Higher education isn’t something on the minds of many children in South Africa, even for those who love the sciences and demonstrate strong leadership potential. Not when their parents have died and they move frequently between the homes of relatives.

But for those whose lives lead to the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls, college – and college in the United States – isn’t a dream. It’s a reality for young women with a drive to help their communities, including Nosipho Shangase ’17.

She credits the academy for her transformation into a scholar and leader, qualities that drove her Elon experience. The Odyssey Program scholar and International Fellow became an accomplished scholar in public health studies during her Elon tenure. In 2015, she received one of the first Faculty Mentored Undergraduate Research grants from Elon’s Center for Research on Global Engagement. The award assisted her research on the development of a youth skills program to be implemented in a South African community, Kwa-Zulu Natal in KwaNdengezi township.

KwaNdengezi was the last town Shangase lived in before entering the leadership academy, and she realized that many young people in the town lacked the opportunities she had been given. With mentor Cindy Fair, professor of human service studies, Shangase assessed the pregnancy prevention and vocational needs of South African adolescents and young adults. She used a community-based participatory research approach, conducting surveys and focus groups with town residents to define the problem. She found older adolescents and young adults in particular believed parents and schools did not offer substantial career guidance and felt teenage pregnancy was due to social pressure. She then evaluated necessary community conditions for sustainability of a skills program that would include mentorship programs, educational programs and guidance counseling.

Along with presenting at the 2017 Spring Undergraduate Research Forum, Shangase presented her research at the Society of Adolescent Health and Medicine conference in New Orleans in March, and was the recipient of the Edie Moore Student Travel Scholarship to assist her attendance at the conference. An abstract of her research appeared in the Journal of Adolescent Health. In April, Shangase was presented with the Martha Smith Award for Women’s and Gender Studies in recognition for her work in pursuing a minor in women’s, gender and sexuality studies. She was recognized annually in the Phillips-Perry Black Excellence Awards for her achievements and involvement on campus.

Growing up, my education was a little bit different. I had a lot of opportunities in terms of education that opened up a lot more doors later on. I realized that young people [in KwaNdengezi] did not have access to resources. They remain in the same area and are not aware of what more they can do with their futures.

Shangase is entering graduate school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she will pursue a master’s degree in epidemiology. She has already been accepted into the doctoral program, which she will begin upon the successful completion of her master’s degree.

Before heading to Chapel Hill, Shangase spent two months this summer in South Africa after winning a fellowship from the Centre for the Aids Programme of Research in South Africa to work on a project focusing on tuberculosis. Looking to the future, Shangase is planning to launch an organization that can act upon many of her research findings to help provide young people in KwaNdengezi with more opportunities and vocational skills.