The first Chapter of the Penn State Alumni Association in Sub-Saharan Africa was launched in Soweto, the world-famous township near Johannesburg, South Africa on December 10th, 2011. It was organized by the alumni and launched as The Southern Africa Chapter of the Penn State Alumni Association at a reception in the Soweto Hotel on Freedom Square.
On the 26th of June 1955, 3000 people gathered in Kliptown to form the Congress of the People and adopt the Freedom Charter. Forty years later, on the 26th of June 2005, President Thabo Mbeki marked the 50th anniversary of the Charter by lighting a flame of freedom at the opening of the Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication. In 1994, the new constitution of South Africa included many of the declarations and demands of the Charter.
Freedom Square is now a World Heritage Site, and the Soweto Hotel is located on the square overlooking the tower of the Freedom Charter Monument. Penn State alumni travelled from all over South Africa, and some from Botswana, to be part of the launch of the Southern Africa chapter of the alumni association. Following the announcement of the event, the organizers were contacted by over 100 alumni currently in the Southern African region and two dozen were able to travel to Johannesburg for the reception. The event was also attended by Penn State faculty: Michael Adewumi, Vice Provost for Global Programs; Robert Crane, Professor of Geography and Director of the Alliance for Education, Science, Engineering and Development in Africa (AESEDA); and Collins Airhihenbuwa, Professor and Head of Department of Biobehavioral Health.
A keynote address was delivered by Dr. Sizwe Mabizela, a Penn State alumnus and currently Deputy Vice Chancellor of Rhodes University, one of the premier institutions in South Africa. The address was a very powerful analysis of how Southern African alumni can use their influence to make life better for the citizenry. Others who spoke included co-organizers of the event and Penn State alumni Lindiwe Sangweni-Siddo and Salifou Siddo, part-owners of the Soweto Hotel. Attendees Included leaders in Business, Government and the Academy.
The attendees talked about how much Penn State has meant to them in their careers and personal development, as well as how they view their place in the world. Their enthusiastic support of Penn State and what it stands for is palpable, and they promised to follow up with a concrete set of programs, including scholarships to enable less fortunate compatriots to attend Penn State. They were equally very proud of their involvement with the African Student Association at Penn State, and many believed that it was in the Association that their sense of identity as Africans was nurtured—many of the attendees were engaged in leadership capacities in the Association.
Michael Adewumi reminded them that an important focus of Penn State’s global engagement strategy is inculcating the ideals of global citizenship in all our students, to ensure that they cultivate the habit of thinking globally while acting locally. Collins Airhihenbuwa and Robert Crane struck a similar theme by giving concrete examples of some of the immersion programs that they are involved in running, such as the Global Health Minor in the College of Health and Human Development, and the Parks and People Program administered by AESEDA.
Penn State’s global network of alumni is a valuable resource, providing local and regional knowledge and professional expertise in support of Penn State research and educational programs. Groups such as the new Southern Africa Alumni chapter are heavily engaged in improving life in their local and regional communities. Through their various professional and community engagements, they are Penn State’s best ambassadors, bringing the very best of the University to the world.