Teri Albrecht

Ndeye Absa Gningue and Creesen Naicker are two of the 25 entrepreneurs visiting the University of Texas at Austin as part of the Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, aimed at teaching leadership skills for creating sustainable projects in their communities.

Photo Credit: Helen Fernandez | Daily Texan Staff

Twenty–five young leaders from Sub-Saharan Africa arrived at the University on Sunday to learn business and leadership skills for creating sustainable projects in their communities.

The Obama administration launched the Young African Leaders Initiative in 2010 with the goal of empowering the next generation of African youth to foster democracy and peace. As part of the initiative, the Washington Fellowship was launched in 2014. Out of 50,000 applicants, the fellowship selected 500 fellows to participate at one of the 20 fellowship campuses in the country. Twenty-five of the fellows will participate in the University’s six-week program offering entrepreneurs leadership training, networking opportunities and business courses.

Teri Albrecht, director of International Student and Scholar Services, said creating a space for African leaders to work together can help these young entrepreneurs face challenges such as corruption in business practices.

“They’re creating their own support network that they would not have had without this program,” Albrecht said. “Since the first week, they’ve been thinking of new ways and new ideas of how they can work with each other and support each other once they go back.”

Creesen Naicker, a fellow and director of the marketing and management company Vision RSM, spearheaded the YoungHeroes program, an initiative to incorporate sports into South African public school systems in 2004. Through the fellowship program at the University, Naicker hopes to develop a new community project, JumpStart, which would help prepare South Africa’s youth while they search for jobs. The unemployment rate in South Africa is at 25 percent, according to a CIA report. Naicker said young leaders in the fellowship program can inspire other young Africans to become agents of change in the communities.

“A lot of solutions to Africa’s problems are residing in Africa, sort of buried, much like the natural resources below the ground, where they’re there but the people don’t feel there’s enough freedom or democracy to activate their ideas,” Naicker said. “What each one of us being here can help do is be a little beacon of hope for how that can be done.“

Ndèye Absa Gningue, a fellow, as well as a designer and director of her clothing company, Aduuna Boul Comprendre, said she aspires to create a renewed interest in traditional African fashion and local textiles. Despite her accomplishments, she said she regularly encounters age and gender discrimination.

“Age is the first barrier,” Gningue said. “People [in Senegal] are generally quite conservative, meaning that they don’t want to give leadership to youth. Coming to gender, it’s difficult because people don’t think you can handle such a position because you’re a woman.”

Gningue said more women in Senegal, including Aminata Touré, who was appointed prime minister in 2013, are reaching higher positions. Despite this progress, she said there is still an absence of role models for youth.

“Today, the challenge I personally have is lack of leadership. In the young community, we cannot wake up and say, ‘This is the leader I want to look like,’” Gningue said. “This is why an opportunity like this is great, because you can get to find other females in the team and find other people who can help you.”

Naicker said youth in South Africa have also become frustrated by the lack of leadership in the private and public sector.

“Young people now want and expect better, but if that’s what you want and expect, then you have to step up and deliver it as well,” Naicker said.

Corrections: This article has been edited with the correct spelling of Nackier name and information about the program.

The number of international students studying in the U.S. has been increasing in recent years, and UT is no exception. The University saw a 4.4 percent increase in international students over the past three years, reaching its highest enrollment yet in 2013 with 4,961 international students.

According to a February report by the Institute of International Education, the number of international students studying in the U.S. has reached an all-time high, increasing 7.2 percent in 2012-2013 to 819,644 students.

At UT, the international student population has also grown, although not as dramatically. According to Teri Albrecht, director of international student services, there has been a 1.2 percent increase in international students at UT over the past year.

Albrecht said the University’s high global and academic reputation might have played a role in the increase.

“The University is known across the world for its strong academic programs, and thus attracts applicants from around the world,” Albrecht said.

This reason resonated with mathematics junior Zihan Zang, who said he came to UT from China to improve his educational prospects. 

