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CAEL Pathways Blog

Making a World of Difference: SAU’s Student Global Leadership Fellows Institute

As vice president of community affairs at CAEL, I spend a lot of time, appropriately enough, out in the community. Many different communities, in fact. That's how we scale impact at CAEL. While all communities are local, uniting them around a common cause, such as adult learning, creates global impact. We see this time and again in the community of practice we have built among CAEL's more-than 5,000 members. 

One of those members is Saint Augustine's University (SAU). Founded in 1867, the HBCU is located in Raleigh, N.C. Much like CAEL, SAU champions experiential learning and how it can empower individual success as well as equitable economic prosperity. 

One way it is doing that is the annual Student Global Leadership Fellows Institute. The Institute is a community of practice in its own right. It offers students a wealth of work-relevant experiential learning opportunities. Students benefit from internships, mentoring, networking, and peer learning.

Participants, who currently total 48, collaborate during monthly training and development sessions that feature guest facilitators drawn from local business leaders. To accommodate adult learners, student workers, and students from partner institutions around the world, the events occur on Saturdays in a hybrid format. Earlier this year, the Institute held its first experiential learning excursion, to the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.

Dr. Cindy Love, associate vice president of professional studies & enterprise services at SAU, designed the Institute to amplify the university's mission to prepare students to be leaders in a continually changing world. Key to that mission, she said, is building connections that make students competitive both within their discipline and as global citizens.

SAU leadership prioritizes learning outcomes that not only instill students with the confidence to approach problem solving from a cognitive level but also with experiences that make them leaders with a vision for making the world a better place. Of course, it's a lot easier to improve a system in which you are empowered. As Dr. Love explains, HBCUs have a long and powerful legacy of developing a social justice lens among students. But beyond campus, she says, "There's a world out there that you need to be able to fit into comfortably. We see that as a cultural and an academic obligation." Within the context of economic development that has historically exploited marginalized citizens, the Institute is designed to help students explore and question the factors that determine success in the economic arena.

Reflecting that focus, the theme of the 2023 Institute is "Why Economic Development Matters -- Empowering Students to Make a Difference." The theme threads SAU's Five Pillars of Innovation, which point to broader sectors and principles, with specific competencies prized by employers. These competencies, which include critical thinking, communication, problem solving, and conflict resolution, make students more competitive in any career pathway. That accounts for their prominent inclusion alongside economic development in Institute programming. 

"We wanted the students to understand the concept of economic development and the role that they play in it," explained Love. Students of many majors tackle themes pertaining to economic development, she said, but the Institute offers a deeper dive to help students understand the value they can bring to their communities.

In addition to its many employer partners, several institutional collaborators contribute to broadening the Institute experience. In its first year, the Institute was virtual, and SAU students had the pleasure of interacting with students from the American University of Nigeria and the participants of the DJRELC Education and Leadership Center of South Africa. In the second year, South Africa’s Sedibeng TVET College participated. This year, SAU extended invitations to join the global collaboration to its sister school, Shaw University, as well as the African Methodist Episcopal University, in Monrovia, Liberia, and the University of Ghana. 

SAU students were instrumental in fundraising efforts to offset passport fees, travel, and lodging costs as well as to provide a few dollars for excursion trinkets during the experiential learning excursion. Once in The Bahamas, students engaged with representatives from the University of The Bahamas and the Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute. They even met and engaged with the Honorable Ginger Maria Moxey, the minister for Grand Bahama, and her staff in a two-hour meeting to learn and share ideas regarding economic development and its impact on public health, environmental sustainability, and global competitiveness. It would be hard to imagine a better source of international insight on cultural and economic development. 

As I mentioned earlier, the community of practice model accelerates individual learning through group interaction. As the CAEL community well knows, adult learners are excellent catalysts of such learning, enriching classrooms with a wealth of life and professional experiences. The Institute -- and SAU overall – embraces such opportunities. Dr. Love believes adult learners offer valuable insights to their fellow students, especially considering many have lived through the very economic development issues the Institute is exploring. 

One such adult learner is Nickea Griffin Crepsac, a junior film major at SAU and a Falcon Fellow. She was inspired to apply for the fellowship by the same person who encouraged her to enroll at SAU: her advisor, who she described as part of a learning atmosphere that welcomed her as a student parent and nurtured her ambitions. 

"I always told myself what I would do if I got to do it all over again,” said Griffin. “Well, I have that opportunity now." At the same time, she embraces the opportunities she creates for others. 

"I felt that the Student Global Leadership Fellows Institute has something to offer me, but I had something to offer it as well,” she said. "I've gone through so many different life adventures, so I love to share that knowledge with my peers."

Griffin-Crepsac credits the experiential learning excursion's workshops for modeling ways to mine solutions from multiple and sometimes competing ideas. "It helped me to be more open-minded in a business sense, and how to take those ideas that may seem off the wall, but invite them in anyway," she said. "You never know what you can glean from an idea that you were about to reject."

Griffin Crepsac said the Institute experience has remained top of mind, especially during a recent trip she made with her family to South Africa. "I am really big on being a global citizen, and I was thinking about the Institute and what I've been taught thus far, being able to make those connections with people from other cultures and going out and thinking globally always."

The global reach of the Institute is paramount in continuing the rich legacy of the university. Dr. Love sees the Institute as an ideal laboratory for students to explore global connections to discuss and think critically about the challenges plaguing society, from economic development to international trade to social and political justice. She is striving to ensure the Global Institute students will be positioned to shape the community and the world's future.

In the meantime, SAU is hoping to add new partners to the Institute, from other colleges and universities to new funders that could help support the Student Global Leadership Fellows Institute. Individual contributions to the Institute can be made via the university's website.

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