President's donation increases international learning opportunities for UAlberta students

Gift will allow more students to succeed as global citizens by experiencing different cultures, societies and ways of life.


(Edmonton) A personal donation of $250,000 from University of Alberta President Indira V. Samarasekera will allow more U of A students to pursue education, research and community service opportunities beyond Canada’s borders.

“It is vital in this age of globalization that Canadian universities provide an international learning environment for our students,” Samarasekera said. “Nothing better prepares a student to be a global citizen, and unlocks their potential to change the world, than an international experience.”

However, a recently released report by the Canadian Bureau for International Education says only three per cent of Canadian students are studying internationally—one of the lowest numbers among Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries. President Samarasekera’s gift will enable more UAlberta students to experience different cultures, societies and ways of life first-hand so they are better prepared to succeed in, and contribute to, an increasingly interconnected world.

The Indira V. Samarasekera Global Student Leadership Fund will enhance programs currently offering international experiences and enable more programs to offer such opportunities. It will also expand a scholarship fund the president established in 2013 to help students learn overseas.

Lemonia Anagnostopoulos, in the second year of her master’s degree in global health at the U of A’s School of Public Health, is one of four students who have benefited from the scholarship fund. She spent four months this summer working for the African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF) in Nairobi, Kenya. As an intern, Anagnostopoulos researched local attitudes about malaria and worked on a project to improve the health of children living in some of Nairobi’s poorest slums.

Anagnostopoulos says the experience opened her eyes to both the complex struggles of the world’s most vulnerable communities and to the many challenges of international development.

Halfway through her internship, logistical issues at AMREF put Anagnostopoulos’ project on hold, forcing her to find another one to complete her practicum. “I’m not happy my project fell through,” she said, “but it’s the reality of international development work. In a low-resource setting, projects can fall apart and you can lose funding. It was a great learning experience to say, ‘This is what happened, now deal with it.’ That’s something you can’t learn from a textbook.”

Britta Baron, vice-provost and associate vice-president (international), describes the president’s gift as “a tremendous example of President Samarasekera’s vision and commitment.”

“President Samarasekera is a role model for the life-changing impact of education abroad and the lasting benefits it can bring,” said Baron.

“We must never underestimate the power of education to uplift the lives of individuals—and through them, to change society for the better,” said Samarasekera. “It is such a very great privilege for me now to be able to give back to the very institution that has filled my life with such personal and professional satisfaction and accomplishment.”

Today, more than 1,000 U of A students study, work and volunteer in 40 countries around the world—a number that will increase through the Indira V. Samarasekera Global Student Leadership Fund.