Passing It On

This fall, native Egyptian Diana Ayoub will be studying at UT-Austin thanks to a special scholarship created by a Texas Ex.

Like any incoming Longhorn, recent high-school graduate Diana Ayoub is getting excited about coming to The University of Texas in August to study finance and economics. But, as an international student from Qena, Egypt, her story is also a unique one.

Ayoub is one of this year’s recipients of a scholarship from the African Leadership Bridge, a nonprofit organization that provides financial support to academically exceptional African students who are studying in the U.S. By empowering young African leaders through education, the organization hopes students will one day return to Africa armed with the knowledge and leadership skills that will help create sustainable change.

The idea for the African Leadership Bridge arose in 2007, when senior Dell consultant and Texas Ex Rick Reeder met John Kidenda, a student from Kenya who was struggling to pay his UT tuition following his mother’s cancer diagnosis. When Reeder established ALB, Kidenda became the organization’s first scholar. He now serves on the ALB board as a mentor for scholarship applicants.

The ALB model is an uncommon one: scholars are encouraged to pay back what they received—with zero interest—to help provide financial support for future ALB students. The result is a financially stable pay-it-forward model that appeals to investors. Since its launch six years ago, the organization has already collaborated with Oklahoma State University and the African Leadership Academy in South Africa, a secondary school that encourages enrolled students to apply for the scholarship. In partnership with the UT International Office, ALB is committed to financially supporting one admitted UT student each year for the next five years.

A graduate of the African Leadership Academy, Ayoub is originally from Qena, a small city in Egypt that takes a tough stance on education.

“It isn’t normal for girls [from my community] to aspire for education from outside the country,” Ayoub says. “It’s considered a crazy act to do.” 

But she didn’t let that stop her. With a dream of becoming Egypt’s Minister of Education, Ayoub took the initiative to start improving Egypt’s education system even as a high school student. During a summer break spent back in her hometown, she created Tooba, a leadership camp that provides young people with entrepreneurial skills.

“I strongly believe that an educational revolution is a crucial outcome for my country,” Ayoub says.

In addition to using the ALB scholarship to pay her UT tuition, the incoming Longhorn hopes to be able to provide some financial support for her camp and students back home.

“I honestly don’t think I would have been able to attend UT without the help of ALB,” she says. 

Since 2007, ALB has awarded five student scholarships: three at UT and two at OSU. Starting in 2014, the organization’s goal is to maintain funding for two African students—one at each partnering university—per year. This year’s second ALB recipient, Wambui Mburu of Kenya, will study humanities at OSU in the fall. 

By Larisa Manescu

Photo courtesy Diana Ayoub