When Fouché Venter learned that the Emerging Markets program would be gathering for a 15th-anniversary celebration last summer in Pretoria, South Africa, there was “no question” in his mind that he would go.

An alumnus of the program, he had traveled to the U.S. in the summer of 2010 with nine other South African students for six weeks, studying alongside students in Fordham’s graduate program in International Political and Economic Development (IPED), part of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS).

“There is something about having that program on my resume that I think has certainly made a difference and was a signal to potential employers,” said Venter, who is now an economics consultant in Pretoria and who joined the nearly 100 participants at an Aug. 19 celebration.

“Now that I’m doing the hiring, I tend to look twice to see if they did attend these sort of summer classes.”

A man in a suit standing at a podium.
Fouché Venter

The Emerging Markets program, which began in 2008 and continues today, is open to all IPED students and students from South Africa’s University of Pretoria. Students learn about monetary and fiscal policies and explore issues of economic partnership between South Africa and the United States.

In addition to classes, in both locations, they visit businesses as well as labor and government representatives. Each year, about 15 South African students visit New York in June, and an equal number of Fordham students visit South Africa in August.

When Venter’s cohort came to New York City in 2010, they attended classes on political risk analysis and finance and visited Washington D.C., Broadway, and the U.S. Stock Exchange.

A Promise Fulfilled

The Emerging Markets program originated with a conversation between Fordham President Emeritus Joseph McShane, S.J., and Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who visited Fordham in 2005 to accept an honorary doctorate.

Booi Themeli, Ph.D., a senior lecturer of economics and a native of South Africa, said Father McShane told him the archbishop had joked that in return for his visit, the University would have to do something for South Africans.

Three years later, the first cohort of Fordham students traveled to South Africa, and five years later, Venter’s cohort traveled to the U.S. To date, 208 Fordham students have visited South Africa, while 213 South African Students have visited Fordham.

Henry Schwalbenberg, Ph.D., director of the IPED program, said the goal was to create an opportunity for South Africans who traditionally weren’t part of the educational system to get an advanced degree.

“It really tied in with the end of Apartheid, the establishment of a wider democracy, and Fordham making a contribution to empowering the people who were left out,” he said.

students celebrate on a sidewalk with horns and noisemakers
Members of the 2010 cohort celebrated the beginning of the World Cup outside of NASDAQ headquarters in New York City. Photo courtesy of Booi Themel

A Transatlantic Romance Blossoms

Elena Konopelko, GSAS ’13, came to the Bronx in 2011 from St. Petersburg, Russia, on a Fulbright scholarship to study with the IPED program.

She joined the Emerging Markets program and visited South Africa in the summer of 2012. There, she met Sokhana Caza, GSAS ’13, an alumnus of the program who was now a program assistant.

The following fall, he returned to the Rose Hill campus to earn an IPED master’s, and the two reunited. They married in 2016, and today, they share a home in Johannesburg with three children.

Konopelko said living in three different countries has opened her eyes to different approaches to business and academia.

“There are so many different options in how to conduct yourself professionally and how best to learn that you can make your own path forward,” she said.

A man and a woman sitting at an outdoor table with drinks in front of them.
Sokhana Caza and Elena Konopelko at the Rose Hill campus in 2023. Photo courtesy of Sokhana Caza

Fireflies and Real-World Lessons

Studying in New York City was life-changing for Caza. Times Square and the subway were new to him, but there were also smaller, unexpected moments—like seeing fireflies on a warm July evening at Rose Hill.

“I’d never seen them in my whole life. Just watching them at night, it was probably one of the most memorable moments of my time,” he said.

After nine years working for BP and Bloomberg, Caza now works for a financial technology firm affiliated with the Singapore Stock Exchange.

“The thing that I really liked when I got [to Fordham IPED]was that most of the professors had experience working for a corporate or financial institution,” he said.

“When they taught, it wasn’t all theory; it was always related to the real world.”

Changing Lives, Changing Families, Changing the World

Ann Gaylin, Ph.D., dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, said the August reunion was one of the most moving experiences she’s had in her career.

“There was such a sense of joy and energy in the students. It wasn’t just about changing lives but changing families and changing the world,” she said.

Margaret Chitiga-Mabugu, Ph.D., dean of the faculty of Economic and Management Sciences at the University of Pretoria, credited the program with creating global leaders.

“I have seen first-hand how the program enriches the student’s academic knowledge and provides a platform to interact with influential business leaders and policymakers,” she said.

“It not only benefits the students who participate; it has created opportunities for staff members at the University of Pretoria to enlarge their networks and has created prospects for future collaboration.”

Watch students from the 2023 cohort visit New York City last summer below:


Patrick Verel is a news producer for Fordham Now. He can be reached at [email protected] or (212) 636-7790.