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Exchange program LEADs the way - to S. Africa

This month, 48 students from across the country - including three from the Philadelphia area - will travel to South Africa for two weeks.

This month, 48 students from across the country - including three from the Philadelphia area - will travel to South Africa for two weeks.

Sponsored by LEAD Global, the students will attend the universities of Cape Town and Witwatersrand, where they will partner with both rural and urban South African students to learn about engineering, business and medicine.

The area students are Joy Hamer, of Conestoga High School, and Morgan Ramsey and Alexander Turner, of Germantown Friends School.

LEAD (Leadership Education and Development) already runs successful programs in engineering and business for high-school students. Ric Ramsey, CEO of LEAD Global, said that the model has not changed for its latest offering, and that they've stayed with what they do best - bringing together universities, corporations and student leaders to give students a practical, hands-on approach to exploring future careers.

Bringing together Native American, African-American and Hispanic students, Global's goal is to give the "highest achieving students" in urban and struggling school districts an opportunity to learn how to use their talents and "consider life in an international focus." Ramsey hopes that after completing the Global program, students will want to participate in the engineering or business programs run by LEAD.

In starting LEAD Global, Ramsey said that the organization didn't want "another exchange program look through the window and kick the tires."

While it sought students with high SAT or ACT scores, the organization recognized that many schools do not prepare students adequately for standardized tests, so the written part of the application was given greater emphasis in the selection process.

The cost to students is minimal, thanks to donations from corporations like J.P. Morgan and a founding grant from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business.

Before leaving for South Africa, Global LEADers (as the students are known) will travel to Atlanta on June 14 for orientation at Spelman and Morehouse colleges, and "a full briefing on what it means to be in South Africa," Ramsey said. Spending time on a college campus, Ramsey added, provides students with some perspective when they apply for college.

In its first year, Global received fewer than a dozen applications from Philadelphia students, despite reaching out to districts that had high participation with previous LEAD programs. While nine area students were selected, only three will make the trip to South Africa because of parental concerns about traveling abroad.

Global wants to do a better job in recruiting Philadelphia students, said Ramsey, and next year will focus on educating parents about the program's value and the opportunities it provides its participants. *

- Chris Lake