College of Agricultural Sciences selected as host site for Mandela Fellows

Mandela Fellows Boubou Sangho, left, and Gladys Freeman, spent six weeks at Penn State's University Park campus in August and September. Credit: Sarah FuscoAll Rights Reserved.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Boubou Sangho and Gladys Freeman, recipients of the prestigious Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, spent six weeks of professional development at Penn State's University Park campus in August and September.

The pair worked with faculty and staff from across the College of Agricultural Sciences on issues related to food security, dairy farm processes and honey production. The college's Ag2Africa program, housed in the Office of International Programs, coordinated the program.

"We are privileged that Penn State once again was selected to host the Mandela Fellows, and as before, it has been an outstanding experience," said Deanna Behring, assistant dean and director of international programs for the College of Agricultural Sciences. "Boubou and Gladys are exceptional young leaders, and we have learned so much from them. We are confident that their enthusiasm and passion for agricultural development will benefit their countries."

The Mandela Washington Fellowship, the flagship program of the Young African Leaders Initiative, empowers young African leaders through academic coursework, leadership training and networking opportunities. The Fellows, who are between the ages of 25 and 35, have established records of accomplishment in promoting innovation and positive change in their organizations, institutions, communities and countries.

Sangho and Freeman are among a group of 1,000 Mandela Washington Fellows who were hosted at 28 academic and leadership institutes across the United States earlier in the summer. In early August, these young leaders met in Washington, D.C., for a summit. After the summit, 100 of the Fellows were selected to take part in professional development training.

While at Penn State, Sangho and Freeman worked with the college's Entrepreneurship and Innovation Program, under the mentorship of Mark Gagnon, Harbaugh Entrepreneurship and Innovation Faculty Scholar. They took several courses related to their interests, such as entrepreneurship and agribusiness.

Gagnon also connected the pair with leaders at Happy Valley LaunchBox, one of 17 innovation hubs the University has opened across Pennsylvania to provide early-stage startups with support and resources. There, they refined their business plans and learned about funding opportunities.

"Boubou and Gladys are extraordinary individuals who have taken an incredible amount of initiative to be Mandela Fellows and to come to a large university like Penn State," said Gagnon. "They engaged with our faculty, and we look forward to supporting them as they grow their businesses and support their communities."

Sangho is a young Malian entrepreneur who founded a local fresh milk processing dairy. This mini-dairy will address conservation issues and create jobs, giving hope to people while supporting innovation in Mali.

During his time at Penn State, he studied dairy processing and product development with the college's Food Science and Animal Science departments and also worked in the Penn State Meats Lab. In addition, he visited local dairy farms to see how producers handle their herds and operations.

Sangho said that while farmers in his country and in the United States face similar day-to-day challenges, such as keeping cows healthy and managing employees, one of the differences he noticed is American operators' adherence to sanitation procedures.

"The farmers in America keep their equipment and animals very clean, and they inspect everything, and that's important for safe and quality milk," he said. "Many farmers in my country have not been schooled on these practices, and that will be an important lesson to share."

Implementing improved sanitation practices is one way Sangho plans to use his newfound knowledge to advance his company, with an end-goal of creating jobs for his community.

As to what he valued most about his time at Penn State, Sangho pointed to the friendships he made, saying, "Everyone was good to us, but I am especially grateful for Dr. Gagnon, who taught me a lot of entrepreneurship," he said. "I made many connections with faculty, and I plan to work more with them so I can improve milk quality and production in my country."

Freeman, who hails from Liberia, is an accountant by trade but broke into the social entrepreneurship space about five years ago. As a co-owner of Liberia Pure Honey, a small business that specializes in honey production, she is interested in expanding her knowledge about beekeeping and honey.

With that focus, her Penn State stay involved study with researchers affiliated with Penn State's Center for Pollinator Research, as well as visiting bee farms. One of the highlights for her was a tour of Penn State's Ag Progress Days exposition, which she described as an "amazing agriculture showcase."

Long term, Freeman hopes to hone her business expertise, grow her company to provide more jobs in her community, and export her products internationally.

"Liberia produces more honey than the people can consume, so it's important to learn how to export our products," she said. "Through this experience, I have learned from the very best, and I have a better understanding of business, agriculture and American culture."

She also credited the experience with making her more comfortable with public speaking.

"I am more confident in my ability to express myself and speak in front of a group, and that is a valued skill to have in business," she said.

Both Mandela Fellows mentioned how impressed they were with the number of agriculture programs for young people in America, such as FFA and Penn State Extension's 4-H programs, as well as how Americans help those who are less fortunate through service programs. They said they aspire to introduce similar programs in their communities.

Last Updated October 25, 2018