Co-Curricular Programs in Liberia for Student Pipeline Into Engineering and Agriculture
After a fourteen year decimating civil war, the country of Liberia was left with the challenge of rebuilding its human and institutional capacity, particularly at the higher education level. The University of Michigan’s College of Engineering was awarded part of a United States Agency for International Development grant to improve higher education in Liberia, namely the Excellence in Higher Education for Liberian Development program. Specifically, the University of Michigan’s role in this grant is to increase the capacity of and enthusiasm among young students toward the two most crucial fields in the future of the country: engineering and agriculture. To accomplish this, the University of Michigan developed cocurricular programs at the secondary and university level that (i) create a pipeline of higher educational opportunities for students committed to pursuing careers in engineering and agriculture and (ii) increase the field-specific practical skills and breadth of experiences of those students. A specific focus of these co-curricular programs is on the development of soft skills of the participants—which are key for their future professional success. Already, within the first two years of implementation of these programs, unique and positive results have been demonstrated by the participants. The enthusiasm and commitment of the students toward engineering and agriculture has markedly increased. Furthermore, students have developed and improved their soft skills, such as public speaking, presentation skills, group work, communication skills, study skills, goal development, and critical thinking. In addition, the students exhibited a tremendous ability and initiative to work on open-ended community design projects.