This year Collins enlisted six colleagues from other US universities, secured a grant from the Princeton Class of 1978, and set off to visit 22 Kenyan schools and 14,000 some students.
“While the student populations varied from school to school (in some schools we talked to a grade, while in others we talked to the entire student body), students en masse had a distinct energy,” writes Collins.
“A collective gasp at the flexible and inviting structure of a liberal arts education, or a 750-strong excited cheer at the American dining hall buffet layout made each visit an adventure into the evolving interests and fondest likes of a typical Kenyan high school student.
“After the school-wide talks, we often held question and answer sessions with groups of 10-20 students and usually had one-on-ones. In these smaller talks, I found that students acquired a different persona. The shy, hesitant student at the back of the hall emerged as a bold, outspoken student who could share an entire life story and ask difficult university seminar-level questions; I could view these students not only as young mentees, but as peers, who with committed guidance, will ultimately be high achievers.”
With Kenyan schools shutting down for elections, Collins headed to Kigali, Rwanda to observe how the Yale Young African Scholars Program runs it mentorship workshops and to design a mentorship network run by graduates of pre-university program (such as EaSEP) for high school students. A brief stop in Ethiopia put him in touch with a few more students before heading home to classes at Princeton.
“Over two years, 40 high schools, 30,000 students, 12+ towns, two capital cities, and dozens of online mentorship sessions, I have realized that across different educational systems, across different national languages, and across different backgrounds, the quest for academic achievement remains vital,” he concludes.