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School of Arts and Sciences

A Bullet Train Towards a Better Future

Monday, July 31, 2017

Senior Amanda Borquaye works to improve access to education, from local correctional facilities to Ghana

At the Middlesex County Jail and House of Correction, Tisch Scholar Amanda Borquaye, A18, was met with intimidation—but it wasn't on her part. One of her students, a man in his fifties, was afraid to read aloud to her. "Society says that older people are a fountain of knowledge," Borquaye says. "They are, but sometimes you have to convince them."

Borquaye is improving access to education for students old and young—not only for the incarcerated people she mentors, but also through a scholarship fund she started for female students in rural Ghana.

Competition vs. Collaboration

At her Savannah, Georgia, high school, Borquaye found that life was competitive over collaborative—Tufts was the refreshing opposite. "Everyone's successful and ambitious," she says, "but also all about helping a neighbor or a peer." Borquaye has always shared the same spirit and wanted to bring that energy into the community as a Tisch Scholar at the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life.

With its mission of embedding civic and community engagement across the University, Tisch College has been the ideal setting for Borquaye. "The college has partnerships with so many organizations," she says. "And so many organizations that want to work with them."

The Petey Greene Program (PGP) is one such place—and Borquaye was eager to head up the Tufts chapter. PGP aims to educate incarcerated students of all ages, reimagining life in the criminal justice system. Volunteering with local teachers, Borquaye teaches English as a Second Language (ESL), as well as basic math, reading comprehension, science, and essay writing to Middlesex incarcerated people so they can complete their GED diploma.

astronomical challenge

In the fall of 2015, Borquaye drove up to the prison gates for the first time and handed her driver's license to the guard. She was nervous, but determined. "I want to provide outside interaction for these people, not someone who tells them where to go, what to eat, when they can sleep or shower," she says. "They deserve dignity, self-fulfillment, and a sense of achievement—to do something productive while in captivity."

Two years later, coming to Middlesex has become routine for Borquaye. The number of Tufts students in the program has doubled, and they are now volunteering at two facilities.

"Amanda is thoughtful about the stewardship of the program," says Anne Moore, a program specialist for Scholar Development at Tufts. "She's worked with the prison administration to meet their needs and also incorporated the program into the campus culture at Tufts, enlisting 35 volunteers who could not get tutoring placements to help her host campus discussions, and carefully selecting someone to run the program in her absence while she studied abroad."

One of Borquaye's favorite inmates is thriving and became a role model for his fellow students. "I'm so proud of him," she says. "He wrote beautiful essays, but struggled with reading comprehension, and the test doesn't accommodate for a lack of concentration." Borquaye spent months working on strategies for him to stay focused. He, in turn, tutored his cellmates. "It was awesome to see his development and determination." He just passed his GED exam and is being released soon, with plans to become a small business owner.

As for her older student who was nervous to read aloud?

"I told him, I'm not a teacher," she says. "This is a collaboration. You also carry a wealth of knowledge that I don't have. We're both learning from each other."

A Family Business

Borquaye's family is originally from Ghana. Her grandmother, Margaret Ka Ado, never had a formal education and didn't speak English, but they communicated in a broken tongue of mixed languages, and Borquaye understood how important education was to her. Ten years after her death, Borquaye says, "My sister and I wanted to memorialize this pinnacle family figure."

The Margaret Kaa Addo Scholarship will help girls in rural Ghana with entrepreneurial dreams, but limited means, receive an education. "We can't let financial burden deprive the world of a whole generation of people who want to share their talents and passion," Borquaye says, adding that teen pregnancy is a common route for woman in Ghana, because it's the clear alternative to education. "We don't want that to be the only option, if you desire more." The fund is in its early days, but Borquaye and her sister are establishing partnerships with foundations in Accra, hoping to accept the inaugural cohort next year.

"As a person only two generations removed from poverty, Amanda is deeply familiar with the benefits of physical and economic mobility," Moore says. "Educational access enabled her to understand her full potential, and she has been able to translate that potential into a deep commitment in order to enable the same kind of physical and intellectual mobility for others, especially for people who are trapped by arbitrary determinants like geography and identity."

The Place for Her Passion

When Borquaye came to Tufts, she knew this was the university that would prepare her to change the world. "There was just something about it," she says. "I'm genuinely inspired by my peers every day. They're doing so many wonderful, important things that are going to change the world, or at least the communities we live in."

In other words, she says, "They're a bullet train towards a better future."

With so much advocacy and community work under her belt and plans to work in public policy after graduation, Borquaye could be describing her own legacy.

This summer she'll be continuing her work with Tisch College, this time as a Tisch Summer Fellow in Washington, D.C. for the anti-poverty nonprofit LIFT. Amanda sees the work that she's doing as her civic duty—and she plans to dedicate her life to the effort. "As someone who has had everything: a loving family and material resources to accomplish my dreams, there is no excuse for me not to be putting in the work to make the world a better place for other people. I'm thankful to be at a university that supports my passion."