FSU hosts Eisenhower Fellow from South Africa

Eisenhower Fellowship winner Mmakgomo Rose Laka-Mathebula of South Africa has spent a week in Tallahassee, exchanging perspectives on higher education and campus governance with top administrators at Florida State University.

Three weeks into her 2005 Fellowship-funded tour of higher and secondary education sites nationwide, the campus director, who acts as the chief academic officer and administrative leader of student affairs at Tshwane University of Technology in Soshanguve, South Africa, arrived at FSU, hoping to learn more about campus governance systems at multi-site universities. Laka-Mathebula’s home institution encompasses six distinct campuses.

“I enjoyed my visit to FSU immensely, and found everyone from the provost’s office to Human Resources to be welcoming and willing to share information with me,” she said.

With a doctorate in Organizational Behavior from the University of Pretoria, South Africa, and a master’s in Immunology from the University of London — and a strong interest in bolstering math and science achievement at the secondary school level while engaging more youth and women in both fields — Laka-Mathebula, 41, grew up in a remote rural area during South Africa’s apartheid period. Eisenhower Fellowships program officer Shelley Preston in Philadelphia called her a role model to aspiring South African women.

Despite the miles separating FSU and Tshwane University, Laka-Mathebula noted many similarities in campus governance styles, such as the way funds and budgets are allocated. She pointed to FSU’s K-12 Developmental Research School, commonly known as Florida High, as a significant difference. “That’s an idea we should look into back home.”

“Eisenhower Fellowships are among the most prestigious in the nation, and we are honored to have been selected to host this Fellow,” said Lee Hinkle, FSU’s vice president for University Relations. “Our experience with Dr. Laka-Mathebula has taught us that we face similar challenges as institutions of higher learning while sharing a common purpose: providing quality education for our students. I hope she has been able to glean a broader perspective of the U.S. public university system as she works to improve her own institution.”

In addition to Hinkle and others across the campus, Laka-Mathebula met with FSU President T.K. Wetherell; Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Lawrence G. Abele; and Mary Coburn, vice president for Student Affairs. She joined a campus tour from the FSU Visitors Center led by students she described as “very enthusiastic” about their university, and also met with administrators at FSU’s Panama City campus.

After a side trip to Tallahassee’s Leon High School and a visit with local K-12 officials at the district office for Leon County Schools, Laka-Mathebula was back on the road again. She’ll return to South Africa on May 20.

Laka-Mathebula’s week at FSU punctuated a two-month-long U.S. journey that began in Philadelphia on March 23, when 25 new Eisenhower Fellows from 25 countries gathered for the first time during the organization’s annual Multi-Nation Program.

Eisenhower Fellowships engages emerging leaders from around the world to enhance their professional capabilities, broaden their contacts, deepen their perspectives, and unite them in a diverse, global community. In 2005, a total of 45 international Fellows from 28 nations will be chosen from an array of professional backgrounds, including those who will visit the United States in the fall from Egypt, Jordan, Palestine and Saudi Arabia.