President Barack Obama Recognizes IES Abroad Cape Town Alumna

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Ashley Houston
May 13, 2016

We are proud to share that one of our recent alumni, Ciearra Jefferson (IES Abroad Cape Town, Spring 2015), was recognized by President Barack Obama during his May 7, 2016, commencement speech at Howard University.

During her semester in South Africa, Ciearra conducted a research project entitled “Analyzing Epidemics and Disease Prevention Tactics in South Africa” that investigated barriers to health care for patients infected with both HIV and tuberculosis. Her research generated a report that provides suggestions of how overcome some of the obstacles to caring for patients co-infected with these diseases.

Growing up on the west side of Detroit, Ciearra did not have an easy childhood. Her mother worked more than 80 hours a week to support both Ciearra and her sister. As such, Ciearra was driven to keep up with her work as a high school student at University High School Academy. Ciearra’s hard work paid off when she received the Gates Millennium Scholarship in 2012, providing her with a full-ride to any undergraduate program.

Choosing Howard over Harvard University, Ciearra majored in Public Relations in the Department of Strategic, Legal, and Management Communications, with the focus of moving into a career in crisis management or health consultancy. She was awarded the Who's Who Among Students in American Colleges and Universities 2015-2016 Award, and graduated this past weekend with a 3.95 GPA.

President Obama praised the Howard University senior during his commencement address:

“I've learned about some of the young people graduating here today. There's a young woman named Ciearra Jefferson, who’s graduating with you. And I'm just going to use her as an example. I hope you don’t mind, Ciearra. Ciearra grew up in Detroit and was raised by a poor single mom who worked seven days a week in an auto plant. And for a time, her family found themselves without a place to call home. They bounced around between friends and family who might take them in. By her senior year, Ciearra was up at 5 a.m. every day, juggling homework, extracurricular activities, volunteering, all while taking care of her little sister. But she knew that education was her ticket to a better life. So she never gave up. Pushed herself to excel. This daughter of a single mom who works on the assembly line turned down a full scholarship to Harvard to come to Howard.

And today, like many of you, Ciearra is the first in her family to graduate from college. And then, she says, she’s going to go back to her hometown, just like Thurgood Marshall did, to make sure all the working folks she grew up with have access to the health care they need and deserve. As she puts it, she’s going to be a 'change agent'. She’s going to reach back and help folks like her succeed.

And people like Ciearra are why I remain optimistic about America. (Applause.) Young people like you are why I never give in to despair.”

A proud Howard graduate, Ciearra is headed back to Detroit to serve as the Community Affairs Coordinator at the Detroit Medical Center and will be pursuing a Master’s in Public Health degree from Emory University.

We are honored to have Ciearra has an IES Abroad Cape Town alumna, and look forward to seeing the great things she will do in the future!

Learn more about study abroad in Cape Town, South Africa.

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Ashley Houston

IES Abroad News

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