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International student Mark Edem ’22 is on a mission to change the world. At age 19, he has aspirations to tackle some of the biggest challenges facing Africa. But first, college.

Edem arrived at The College of Saint Rose in Fall 2018. He is the first student to come from the African Leadership Academy (ALA), a two-year pre-university program located outside of Johannesburg, South Africa. After a visit to ALA last year, Saint Rose President Carolyn J. Stefanco signed a memorandum of understanding with the academy, which included scholarship opportunities for students.

The ALA seeks to transform Africa by identifying, developing, and connecting future leaders in ways that lead to social change.

At age 16, Edem’s leadership skills were already on display in Lesotho, his home country. He was among a select group of students who reshaped the curriculum at a local school after passing rates dropped. The following year, rates increased.

With a passion for education and community, Edem was accepted into the ALA’s competitive program, changing the trajectory of his life. That’s why he’s at Saint Rose today — and that’s why he’s building toward a career in politics, hoping to transform the educational landscape in Africa.

“I feel like I have a responsibility to take care of my community in the same way they have taken care of me and given me opportunities,” Edem said.

A New Community

At Saint Rose, Edem remains focused on his mission of community.

In his first year at the College, he’s joined the Black Student Union, volunteered with the College’s food-scarcity program, worked with the phone-a-thon team on fundraising, and was one of the first members of the African Student Union — a new club for students from Nigeria, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and other countries with a goal of educating students about Africa. He’s made friends with students at the Center for International Programs and bonded with students in his residence hall.

While at Saint Rose, Edem wants to educate others about the vastness of Africa’s countries and people. Often, Africa is mischaracterized as a monolithic place, plagued by famine and war, he said, but he wants to share stories of its beauty, diversity, and resilience.

“The biggest thing that people have learned is that Africa has a number of different people and cultures,” Edem said. “I try to do my part in educating, and people are very receptive to it.”

A Passion for Education

Education drives Edem’s ambitions. His mother is a teacher and played an active role in his development. She shared her reading and writing materials with Edem and his siblings and encouraged them to study together after school.

He felt he was afforded opportunities other classmates weren’t, which is what compels him to create a better education for others.

At the ALA, he learned that education inequities are directly connected to political policy. Now, he’s pursuing a degree in political science at Saint Rose.

“What I like about my class is they’re teaching world politics and relationships between countries, how ideologies develop. So, it is applicable to anywhere you are in the world beyond the U.S., ” he said. “I love that I can just digest this information and try to apply it to my context and where I come from.”


Edem wasn’t sure about attending Saint Rose until he heard that President Stefanco made a special trip to the ALA.

“It showed me that she wanted to foster a connection between the ALA mission and Saint Rose’s own mission,” Edem said. “That was important to me.”

Today, he continuously talks with ALA students about the possibility of coming to Saint Rose. At the beginning of the Spring 2019 semester, Edem was joined by former ALA student and friend Meenakshi Coondiah.

Edem’s higher education journey has just begun, but he’s already seeing gains, including a nomination to join the National Society for Leadership and Success.

“I understand that I could have done well academically back home, but I would not have been given the opportunity to network with other aspiring leaders,” he said. “Being here, I have that opportunity.

“And,” Edem said, “of course, I intend to take it.”

By Caroline Murray

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