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Ujima program aims to build global leaders

A score of scholars in Northeastern’s Ujima Global Leaders Program arrived on campus on Thursday for their new student orientation, and then spent the next four days attending workshops, exploring the city, and participating in team-building activities.

The scholarship program, facilitated by the John D. O’Bryant African-American Institute, aims to prepare the next generation of campus, community, and industry leaders.

Richard O’Bryant, the institute’s director and a lecturer of political science, has placed an emphasis on recruiting students with a strong interest in diversity and inclusion. “The program is focused on developing leaders to succeed in an increasingly diverse and complex world,” he said. “We want students to hone their communication and leadership skills needed to engage with people from other countries and cultures.”

The Ujima Global Leaders Program, formerly known as the Ujima Scholars Program, has in the past year undergone something of a transformation. To wit, O’Bryant and Nakeisha Cody, the O’Bryant Institute’s associate director and program coordinator, worked with admissions staff to redefine the program’s mission and recruit higher-achieving students, focusing on first-generation scholars with an interest in science, technology, engineering, and math. The average GPA of the 2014 entering class, comprised of 34 students from throughout the country, is 3.7 on a 4.0 scale. “We wanted the profile of the program’s students to reflect the momentum of the university at large,” O’Bryant said.

As global leaders in training, the students will complete 50 hours of community service each year and work closely with the Honors Program, the University Scholars Program, and several of Northeastern’s cultural groups, including the International Student and Scholar Institute. The emphasis on collaboration, both on campus and in the community, befits the Ujima Global Leaders: The word “Ujima” is Swahili for “collective work and responsibility.”

On Friday morning, the students took a leadership style assessment test in the Cabral Center and then discussed the interplay between identity and personal development with Chong Kim-Wong, the assistant director of residential life.

In between the 75-minute sessions, a few of the young leaders discussed their paths to Northeastern and their plans to become positive change agents at the university and beyond.

Kasia Gibson, E’19, grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina, where she frequently tutored first graders while she was in high school. Even then, she worked to instill in her young pupils the value of education.  “Hopefully,” she said, “I inspired them to want to go to college.”

At Northeastern, Gibson wants to work in a research laboratory and volunteer in the community. “Community service is all about giving back and inspiring people to do more in their lives,” the first-generation college student said. “It is my duty to inspire.”