Five chemistry students from South Carolina State University are studying at Oxford University in the United Kingdom this summer.
The universities entered a partnership to form the Summer Chemistry Exchange Program.
“You want to give those young people the opportunity to continue to grow. So meeting and being with the best out at Oxford will not only show them that they can compete with anyone in the world but also enhance their research capabilities,” former South Carolina legislator Bakari Sellers, who sponsored the students’ trip, said.
Although Sellers did not attend S.C. State, his mother was a professor there and his father was a civil rights activist in the Orangeburg community who eventually became president of Voorhees College. Sellers said he hopes to find funding to continue the program for other students.
“I wanted those kids to know that they can,” Sellers said. “And then I wanted them to always know that we are part of their village. For me, it’s about giving back to the people who gave me so much. There’s so many people who reached out to me from that area, Bamberg, Orangeburg, Barnwell, and just being an example.”
SC State leaders say the program paves the way for more students in their junior or senior year to gain a world-class educational experience at Oxford’s Chemistry Department.
“They get to see that they can play in that arena,” S.C. State University President James Clark said. “They get to see that not only can they survive but they can thrive in that arena. They get to see that they do have what it takes to operate on a world stage.”
One student who boarded a plane for the first time was Ciondi Bess, a junior chemistry major from Hartsville.
“This is my first time flying,” she said. “This is my first time going out of the country. So killing two birds with one stone it’s just like, ‘You’re doing it! You got it girl!'”
The students are studying at St. Hugh’s College in the English city. Bess said she was most impressed by the diversity of the campus. Oxford is home to 38 colleges and is a popular tourist site. She and her fellow students have been tourists themselves, exploring England.
“We went to London Pride and that was exciting,” she said. “We visited Blenheim Palace, which is where Winston Churchill was born. We ended up meeting the Principal of St Hugh’s, which is Dame Elish Angiolini and we had a few dinners with her…. Just as amazed as I was coming here and being in England, they were amazed with me being from America: finding out what we eat on a regular basis, what do we do in our free time? What do we do at school? How big is the campus? How hot is it?”
Bess said she’s enjoyed being out of the South Carolina heat for the summer.
“The sun shines but it’s not as hot as South Carolina,” she said. “To us, it feels good. But to them, it’s kind of hot.”
Bess’ career plans are either pharmacy or forensic science. She’s had offers to return to St. Hugh’s for graduate studies.
“They want to get me there,” she said. “They actually offered — asked me did I want to come back for grad school or to complete my Master’s?”
Clark said it’s a contributing partnership for both Oxford and S.C. State. “Oxford gets exposure to minority students who are some of the best and brightest in this area,” he said. “Our students get a global experience. They get an experience away from the country.”
The Summer Exchange Program’s launch was ignited by SC State chemistry professor and Oxford alumna, Dr. Rahina Mahtab after a conversation with a St Hugh’s College representative. Sellers, Clark and Bess all said they hope to be able to continue the program. Efforts are underway to find financial support for the students.
“What we are about is providing experiences for our students on a global basis,” Clark said. “Experiences that will round them out as individuals but also round out their academic careers. Experiences that will live with them for the rest of their lives.”
“We honestly need to continue this,” Bess said. “South Carolina State appreciates it. We appreciate it.”
“When those students return and we can share their experiences and we can talk about how powerful those experiences were. . . we will be reaching out for grant and support opportunities as we go along,” Clark said.
The students return August 10.
S.C. State students selected to for the program: Ciondi Bess, a junior from Hartsville, South Carolina; Demetria Dorsey, a junior from Syracuse, New York; Nurunnahar Abdussalam, a senior from Washington, D.C.; Michael Isley, a senior from Fort Mill, South Carolina and Alston Jenkins, a junior from Charlotte, North Carolina.