09:35 AM

Two universities collaborate: Kenyan students begin studies at UHCL

Kenyan exchange students
From left: Executive Director of Strategic Partnerships Dwayne Busby and UHCL President Ira K. Blake, far right, receive gifts from Kenyan exchange students Ashley Wambu and Whitney Onserio.

University of Houston-Clear Lake's Education Abroad and Scholar Services has launched its inaugural exchange program through the U.S. Department of State, hosting two students from United States International University Africa in Nairobi, Kenya.

In 2019, a memorandum of understanding between the two universities was signed, establishing a collaboration through faculty and exchange programs and to create research initiatives.

The effort has been led by Professor of Sociology Mike McMullen and Associate Professor of Anthropology Dawit Woldu, both in UH-Clear Lake's College of Human Sciences and Humanities, who have already traveled to Kenya to set the foundations for future study abroad opportunities for UH-Clear Lake students.

"Our international work was impacted by the pandemic, but we are still moving forward," Woldu said.

Office of Education Abroad and Scholar Services Executive Director Bianca Schonberg said UHCL has recently received J-1 visa status that allows the university to host international visitors to participate in teaching, studying, conducting research or receive training.

"We are building our portfolio of exchange programs and partnerships," she said. "Now that we have the J-1 visa eligibility, people can work with us directly, and we can host people on a short or long-term basis. These programs are designed to promote the interchange of persons, knowledge and skills in the fields of education, the arts, and science."

Ashley Wambu and Whitney Onserio, both psychology students, arrived from Kenya in Houston in mid-August and will remain at UH-Clear Lake for the fall semester.

"I was at USIUA and there was this platform for an exchange program and for me, this was a dream come true," Onserio said. "I love everyone's enthusiasm here at UHCL, and now I am seeing the world in a whole new way."

UHCL President Ira K. Blake said she was grateful to everyone involved for persisting. "We've been through incredibly difficult times, but you've been resilient and confident," she said. "That's the most important thing — confidence. You are finding out you can learn in a different setting, build strong relationships, and make a difference in the world."

Wambu said she had received opportunities to attend leadership summits when she was younger, and that had ignited her passion to help youth. "With my training, I'd like to give the same opportunities to other youth," she said. "I can't express how much it means to be here."

Funding for the students' studies at UHCL was made possible through the Office of Strategic Partnerships. "The concept for this exchanged opportunity was initiated when Dr. Woldu invited me to a joint meeting with an African delegate," said Strategic Partnerships Executive Director Dwayne Busby. "Now, four years later, we are experiencing the fruit of their efforts. We are honored and humbled to provide financial support for an initiative that changes lives and impacts the world."

He said that the two young Kenyan women were inspirational. "We call ourselves a regional university, but we are a world-class university," he said.

For more information about UHCL's Education Abroad programs, go online.