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Sustainability resonates with change-driven ASU scholars

MasterCard Foundation Scholars pose with flags and soccer balls at charity event
June 02, 2014

The students enrolled in ASU’s MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program share two key characteristics with the university: a commitment to fostering meaningful change and an enthusiasm for sustainability.

This August, ASU welcomes its third cohort of scholars, representatives of 15 Sub-Saharan African nations who exemplify academic excellence and the potential for effective leadership. All 40 students come to the land of maroon and gold determined to improve their home communities when they return after four years of undergraduate schooling.

In addition to providing them with a caliber of education they could not otherwise access, ASU’s MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program offers these promising students the tools and capacities that innovative solutions require. As a complement to their chosen degree programs, all scholars take SOS 194: Sustainability Issues in Africa, a course offered by the School of Sustainability.

Aryn Baxter, director of ASU’s MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program and SOS 194 instructor, sees the course as a laboratory for formulating sustainable solutions to concerns in her students’ home countries. Consequently, students participate in a semester-long project aimed at addressing challenges in areas that they identify. Examples include education, entrepreneurship, food production and storage, renewable energy and clean water access.

“I see sustainability as highly relevant to equipping scholars with the critical thinking, problem-solving and leadership skills they’ll need to fulfill the program’s vision of creating positive social and economic change,” Baxter says.

In a further testament to their enthusiasm for sustainability and commitment to meaningful change, the scholars were well-represented at April’s Earth Day Soccer Classic. This bi-continental charitable tournament, organized by the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, generated nearly two dozen highly-durable soccer balls for the Top Ten Soccer Academy in Accra, Ghana.

“It was a great event, and we were able to put school aside for one day and have fun. It brought us together as MasterCard Foundation Scholars, and I can say many hidden talents and personalities were unraveled amongst us,” says Mariama Salifu, a Ghana native whose brother, Shafic Osman, organized the tournament played simultaneously in Accra.

Baxter, who also participated in the tournament, enjoys seeing the scholars’ interest in sustainability pique. She reports that several are now considering minoring in sustainability, recognizing its potential to set them apart from peers and prepare them for leadership roles in their chosen fields.

“A scholar who returned to Ghana for the summer recently sent me an email asking whether – if the internet options at home were good enough – she could take an online sustainability class over the break,” says Baxter. “To me, this is clear evidence that the course is having the kind of impact we’d hoped.”

As Baxter prepares to welcome the incoming cohort, which is twice the size of the previous, she looks forward to the sustainability-guided advances that MasterCard Foundation Scholars – equipped with an ASU education – will make in both Africa and beyond.