It's been a long journey for Youssoupha Gaye from Senegal, West Africa, and Yacarely Mairena Davila from Managua, Nicaragua, who are at RIT as Fulbright students. Both are pursuing MBA degrees at Saunders College of Business.
Gaye, who speaks Wolof, French and English, attended the prestigious Higher Polytechnic School of Dakar and earned an MS degree in engineering and Six Sigma Green Belt certification before working in several career advancement positions in software, product management, lean automation and robotics.
"Coming to the U.S. makes a difference in entrepreneurial and leadership opportunities," said Gaye. "Back home, the teaching method is a monologue where you just sit and listen, but at RIT, professors like Victor Perotti and Richard DeMartino want you to get involved; they encourage interaction, thoughts and ideas.
"I like to take photographs, portraits of people, faces of the world. Here I can meet students from Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan, Germany, France, and while the MBA is valuable, these faces from around the world will stay with me forever."
According to Jeffrey Cox, director of RIT's International Student Services, the Fulbright experience is a highly competitive and prestigious international exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government. It provides funds for students and scholars to teach and conduct research, exchange ideas and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns.
RIT currently has 34 in the Fulbright Foreign Student Program and two Fulbright visiting researchers on campus. Similarly, an RIT student and alumna are continuing their global learning experiences on Fulbright fellowships for the 2016-2017 academic year in Switzerland and the Philippines.
"The Fulbright Foreign Student Program has been critical to diversifying America's pool of students from underrepresented nations, particularly from the developing world," said Cox. "These are top students in their field and many go on to leadership positions. After graduation, Fulbrighters must spend two years back in their home country and are often instrumental in moving their field forward."
One of them is Mairena Davila, who completed her marketing degree at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Nicaragua. "I was influenced by the strength of my single mom and grandma, and with their guidance I learned to be smart about my decisions and see the world with different eyes. I am determined to contribute to my country's development by fostering entrepreneurial initiatives to face the challenges of our economy."
As a Spanish tutor in Managua, Mairena Davila ended up in nearby El Sauce, helping develop a State University of New York at Geneseo study abroad site-where she met her future husband from the United States, Kellan Morgan. Together they co-founded the not-for-profit Enlace Project Inc. to promote economic development.
"It takes persistence and hard work to make change," said Mairena Davila about working in the Peace Corps in Nicaragua, Advanced Bionics in Los Angeles, and as a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt project leader at Butler/Till in Rochester. "Kellan and I will go back to Nicaragua to continue our work. There's nothing like seeing people flourish when they have jobs and can support their families."