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Lombardi Scholars Explore South Africa

While spending two weeks in the South African capital of Pretoria, Lombardi Scholars had the chance to meet with fellow college students from the University of Pretoria and attend lectures on South African history and politics
While spending two weeks in the South African capital of Pretoria,
Lombardi Scholars had the chance to meet with fellow college students from
the University of Pretoria and attend lectures on South African history and
politics, the HIV/AIDS crisis, and US foreign policy in the region.
(Photo by Todd Leedy)

This article was originally published in the August - September 2005 issue of CLASnotes.

When sociology senior Todre Allen was selected as a John V. Lombardi Scholar in 2002, the Immokalee resident had barely traveled beyond the borders of Florida. Since then, he has studied abroad on four continents, experiencing diverse world cultures first-hand.

“Before, I tended to be very US oriented in my thinking,” says Allen, who has a minor in African American studies. “This program has helped me broaden my perspective and have a greater appreciation for other peoples’ culture within the US and around the world.”

The John V. Lombardi Scholarship program was created in 2002 as the university’s most prestigious scholarship program, in honor of former UF president and history professor John Lombardi. Each fall, eight entering freshmen are selected from among Florida’s best and brightest high school graduates and awarded a $4,500 stipend for 8–10 semesters, on top of free tuition from the Florida Bright Futures Program, and $3,000 start-up money for essential computing or other academic supplies.

But the most unique aspect of the Lombardi scholarship package by far is its four summer study abroad experiences, completely paid for and especially tailored to participants. Currently in its fourth year, the program has sent students to Mexico, Greece, Japan and, as of this summer, South Africa.

“In creating the Lombardi Program it was felt from the beginning that the international component was a way to make it different from similar programs at other institutions,” says Associate Provost Sheila Dickison. “It also seemed like a very fitting way to honor former President Lombardi, who is a strong proponent of international study and research. Lombardi Scholars are exceptional students and it has been our hope that these four very different experiences have given them a global perspective that few students achieve.”

This summer, the inaugural group of Lombardi Scholars, now entering their senior year, took their last trip to South Africa with Assistant Director of UF’s Center for African Studies Todd Leedy, visiting the cities of Johannesburg, Pretoria and Capetown during May 6–29. They spent the first two weeks based at the University of Pretoria, attending lectures by university professors on South African history and politics, the HIV/AIDS crisis in the region, and US foreign policy. They toured museums and historical sites in the Pretoria/Johannesburg area, and also attended briefings at the US Embassy and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) office.

In Capetown, the scholars toured the University of Capetown and visited key sites, including Robben Island, where political activist and former South African president Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 20 years. They had to keep a travel journal of their experiences and complete a reaction paper comparing a single topic of interest in the US and South Africa upon returning home. The students received three hours of credit for the trip, which was packaged as a Summer C course.

“The overall theme I was trying to get them to look at was the historical and contemporary issues in South African society, viewed through a comparative lens with the United States,” says Leedy, whose area of research is on the agricultural and rural history of the region. “I think one thing they learned is that even within one country how diverse Africa is—the fact that they have 11 official languages in South Africa is the first indicator. They were able to hear a lot of different perspectives that reinforced or broke down their expectations.”

Todre Allen’s mother, Callie, says she can definitely see the Lombardi difference in her 21-year-old “baby.” The single mom says she worried about how she was going to afford to send the A student to college when he was named to the inaugural group of Lombardi’s. “I am so grateful,” she says. “He’s got to go to places he would never have been able to see, and it has given him ideas of what he wants to do later in life by visiting all these different places. He knows this world is bigger than Immokalee.”

—Buffy Lockette

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