Exploring the World Beyond DC

Global Scholars Fellows Prepare for College Through Cultural Immersion

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GSF fellow Kimyah Dockery sits with African dancers on one of the fellowships international trips. (Photo: Marcia Brown)

Joshua Mitchell wants to study for a career in photojournalism. He hopes to do so at the University of Wisconsin in Madison but knows it’s a competitive application and admissions process. When the chance came to travel abroad, learn a new language, and get help preparing for college, he jumped.

A Ward 7 resident and junior at Richard Wright Public Charter School (770 M St. SE), Mitchell earned a tuition-free, 18-month fellowship in the Global Scholars Foundation (GSF) program for the 2016-17 year. Along with more than a dozen other District students he spent the summer of 2016 touring colleges and building professional job skills in conjunction with the District’s Summer Youth Employment Program. Now he’s studying Arabic two Saturdays a month and continuing college tours, and will finish by traveling with the group next summer to Dubai.

The program does put a strain on scheduling around sports and academics, said Mitchell, but it is worth the effort. He has access to help and experiences he wouldn’t otherwise get in high school. “I want to get a sense of what’s going on around the world and a different culture than DC,” he said.

Opening the Global Door
Members of the H Street Community Development Corporation (HSCDC) launched the first Global Scholars Foundation program, the “China Challenge,” in 2006. The corporation already had students interning in its offices during the summer, and saw an opportunity to expand into a full program. The focus: global enrichment in a language and a culture.

GSF fellows at Catholic University of America. The fellows tour all of the local colleges and universities as part of the college readiness component. (Photo: Marcia Brown)

Students in the first cohort studied Chinese culture and Mandarin. They also traveled to Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Xi’an as a cap to their learning. The other two cohorts between 2006 and 2010 followed the same curriculum.

Marcia Brown, who became GSF’s executive director in 2010, decided that the organization should change the program to study other cultures and countries. “We want participants to be well rounded as much as we can help them,” she said.

Brown and her staff of six have helped move GSF to nonprofit 501(c)(3) status. They raise funds and work with private funders to keep the program free for all students. The only cost is the price of obtaining a passport.

Dedication to Building a Future
Students commit a significant amount of time and study to the program. Said alumna Jalia Johnson, “It’s extremely valuable. You become part of a family.” Remembering the Christmas dinner invitations the program sends her, she added, “It’s a great network and a great experience.”

Johnson is a Ward 8 resident and graduate of National Collegiate Preparatory (4600 Livingston Road SE). She finished her program in 2015. Her cohort studied Spanish and traveled to Spain and Morocco on their cultural immersion trip. She loves to travel, so the program fit her personality and future interests. “We went to 10 cities in 12 days,” she said. “I got to see so many cities and so many different cultures even though it was all in a different area.”

Johnson now studies business marketing at the University of the District of Columbia (UDC). She credits the program’s professional development training with helping her make the decision to study at UDC. Whether it was guidance on writing resumes, how to act professionally, or what college best fit her needs, the GSF program had the answers.

GSF looks for students willing to give time to the program for the full 18 months, Brown said. For many, it pays off. Several alums have received full academic scholarships to college programs. “You’re in for a really long ride,” Brown said. “We look for the one who is going to be committed and who is going to do something different.”

Mitchell – still in his GSF program – agreed that the additional education requires commitment to finish, especially for those in sports and also studying advanced placement or international baccalaureate courses. But he feels more prepared for choosing and applying to college. “It’s a great experience, and you get to learn about yourself, teamwork, and colleges,” he said. “And you get to go out of the country.”

College Tours and Preparation
Each cohort tours both local and national colleges. This includes local institutions like Catholic University of America and the University of the District of Columbia. It also includes a full tour of Ivy League schools – Yale, Columbia, Harvard, and others.

GSF fellows at Columbia University. The fellows tour all of the Ivy League colleges and universities as part of the college readiness program. (Photo: Marcia Brown)

The goal is to inspire and show students they can apply to wherever they choose, Brown explained. “When we were on campus at Harvard, the students saw other students like them and said, ‘Hey, they look just like me,’” Brown said. “You start to see there are people in the world that look like you and are doing fantastic things.”

Several students have come back and told Brown they received other travel-abroad support in college because the GSF program showed they had global experience and travel maturity, she said. It gives them a leg up in their future endeavors.

It starts with the support that GSF offer them. “Our expectation is that you’re going to go to college and finish college,” Brown said. “But we’re going to help you find a way to do both: get into college and pay for college.”

Looking Beyond a Decade
Students interested in applying must be ages 14-17 and enrolled in a District public school or public charter school. There is no minimum grade point average (GPA).

Brown hopes to get the funds needed to accept more students, so she and her staff are using the 10th anniversary to encourage donations. They kicked off the celebration at the annual holiday party on Dec. 6 and will continue with a gala event in the summer of 2017.

Regardless of size, the program will continue to focus around giving DC students a global perspective. In a final thought Brown recalled a student who ended up crying after a visit to children in South Africa. The girl was upset because she hadn’t realized children like her lived without the opportunities she has in the United States. “These are things you can’t write down in your agenda or be prepared for,” Brown remarked.