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PoliSci undergrad spends summer working with nonprofit in South Africa

At Lipscomb, learning extends beyond the walls of the classroom and beyond the borders of a traditional semester.

Cate Zenzen  | 

Group of students in South Africa

Student Eden Melles was part of a team of students who travelled to South Africa this summer to work with Equity in Education.

There are many ways students and faculty enjoy their summer. For many, summer is a time to continue learning and expanding the borders of the classroom.

Eden Melles, a junior political science major from Tallahassee, Florida, spent part of her summer in South Africa as part of a fellowship program advocating for equity in education. Aerial Ellis, assistant professor in Lipscomb University’s Department of Communication and Journalism and guest lecturer in the College of Leadership & Public Service, was a facilitator and chaperone on the trip. 

Ellis and Melles first flew to the University of Pennsylvania to meet with other students and faculty who would be on the trip. From there the group spent two weeks in South Africa working with Equity in Education, a nonprofit organization which focuses on global education and the historical inequities that disproportionately affect students of color or from low income households. The goal of the project was to create innovative policy solutions to fix these issues while introducing the students to research procedures and the culture of South Africa. 

“One of my favorite parts of this program was to hear the stories of my South African counterparts, their experiences living through the apartheid, and getting to experience the culture,” said Melles. “I also loved getting to play with lion cubs!”

Eden Melles wearing a coat and standing outside

Eden Melles

Melles said Ellis’ involvement made her really excited to apply for this international experience. 

“I was also thrilled because the program directly related to the work I do within my major and what I want to do as a career,” said Melles. 

Melles is no stranger to the continent of Africa. Her family is from the northeastern country of Eritrea. But she found her perceptions of Africa were centered around her time spent visiting her family in that specific region. This trip to South Africa allowed Melles to witness a culture different from what she was familiar with, an experience for which she said she is grateful. 

“I feel like a lot of times people generalize Africa or think of it as a country. It was really neat, even as a native, to see how similar and different people from the same continent as me are,” said Melles. “My family is from a pretty homogeneous country, but South Africa is home to a lot of different ethnicities, as well as 11 official languages.”

The students involved with the program were from a variety of backgrounds as well. Melles met people from all over the continent who shared their stories with her. Others had never been to Africa before. Melles said she enjoyed sharing her love for the continent with peers who were excited and engaged with the culture. 

“This experience helped connect me with awesome faculty from places like Harvard who really invested in me and mentored me, and also friends who I still talk to now,” said Melles. “Overall it helped me solidify my career aspirations to a degree that I had been searching for for a long time!”