Successful Commonwealth scholarship recipient had York mentor


The following information about a successful York alumna is an excerpt from an article that appeared in the Winter-Spring 2004 issue of Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs & International Trade magazine, Canada World.

When an attempted coup closed Kenya’s universities in 1982, undergraduate student Njeri Marekia-Cleaveland won a scholarship, through Canada’s Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan, to complete her education at a small private college in upstate New York. There, at the urging of a Canadian-trained teacher, she applied for and was granted a Commonwealth Scholarship to do a masters degree in environmental studies at York, which she accomplished in 1988.

                                             Right: Njeri Marekia-Cleaveland

A highly esteemed academic, Marekia-Cleaveland says that her experience as a Commonwealth scholar in Canada shaped her world view. She recalls the pleasant shock of rubbing shoulders at York with diverse [multicultural] students – a first in her academic career. During her scholarship-sponsored field research in Alberta and British Columbia, she also witnessed conflicts between development and conservation similar to those at home.

“When I talked about urban issues in the global sense, I could see that Canada was suffering from the same things as Kenya,” she says, “and I could see that some of the things that worked in Canada might work in Kenya, too.”

Her former mentor at York, Ted Spence, now a senior adviser to the University’s president, sees the reciprocal benefits of the Commonwealth Scholarship. “Someone like Njeri enriches the experiences of Canadian students, just as she was enriched by coming to Canada,” he said.

More about the Commonwealth Scholarship

The Commonwealth Scholarship program, which has been operating for more than 40 years, has some 500 scholars each year and more than 22,000 scholarship alumni around the world. Some of them are the first PhDs in their countries, becoming leaders in academia, research, business and government. A distinctive feature is the two-way flow of students: Canadians travel abroad to study, while scholars from Commonwealth nations come here.

Equally important, though, scholars are expected to return to enrich the academic, cultural, business and political life of their home country.

Canada’s participation in the Commonwealth Scholarship, the flagship of several major academic studies programs financed by the Department of Foreign Affairs & International Trade (DFAIT), complements Canadian foreign policy, says Alan Bowker, director of international academic relations for DFAIT.

Canada promotes its identity abroad by assisting foreign scholars, but also gains from the culture, values and experiences of the international students who come to study. “This is the human dimension of foreign policy.”

Of the 180 Commonwealth scholars currently at Canadian universities, 51 come from more than a dozen countries in Africa, with the remainder from 30 other nations.

In 2002, a DFAIT-sponsored evaluation of the Commonwealth Scholarship and a similar program, the Government of Canada Award which is offered in non-Commonwealth countries, found that more than 90 per cent of recipients credited Canada with assisting their career aspirations. Some 72 per cent had returned home following their studies.

To find out more about the Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan and other Canadian and international scholarship programs, click here