Addressing the lack of mentorship, guidance and exposure for first-generation college students from diverse communities in the developing world, Harvard’s Crossroads Emerging Leaders Program will organise its third annual workshop in 2020. The program was inaugurated in 2017 as a joint effort between the Harvard Business School Club of the GCC, HBS Professors Tarun Khanna and Karim Lakhani, and The Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute (LMSAI) at Harvard University.
It is a prestigious and fully-funded career-development opportunity for students from across the world, who are the first member of their family – or the first generation within their family – to attend university and face challenges of financial and social circumstances. Following a rigorous multi-stage evaluation process, exceptional students are selected from a diverse applicant pool to take part in this unique educational experience.
According to Tarun Khanna, the HBS professor co-leading the program, the idea is to expose the aspiring leaders among the community of first-generation students, to the opportunities that a Harvard education affords and make sure that Harvard and other elite universities in the world don’t seem unreachable.
The first-generation college students have, by definition, overcome significant barriers to higher education, demonstrating leadership potential. Some of them are already looked upon by their families and communities as showing the way forward to other young adults. However, many of them suffer from the challenge of being able to connect with the upper-level faculty members and having more personal, meaningful conversations with them. The Crossroads program seeks to overcome this barrier to networking and mentorship by connecting these students to the international community of academicians.
Overcoming this barrier is particularly crucial at a place like Harvard where a lot of people might not always see themselves reflected in the different institutional aspects that the university is known for. The ultimate aim of the Crossroads Program is to create a diverse pipeline of future graduate students at leading universities, such as Harvard, and future leaders from across an array of social-economic, racial and cultural backgrounds.
In 2018, the student participants travelled to Dubai on a fully-funded trip, where they were introduced to a Harvard classroom environment. They took part in mentor discussions, travelled to Dubai’s landmarks, and considered their future education and career possibilities. Throughout the week, students engaged with one another and faculty through Harvard Business School’s case-study method of teaching and learning. “[The program] helped me understand what it is like to study in the Harvard classroom. Each session helped me broaden my perspective of the world around us,” said one student after the program’s conclusion.
For many students, this trip to Dubai was the first time they had left their hometowns – opening their eyes to new cultures, experiences and connections with other youth from across multiple continents. “The diversity in the program made me learn valuable information about other cultures and how they solved different issues, which made the experience very informative at both the personal and career level,” said another participant.
In 2020, the Crossroads Program expands to include more eligible countries and curated online sessions that will culminate in the week-long Dubai experience held at Dubai International Financial Center’s Academy. Leading Harvard faculty members will teach an extensive and multi-disciplinary curriculum, that includes a combination of case studies, small discussion groups, discussion on potential career paths, and information on applying to Harvard.