Students attending Lafayette have incredible educational opportunities at their fingertips, and now, they are working to help high school students in Madagascar gain access to higher education in the U.S. A group of 10 students traveled to Madagascar over the January interim to launch a pilot program called Lafayette Initiative for Malagasy Education (LIME).
According to David Stifel, assistant professor of economics, LIME is a win-win situation. The idea for the course began in 2007 when President Dan Weiss was among a group of college and university presidents who Neils Marquardt, U.S. Ambassador to Madagascar, contacted to search for a solution to the under representation of Malagasy students in U.S. institutions of higher learning.
“One objective is to prepare Malagasy students for the process of applying to colleges in the U.S.,” explains Stifel, who hopes eventually to get six students to attend U.S. colleges. “As products of a weak educational system, bright Malagasy students whose third language is English are at a disadvantage when they apply to institutions like Lafayette. Current and future Lafayette students are well-positioned to help Malagasy students overcome this disadvantage. A second objective is for Lafayette students to learn about the challenges of development in one of the poorest countries in the world. At the same time, we hope our students come to realize how creative, resourceful, and generous people, such as the Malagasy, can be despite the constraints they face.”
LIME is a partnership among Lafayette, the U.S. Embassy in Madagascar, and American School of Antananarivo. The embassy identified Malagasy high school graduates interested in applying for higher education in the U.S. for the Lafayette group that traveled there in January. They worked closely with the Malagasy students to establish a peer mentoring program and conducted discussions with students from two high schools in the capital, Antananarivo, the University of Antananarivo, and a high school in the coastal town of Vatomandry. After returning, the students co-authored a report outlining how the mentoring program will work.
Teevrat Garg ’10 (Haryana, India), who is pursuing a B.S. mathematics and A.B. with a major in economics and business, is quick to point out that LIME’s goal is to increase the number of Malagasy students enrolled in colleges and universities throughout the country, not to recruit for Lafayette, although qualified applicants will be encouraged to apply to the College.
“LIME’s work is instrumental in increasing Lafayette students’ awareness of the human condition in Madagascar as well as the development challenges in the region,” says Garg, who studied the labor economics of Madagascar as an EXCEL Scholar with Stifel and plans on pursuing a Ph.D. at Cornell University after graduation. “On a diplomatic level, it represents a new and significant opportunity to promote cross-cultural communication and diplomatic engagement.”
The interdisciplinary nature of LIME is not only a unique feature of the program, says Garg, it is a necessary one. Students represent majors such as economics & business, government & law, philosophy, international affairs, mathematics, policy studies, and chemical & bimolecular engineering.
“You couldn’t have 10 development economists or 10 anthropologists in the same group because then there wouldn’t be any diversity of ideas,” he says. “As Jean Claude of USAID said in reference to our program, one of the reasons it was important was to diversify foreign educational opportunities available for Malagasy students. If everyone in Malagasy ministries is trained in the same French universities, how can there ever be discussion and debate in policy?”
Despite being a world away, Garg found his interactions with Malagasy students very easy.
“The mentoring experience–despite the use of the word mentoring–was more of a partnership,” he explains. “Being of the same age group, it was relatively easy for us to connect with our counterparts. Understanding their concerns and questions was central to our own experiences.”
Other students who traveled to Madagascar with LIME include Stefan Bauer ’11 (Ho Ho Kus, N.J.), Kyle DeCant ’10 (Orange, Conn.), Sam Derrick ’10 (Etters, Pa.), Ivan Dimitrov ’10 (Pavlikeni, Bulgaria), Megan Jones ’11 (Bridgewater, N.J.), Meredith McCann ’12 (Hingham, Mass.), Anuoluwatomiwa Osunkoya ’11 (Abuja, Nigeria), Michela Torchia ’12 (Redding, Conn.), and Carmina Villa-Garcia ’10 (College Station, Texas).