Twenty-five young community leaders from Africa will spend six weeks at Virginia Tech this summer for intensive hands-on civic leadership training.

The university has been selected to serve as an academic institute for the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, the flagship program of President Barack Obama's Young African Leaders Initiative.

"Civic leadership is at the heart of what Virginia Tech is about," said Vice President for Outreach and International Affairs Guru Ghosh. "Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) is our core value, and hosting emerging leaders from the African continent on campus is one way we can disseminate our core values. We are excited to be part of this initiative and to welcome these extraordinary individuals to our institution and region."

The fellowship, inaugurated in 2014, will bring 1,000 professionals ages 25 to 35 to the United States for workshops, leadership training, and networking. The program is oriented to young leaders from sub-Saharan Africa who serve the public through nongovernmental organizations, community-based nonprofits, or volunteerism.

In 2015, Fellows represented all 49 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Half were women, and for 76 percent of them, it was their first experience spending substantial time in the United States.

Led by the Virginia Tech Language and Culture Institute and the Institute for Policy and Governance (part of the College of Architecture and Urban Studies), the university will host a cohort of 25 Fellows for six weeks starting in June. Fellows will live in a residence hall and will interact with faculty from across the university, as well as with community advocates and practitioners. The program will include visits to local community and government offices and opportunities for social engagement and community service.

"It is an honor to host the Mandela Washington Fellows," said Don Back, director of the Language and Culture Institute. "Members of the university community can look forward to cultivating professional relationships with these distinguished African leaders that will foster greater mutual understanding and collaboration."

Civic leadership is a vital seedbed for citizens' acculturation to democratic capacity and values in nations engaged in democratization, said Max Stephenson, professor of public and international affairs and director of the Institute for Policy and Governance. "This program provides these important leaders a vital opportunity to reflect on their social roles and to develop additional capacities to address them as they develop democratic capability in their countries," he said.

After the Fellows' time in Blacksburg, they will visit Washington, D.C., for a Presidential Summit featuring a town hall-style meeting with Obama. During the three-day event, Fellows will take part in networking and panel discussions with U.S. leaders from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors.

The Mandela Washington Fellowship is a program of the U.S. government and is supported in its implementation by IREX. Virginia Tech is a subgrantee of IREX and is supporting the U.S.-based academic program of the fellowship.

Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.

Written by Rich Mathieson

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