MPA Program Brings Students to Cape Town, South Africa


A new course that brings Graduate School students overseas is designed to be a life-changing experience for its participants, but it's also an idea that is shaping the young Master of Public Administration program and The College of New Rochelle.

"This is the future," said Dr. Malcolm Oliver, who has chaired the MPA program since it launched in Fall 2012 and began planning the study abroad course as soon as he joined CNR. "We need to develop more international components to the program," he said. "We need to build more networks, not just in cities or between states."

Environmental and economic issues freely cross international borders, Oliver said. The United States, for example, feels the effects of Europe's economic troubles.

The dozen students in the winter session course Governance in the Mother City traveled to Cape Town, South Africa, from January 10 to 20, seeking to learn how government agencies, nonprofits, and other institutions are providing services to a relatively new democracy.

Since the end of Apartheid, a system of racial segregation by which the white minority subjugated the black majority, the South African government has been trying to provide a more stable life for its citizens, most of whom were denied basic rights and services. The country now has the most progressive constitution in the world, Oliver said, establishing access to housing, water sanitation, education, and health as basic human rights.

Delivering these services has been a challenge, and not just financially. Apartheid limited the education of the majority of the population, meaning there is a lack of trained workers. Oliver said this trip has provided a firsthand education on democratization, "how public agencies are responding under pressure, and how nonprofits are filling the holes government can't."

South Africa's history of colonization means it has first-world and developing-world issues in the same jurisdiction -- a microcosm of the rest of the world and, Oliver said, "the perfect laboratory for a social scientist."

The students had a view of South Africa's challenges and assets from the ground level. Pela Selene Terry wrote of speaking with hotel workers about the nation's shifting color lines. "The journey has heightened my academic (and political) awareness of not only the history of the nation, but shifted my understanding better to see the impact of that history on modern society," she said.

Terry concludes that "South African problems require South African solutions" -- solutions that keep in mind the country's complex history and reality.

A tour of the township of Khayelitsha, the second-largest in the country, brought home many of South Africa's issues. "It was the crux of what we're studying," Oliver said.

But amid the poverty, the lack of indoor plumbing, and other privations, the students also saw hope. Aesha McNeil collected donations from friends and family to bring toiletries to township children and found inspiration in their happiness despite their hardships.

Many were also affected by meeting Malandi Ntozini, a 17-year-old who operates Vicky's B&B, the smallest hotel in the continent. She took over from her mother, who was stabbed to death by her husband. "I'll forever be grateful for the opportunity to have met her," wrote Tameir Cummings.

Other highlights included visits to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners were held, and natural wonders such as Cape Point and Table Mountain.

Oliver hopes to continue the bringing students overseas, and is considering Spain or Brazil for the next trip. He said Brazil is particularly interesting because of its incredible diversity, economic disparity, history of slavery and segregation, and its place as a leader in South America. Hosting the upcoming World Cup and Summer Olympics also puts the country on the map.

The study abroad component should also help put the MPA program on the map, Oliver said. "We can tell people, we're not just going to give you an education -- we're going to take you around the world."