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Goodwin College of Professional Studies & the Office of Global Engagement Celebrate 100 Mandela Washington Fellows at Drexel

Image of the Fellows wearing Drexel t-shirts in front of Mario the Dragon

The 2019 Mandela Washington Fellows at Drexel

February 3, 2020

For the fourth consecutive year, Drexel University has been named as one of the 27 Institutional Partners for the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders (YALI). This upcoming summer, 25 of the best and brightest civic from Sub-Saharan Africa will come to Drexel for a six-week program in Civic Engagement Leadership.

The Mandela Washington Fellowship was founded by the Obama Administration, back in 2014. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, the Mandela Washington Fellowship has brought over 4,400 fellows from across Sub-Saharan Africa. “The Fellowship brings young leaders to the United States for academic coursework and leadership training and creates unique opportunities for Fellows and Americans to collaborate as they spur growth and prosperity, strengthen democratic governance, and enhance peace and security across Africa and the United States,” according to the Mandela Washington Fellowship website.

Since coming to Drexel four years ago, the Fellowship has been co-hosted by the Office of Global Engagement and Education Abroad along with the LeBow College of Business (2017-2018) and now Goodwin College of Professional Studies (2019 and 2020). Co-directors of the fellowship, Anne Converse Willkomm, Department Head of Graduate Studies, Goodwin College of Professional Studies and Adam Zahn, Associate Director of Global Engagement & Strategic Initiatives in the Office of Global Engagement work together to create and coordinate the curriculum and activities for the Fellows.

During the six weeks at Drexel, the Fellows are empowered through education, mentoring, leadership training, networking, professional opportunities, and community engagement to further help them achieve success as leaders in their communities. For the program specific to Drexel, it directly correlates to University President, John Fry’s mission to be "the most civically engaged university in the United States, across all three dimensions of engagement: academic, student and employee voluntarism, and institutionally supported neighborhood investment."

This year is especially exciting for the Mandela Washington Fellowship at Drexel. Not only is it a great feat to be just one of 27 leadership institutes for the program, but this year also marks 100 fellows at Drexel University.

Zahn added, “100 Fellows is such an accomplishment for both Drexel leadership and the young African leaders who have brought their knowledge and experience to the Drexel and larger Philadelphia community." He continued, “But it's not just the Fellows and Drexel community who have benefitted from the Fellowship, but the hundreds of individuals the Fellows will inspire back at home through their advocacy work in health, education, human rights, and the law. We hope to continue involving Drexel faculty and students in their efforts on the continent through reciprocal and virtual exchange.”

Willkomm wrote in a blog piece, "Personal Reflections on the Mandela Washington Fellowship" that "It is not just the individuals who [benefit from the Fellowship], Drexel University, as an institution, is also a beneficiary. More than 12 of the University’s colleges and schools participated in some manner – running an academic session, facilitating discussions, hosting a networking event, serving as peer collaborators or connecting the Fellows to the greater Philadelphia academic, nonprofit community or civic organizations...Our 2019 Fellows represented 20 different African countries. They were an incredibly diverse group of young African leaders: doctors, nurses, psychiatrists, lawyers, economists, artists, and activists. Their passion and yearning to help others in their communities was impressive, and more importantly, it was infectious. Every person who interacted with the Fellows could feel their energy, their enthusiasm, and their innate desire to make a difference in their communities."

Of the soon-to-be 100 Fellows to come through Drexel, many of them have achieved great successes in their areas of interest prior to completing the fellowship.

One Fellowship alumnus from 2018, Lekpele M. Nyamalon, had set a goal to educate students about war by launching a history project about the Liberian Civil War. When the Fellowship ended, Nyamalon went on a book tour for his novel titled: Scary Dreams: An Anthology of the Liberian Civil War.

A 2019 alumna, like Zayithwa Fabiano earned a position a study coordinator in a Johns Hopkins research project in Blantyre, Malawi. Not soon forgetting her time in Philadelphia, Fabiano is also working closely with Christopher Harnish, an architect at the University of Pennsylvania. Using Fabiano’s background in digital health innovation and promotion, the pair is collaborating on a project in the mapping of infrastructure in relation to disease outbreak hotspots in Malawi.

Fellows that complete the Mandela Washington Fellowship are also eligible for the Reciprocal Exchange Award. Funded by the U.S. Department of State, and IREX, the Reciprocal Exchange Component provides funds for the American professionals to travel to Sub-Saharan African countries to continue collaborative work that they began with the fellows. Last year, marks the third year that Drexel University was awarded with the $5,000 grant.

The most recent recipients of the award were 2019 Mandela Washington Fellow, Dr. Joel Duah Afi and Michelle C. Lawson, Adjunct Faculty in Goodwin’s Master of Science in Nonprofit Management: Public Professional & Social Sectors. The pair was awarded for the 2019-2020 Reciprocal Exchange Award for their project titled: “Enhancing the Built Environment to Facilitate and Improve Neonatal and Maternal Care in the Kukuom District, Ghana.”

Through this grant, Dr. Afi and Professor Lawson will have the opportunity to open a neonatal care unit in a limited resource setting. They will also explore horticulture, and how it impacts the well-being of clinicians, and mothers in the neonatal and antenatal stages of birth. They will do this by creating and designing a meditations space for the Kukuom District Hospital in Ghana. This will also create a blueprint of sorts for future limited resource settings in both the United States and Ghana.

“The Fellows in the program are the most ambitious and determined group we get to interact with on campus,” said Tim Gilrain, Assistant Dean of the Goodwin College of Professional Studies. “The projects they work on or ideas they are looking to create influence everyone they come across. We are grateful to learn from this group, which will grow to 100 fellows impacting Drexel University faculty, staff and students.”

Looking ahead, the Fellowship at Drexel will soon be seeking applicants to become peer collaborators. If you are civically minded, a leader or emerging leader in your fields, who is enthusiastic about developing long-lasting and impactful relationships with the Mandela Fellows, you are encouraged to sign up for the Mandela Fellows newsletter to stay up with announcements, events where you can meet the Fellows, and the opening of applications. Drexel students, faculty, and community members are welcome to apply.