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MALS Student Jason Torreano's South African Organization Helping Youth; Empire State College Students to Study/Work There

By Helen Edelman, manager, Exchange

October 17, 2013

African students in classInkululeko, a nonprofit organization in Grahamstown, South Africa, established to provide township youth with skills, support and guidance that will help them succeed in college, soon will be a host site for Empire State College students wishing to contribute to this effort. Both undergraduates and graduate students will have the opportunity to integrate an experience at Inkululeko into their degree program. Learning contracts will be developed that accommodate requirements within numerous areas of study and concentrations such as education, social justice and socioeconomic change. Plans now in initial stages target spring 2014 for the college’s first students to arrive in South Africa on a study trip as part of their course work.

Founded by MALS student Jason Torreano, at right, Inkululeko challenges the bigotry of low expectations for township youth and promotes sustainable, positive change, “student by student, generation by generation,” Torreano says.

Inkululeko means “freedom" in isi-Xhosa, the language spoken by a majority of the Eastern Cape province, where Grahamstown is located.

Jason Torreano, MALS Student"We see Inkululeko and Empire State College as having similar ideas about the power education can have in the lives of nontraditional students,” said Torreano. “We believe the synergy between ESC and Inkululeko will create a space where both ESC students and Inkululeko leaners have something to contribute, and something to take away, that is empowering, enriching and educational.”

Inkululeko already welcomes students from Syracuse University to work on a range of educational projects with township youth. Numerous students in the South African township have been enriched through Inkululeko’s influence.

“The idea is to ensure that both sides of the partnership benefit from visits from college learners,” explains Torreano. “The American students gain experience and insight into the role of education in social change while they make a contribution to the community by tutoring, working on community development projects, helping to nurture micro-enterprise and environmental projects and sharing knowledge with peers in education, human services and trade unions.”

“Empire State College’s mission is perfectly aligned with the spirit of this partnership,” says Acting Provost Deb Amory. “We are committed to educational access and opportunity for all, international collaboration and relevant learning for students. This partnership is a forum for working toward every one of those goals.”  

School for Graduate Studies Mentor Elana Michelson, who has worked in South Africa on projects for adult learners since shortly after the fall of apartheid, will coordinate the experience for Empire State College students.

Michelson says, “This educational partnership is appropriate for Empire State College. Our students include experienced educators, community service workers, business people, trade union activists, environmentalists and others who have much to contribute to – and much to learn from – their South African peers about the process of social transformation.” 

Acting Dean of Graduate Studies Tai Arnold says, “This opportunity accommodates many of the college’s master’s programs, such as those in Social Policy, Labor and Policy Studies, Liberal Studies, Adult Learning, Education and Emerging Technology, and Education,  just as it cuts across multiple areas of study at the undergraduate level, such as Education Studies, Community and Human Services, Business Management and Economics, Historical Studies, Labor Studies and Social Science.

Mentors who are interested in involving their students in Inkululeko should contact Elana.Michelson@esc.edu.

About Jason Torreano

Jason Torreano received a Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence in 2013.

I was surprised, excited, overwhelmed and truly honored to receive the chancellor’s award,” said Jason Torreano, a student at the college’s School for Graduate Studies. “I was attracted to Empire State College, specifically because of its emphasis on the individual. Empire State College focused on meeting me where I was, rather than where a college expected me to be. Having the ability to work on developing a curriculum that fit my strengths helped me improve my weaknesses.” Torreano, of Syracuse, is focusing on nonprofit management and international development.

Currently, Torreano is the fundraising and development coordinator for Syracuse Behavioral Healthcare. SBH programs have helped thousands of Central New York families struggling with alcohol and other substance-use disorders. He is the 2011 and 2013 Spirit of Syracuse Behavioral Healthcare Award recipient.

Torreano also is the founder of Inkululeko, a nonprofit organization based in Grahamstown, South Africa, that provides South African youth with the support and guidance necessary to finish school and attend university in that country. Inkulukeko is an isiXhosa word meaning “freedom.”

Torreano attended Rhodes University in 2006 and fell in love with Grahamstown. What began as a six-month study abroad program turned into a two-year experience volunteering at Amasango School for Street Children and at Nathaniel Nyaluza High School.

Upon returning to the U.S., Torreano worked as an anchor and reporter in newsrooms across the country. In 2009, he left news for the nonprofit sector. He has returned to South Africa nearly a dozen times since 2006 and began laying the groundwork for Inkululeko.

In 2010, he collaborated with the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University to bring a group of students to Grahamstown, and today Torreano works with SU graduate students and a small bilingual staff in South Africa to help advance the mission of Inkululeko.

A graduate of SUNY Brockport, Torreano also is a recipient of the SUNY system’s Graduate Diversity Fellowship.

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