“UT has very good math and science programs, and it’s very helpful to learn English, too,” Zhang said.

Increased national funding and easier access to American testing methods may have also contributed to the increase in students, according to Albrecht.

“I think the international student population has grown in the U.S. overall because of the strength that the U.S. higher education system has to offer, [such as the] ability to access SAT and GRE testing centers more easily across the world, and funding that is occurring at a national level in countries like Brazil or Saudi Arabia for students to study [in] the U.S,” Albrecht said.

Texas has the third largest number of international students in the nation, and UT has more foreign students, which includes full-time, exchange and ESL students, than any other university in Texas.

International student adviser Monica Malhotra said the number of international students enrolled in ESL programs has also increased, which she said is probably because of the high demand for foreign students to learn English.

“Our ESL student numbers have increased significantly, and we have to close applications at a certain point because we don’t have the space to admit more,” Malhotra said. “It’s because of the number of foreign government sponsors sending their students to the U.S. to learn English and prepare them for admission to a U.S. university.”

With the click of a button, undocumented students at UT can now access vital academic, enrollment and graduation information thanks to a new website unveiled by the UT International Office.

The Longhorn Dreamers Project was created to strengthen support services on campus for undocumented students at UT in collaboration with the University Leadership Initiative, a student organization that advocates for undocumented students to achieve legal status.

University Leadership Initiative president Juana Guzmán said the new website will be a welcome change from the past when students struggled to find a central place for information.

“We didn’t have anywhere to turn to before this,” Guzmán said. “Now we have this website that has resources for us.”

Located within the UT International Office’s website, Longhorn Dreamers Project provides information on everything from financial aid and advising to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, a new federal policy that allows certain undocumented residents to apply for temporary deferred deportation status and gain employment authorization. There are about 300 undocumented students currently enrolled at UT, according to the International Office.

Teri Albrecht, International Student and Scholar Services director, said the International Office identified a growing need among undocumented students to create a central place to access resources. She said that student input during the development of the website was crucial.

“We wanted to know directly from them what was the most beneficial information to provide on the website,” Albrecht said. “We went through focus groups with students to find out what they needed.”

Albrecht said she envisions the new website as being an asset not only to students but also to faculty and staff who seek to empower undocumented students.

“In the last 10 years, I’ve seen a lot of people across campus, faculty and staff, struggle to help students and didn’t know where to go necessarily,” Albrecht said. “Hopefully we’re helping faculty and staff who want to help students feel more empowered.”

University Leadership Initiative secretary Diana Morales said the website’s value lies in the fact that it was made for undocumented students by undocumented students.

“Most of the information that the website has comes from our own personal experiences,” Morales said.

Before the creation of the website, Morales said, it was often difficult for undocumented students to find a place to obtain information because their status didn’t fall into any existing administrative department.

“Here at UT, we don’t really have a specific category for us,” Morales said. “We don’t consider ourselves international students, and that can cause a lot of confusion.”

The website also offers information to undocumented high school students as well as high school counselors.

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International student enrollment in colleges nationwide steadily increased this year, while the total number of U.S. students who studied abroad decreased slightly, according to a recent study by an international education nonprofit.

In the 25 years that the Institute of International Education has published its “Open Doors” report, this year’s figures indicate a first-time decrease in American students studying abroad.

The figures do not surprise Teri Albrecht, the director for international student and scholar services. She said the sluggish economy of 2009, when the report’s data was collected, dampened students’ abilities to participate in study abroad programs.

“I think that this has to do with the economic situation, increasing costs or tuition at U.S. universities and increased options of university studies throughout the world,” Albrecht said.

UT’s international student enrollment continues to increase, while the number of international students at UT — 4,768 — has remained stable over the past year.

“While financial aid is available to U.S. students studying abroad, there are expenses, both perceived and real, involved in studying abroad that adds to U.S. students’ college expenses,” she said. “For international students, coming to the U.S. to study isn’t a study abroad program for them in the sense that they come here for a semester or a year — they are coming for a degree program.”