up facing a podium, and a few displays of students' acceptance letters to US universities!!!!

I was given the opportunity to talk with Sennane, the Advising Assistant who has been working in the Center for about seven years. She was wonderful!

I learned that the Center in Kenya doesn't have the resources to run an official Usap Program like the one that Alexis works for in Uganda, but that the Kenya center runs a very similar independent program that benefits many Kenyan students.

While students are able to come to the Center at any point for individual counseling, Sennane suggested that interested students seek out the Center's assistance at the beginning of Form 4 (senior year of high school.) Kenyan students have the option of becoming a member of the American Educational Advising Center for $200, which proves them access to all of the Center's resources. The Center helps students select a major, identify US universities that offer that major and offer scholarships (if the student is needy - not all students who come to the Center for assistance qualify for scholarships), prepare for the SAT's and TOEFL, complete all of the application forms including checking reference letters, etc and will even help the student request fee waivers from the US universities if the student cannot afford the application fee. The SAT prep course is intense - it's offered before each administration of the SAT exam. In all, the Center is an amazing resource - I was so impressed and thankful to have found it and Sennane!

I learned that this fall 5,000+ Kenyan students will be heading to the USA for university. (According to the Kenyan government - that's the number of Kenyans who have been granted student visas to study in the USA.) Kenya has one of the highest numbers of citizens of all African countries studying in the USA. I learned that two years ago the Center assisted a current Lehigh student with his application. Love it the Lehigh connection:)

The Center runs an Info Session for students, introducing them to the Center's resources, each Friday AM. Guess where I'll be this Friday AM??? :)

This afternoon I swam in the pool in my compound - was the only one there. I hung onto the side for a while and read "The Mentor: The Education Newsletter of the Equity Group Foundation"'s 2010 report. Really, really excited about the work that the Equity Bank Foundation and the MasterCard Foundation are doing in Kenya!!

Something else that made me happy today ... go Kiva!!

And finally, the music selection of the night ... I can't believe I'm missing every single stop on this summer tour ...

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