Kenya Scholar-Athlete Project-athletics scholarships

What is KenSAP? The Kenya Scholar-Athlete Project helps bright students from an underserved region of Kenya gain admission to elite colleges in the United States. Begun in 2004 as an informal effort on the part of its two founders, Mike Boit and John Manners, the Project has thus far helped place 55 students at the following institutions: Harvard (seven), Yale (four), Amherst (four), Princeton (three), Williams (three), Middlebury (three), Hamilton (three), MIT (two), Penn (two), Wesleyan (two), Mount Holyo ke (two), Lehigh (two), Brown, Cornell, Dartmouth, Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Smith, Wellesley, Bates, Colby, Connecticut College, Tufts, Brandeis, Swarthmore, Oberlin, Carleton, St. Lawrence, Gettysburg and Manhattanville. All have been granted full financial aid.

In 2005 the Project came to the attention of Canadian investor Charles Field-Marsham, who has business interests in the region from which it draws its students. He offered financial support, which has enabled the Project to pay its students’ exam fees and to conduct two residential training sessions for each new group of college candidates. During these sessions, which last a total of nine weeks, students prepare for SAT and TOEFL and are given an introduction to American colleges and the application process. In 2006 the international runner Lornah Kiplagat offered the use of her training camp for the residential sessions, providing a secure, well-equipped base for both the scholarly and the athletic parts of the program.

The “Athlete” component. All students participate in regular athletic training with a view to gauging whether any of them, regardless of previous interest or participation, demonstrates running talent of a standard that might interest a college coach. The Project’s target region, western Rift Valley Province, produces most of Kenya’s renowned international athletes—a fact that led the founders to expect that at least a few of the Project’s students, though chosen largely for their academic accomplishments, might also turn out to be capable runners. So far, about a third of the students in the program have had the support of college coaches during the admission process; several have become valuable contributors to their teams, and one is a nine-time NCAA Division III national champion!

Selection of candidates. The Project selects its students—about a dozen each year—primarily on the basis of their performance on the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examination, Kenya’s national high school leaving exam, which is somewhat similar to the old British O-levels. On the day the exam results are announced, Kenya’s national newspapers list the names of the 100 top scorers in the country as a whole (300,000 test takers) and in each of the eight provinces. Students from the Project’s target region whose names appear in these newspaper lists are sent invitations to apply for admission to the program and to attend a tryout. The application form is quite detailed and requires several essays; the tryout consists of a brief interview and a 1500-meter run.

Students’ backgrounds. During selection, considerable weight is attached to the students’ family background, with strong preference given to those who have demonstrably overcome adversity. A large majority of the Project’s students come from peasant farming families; many are first-generation high school, nearly all are first-generation university.

Test scores, college grades. The students’ backgrounds are reflected to some extent in their SAT Critical Reading scores. Among the 55 successful candidates, these range from 400 to 690, (middle 50%: 520–590). Corresponding figures for Math are 550–780 and 640–680. On the more familiar SAT subject tests, the overall median for the successful candidates is 700. Still, in spite of the deficiencies of their backgrounds and the massive adjustment they have to make in their first few months, all have done well at some of the most competitive colleges in the US. Their grades through the 2008-2009 academic year comprise 22% As, 58% Bs, 13% Cs, <1% Ds, 6% “credits” and 9 dropped courses.

Stateside support. Since the first group of KenSAP students entered college in the autumn of 2005, Project organizers have made themselves available to both students and college administrators as in loco parentis, first responders in the event of difficulties large and small. The organizers also hosted informal gatherings of the students at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and in the Project’s second year began more formal twice-yearly reunions of all the students in November and April. In August 2007 the Project held the first of what are now annual orientation sessions for incoming students, where experienced upperclassmen/women and a few college professionals share their knowledge with the newcomers.

KenSAP founders. Mike Boit and John Manners have known each other since Mike was a high school student and John a Peace Corps teacher. Mike is now Professor of Sports Science at Nairobi’s Kenyatta University, having won an Olympic medal at 800 meters, earned three degrees in the US, and served as Kenya’s Commissioner of Sports for seven years. John is a journalist who spent 18 years as a writer and editor in various branches of Time Inc. and maintained his connection with Kenya by developing a sideline covering the exploits of its runners. They jointly conceived of KenSAP to try to extend opportunity to an educationally neglected part of Kenya—Mike9 9s home region, and the place where John has spent all his time in Kenya.

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