Academic Preparation Program gives potential leaders the foundation for success

Filed Under: EARTH Stories
Date: October 3rd, 2011

Edgardo was born and raised in Northern Bolivia, fifteen hours from any major city. He attended an agricultural high school and after that embarked on a career in agriculture, but it seemed like he was missing something. He became experienced in field-work and participated in a variety of projects, but the more he worked the more he became aware of what was missing. Edgardo was lacking a strong foundation in the theories and fundamentals of agriculture. Edgardo wanted that foundation, but he also wanted to continue to learn while doing. This desire for integrated learning is what made Edgardo set his sights on EARTH.

Edgardo had originally thought to attend an agricultural college after high school, but had to put that dream on hold for financial reasons. At age twenty-eight, Edgardo decided that he could not afford to wait any longer. Edgardo’s younger brother had attended EARTH University and now it was his turn. Edgardo applied to EARTH and did very well in his interviews, but it had been a decade since he had language classes and advanced math, and he struggled with the standardized entrance exam. While Edgardo had been solving problems hands-on in the field, he was not ready for this kind of exam.  Still, due to his unique work experience and how well he had done in the interviews, Edgardo earned a spot in the Ford Foundation sponsored Academic Preparation Program.

Since its creation, EARTH has had a clear priority to provide opportunities to young people from disadvantaged, rural communities, so that as EARTH alumni they can contribute to positive social, economic and environmental transformation in these regions.  However, in many parts of the developing world, the primary and secondary education available does not adequately prepare students for university level studies.

To address this, starting in 2003, EARTH formed a partnership with the Ford Foundation in order to give young men and women with academic deficiencies the opportunity to attend EARTH.  The students selected for this program performed excellently in their interviews, demonstrating the vocation, leadership and social and environmental commitment EARTH seeks in its students.  However, they did not perform at an acceptable level on the academic exam administered by the College Board (the Spanish-language SAT).

During this intensive ten-week program at EARTH, students received courses in math, Spanish and study skills.  At the end of the program, they took an exam to test their knowledge. If they scored high enough on the exam after the preparatory course they were given a scholarship to EARTH University.

Edgardo was initially surprised when he was given the opportunity to enter the Academic Preparation Program; he did not know an opportunity like this existed. His first step was deciding to enter the program; admission and a scholarship were not guaranteed, they would have to be earned. It would be a great investment of time and a heavy risk, but Edgardo decided to take his chances. Edgardo had made a personal commitment to studying and bettering himself as a worker and now he would do the same as a student. He did not regret his decision.

“The academic preparation served as a base for me…here you must dedicate yourself.” Edgardo dedicated himself and made the effort necessary to pass the Academic Preparation Program, earn his scholarship and start as a first year student at EARTH in January 2009. Edgardo was among the 9 students that earned the chance to study at EARTH out of 18 that participated in the program.

Edgardo is now in his third year and continues to enjoy his studies at EARTH. He feels he still has a lot to learn but continues to strive toward his goal of putting what he learns into practice. When Edgardo graduates, he wants to be an example to the agricultural producers in his community and use his knowledge to guide them in a way he could not before. He hopes to help people increase production while also focusing on sustainability. Still grounded in his community, Edgardo knows why he is here.

“A title is just for show… I’m not here for a title; what I really want are all the experiences that a student learns from here, that is what is most precious to me.” Edgardo will give back to his community, this time as a leader of change.

Unfortunately, due to a lack of funding, the Academic Preparation Program at EARTH ended in 2009. During its tenure, this program allowed nearly one hundred students to attend EARTH that might not have had the opportunity otherwise. Of these, 82 percent have graduated or are currently studying and two have been earned the EARTH Prize (the highest distinction the University awards to a graduating student).

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