Changing lives in Zimbabwe
In 2000, Rebecca Zeigler Mano, MA ’92 STEP, took a job at the U.S. embassy in Harare, Zimbabwe, helping young people who wanted to go to college in the United States. They weren’t necessarily the top students, she noticed; they simply were the ones who had the money for college. Zeigler Mano couldn’t help but wonder about the talented youth in Zimbabwe’s poorer communities — students for whom a college education would be life-changing.
Zeigler Mano has since spent 21 years identifying the brightest, most impoverished students in Zimbabwe and enabling them to study abroad. The United Student Achievers Program, which she founded, coaches students through the admissions process, helps secure financial aid, and eases their transition to college life. More than 500 USAP students have graduated from Duke, MIT, Stanford, and other schools in the United States and other countries; they’ve returned to Zimbabwe as software engineers, microfinance bankers, agronomists, and structural engineers — to name just a few professions — with the goal of helping further their country’s growth.
In 2016 Zeigler Mano expanded USAP into a broader nonprofit called Education Matters, and in 2020 she opened a residential school, recruiting talented 11th and 12th graders from throughout the country — including from a refugee camp — and offering them a pre-college curriculum. “These kids are so driven and so motivated,” Zeigler Mano says, adding that families in Zimbabwe place a high value on education. “Parents will sell their last cow if it means their kids can go to a better school.”
Zeigler Mano, who will receive the GSE’s 2021 Alumni Excellence in Education Award at a ceremony on October 24, is already hearing from educators in other countries who want to visit the new school — and she’s eager to share what she’s learned. “I really want to capture the vision,” she says, “so other people can use it.”