Connecticut College Magazine · Summer 2011


Seth Stulen '07 served as a Peace Corps volunteer after graduation and is now a regional coordinator for the organization in Panama.

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A Shared History of Global Service

A Shared History of Global Service
Adrian Stover '08 (right) in Cambodia.

The Peace Corps & Connecticut College mark a 50 year partnership

By Elizabeth Hamilton

ince the founding of the Peace Corps 50 years ago, more than 200 Connecticut College alumni have served in its ranks. Both the College and the Peace Corps have changed considerably over the course of a half century, but what haven't changed are the core values shared by both organizations.

These values — service to others, global citizenship and the pursuit of personal growth — have helped make Connecticut College one of the Peace Corps' top volunteer-producing schools in the country, ranked at No. 13 among small colleges and universities.

Eighteen Connecticut College alumni are currently serving in the Peace Corps, bringing the total to 211 since 1961, according to Vinnie Wickes, northeast regional manager for the Corps. Wicks credits the College's top-down support for the program, starting with President Leo I. Higdon Jr., himself a former volunteer. Peace Corps recruiters appreciate the support provided by the College's career counselors and the “progressive, intelligent and enthusiastic student body,” Wickes says.

Although each one has a unique background and motivation, volunteers from Connecticut College tend to share some common traits. In interviews about their Peace Corps experience, they often cite curiosity about the world around them, a love of travel and a desire to help others. Most also say that their time at the College — whether they graduated last year or 40 years ago — honed their instincts for service and learning in a direct, hands-on way.

More recent graduates, particularly, have been influenced by the many opportunities for studying abroad and the College's emphasis on public service.

“Conn is such a huge feeder for the Peace Corps that it was almost expected that you would do something like that, because Conn really fostered a love for being interested in all things international,” says Mariko Wilcox '99, who volunteered in Ghana from 1999-2001.

“I guess you could say Conn encouraged me to be a world citizen.”

Wilcox participated in the College's first Study Away Teach Away program in Vietnam and took advantage of other opportunities.

Now head of the reference section of the Jefferson County Public Library in Colorado, she has visited at least 15 countries since leaving the Corps — a lust for travel she attributes to her time in Africa.

For older graduates, especially those who attended the College before the 1969 transition to coeducation, the impetus more often came from outside the College. President John F. Kennedy's call to public service inspired many, as did the civil rights movement.

“I'd been very active in the civil rights movement. I was down South a lot in the 1960s and I think that's what made me want to go to Africa,” says Karin Kunstler Goldman '65, who served in Senegal from 1966-68 with her husband, Neal Goldman.

Goldman, a daughter of the civil rights lawyer William Kunstler, is a section chief in the charities division of the New York State Attorney General's office.

Deborah Nichols Losse '66 was in high school when Kennedy took office. Like so many other young people, she responded to his idea of the Peace Corps and his challenge to serve their country. She and her husband, John Losse, got married on a Tuesday and joined the Peace Corps the following Saturday; they taught together at an all-male secondary school in Katsina, Nigeria.

Losse, who recently retired as dean of humanities in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University, remembers the “spirit of activism that was bubbling up at Conn and elsewhere.”

“It was just in the air,” she says.

For Phoebe Goodwin '94, who served in Gambia from 1994-96, the decision to join the Peace Corps stemmed in part from a desire to better understand herself.

“I wanted to know what part of my values were really my true values regardless of what culture I was in, and what would change when I was in a different culture,” says Goodwin, who now teaches high school math and chemistry in Arizona. “I discovered that a lot of the values I have are really core values that don't change.”

Jonathan McLean '08, who recently returned from a two-year stint in Kenya and is now a software consultant in Singapore, says opportunities at Connecticut College, such as spending part of his junior year studying in Australia, led him to the Peace Corps.

“I really attribute a lot of my personal growth to my years at Conn,” McLean says. “There were so many opportunities to become a bigger person and extend your thoughts beyond your own personal sphere.”

McLean joined the Corps at the same time as his friend Adrian Stover '08, a French and music major who taught English for two years in the Angkor Chum district of Cambodia. Stover graduated with a certificate from the Toor Cummings Center for International Studies and the Liberal Arts. He spent his CISLA summer internship in Morocco, working for a music festival.

Before applying for the Peace Corps, Stover consulted a number of people, including Higdon, who volunteered for the Peace Corps with his wife, Ann, in a remote village in Malawi in the late 1960s. Today, Stover works in Washington, D.C., for the Asia Society and has been accepted into a master's program at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

“For a long time, Conn has had a strong study-abroad program and an international focus,” Stover says. “Even before I did CISLA, I used to eat in the international dining hall, hang out at the Turkish table, and practice my French at the French table. It was great.”

Mary Devins, associate director of CISLA, says students in the certificate program are a “natural fit” for the Peace Corps. “(The Peace Corps) is not just a journey of observing,” Devins says. “In most cases it really is tied into giving back, looking at developing countries and populations less fortunate than they are. And it always changes their lives, no matter where they go.”

For Alissa Wantman '07, now volunteering in a remote village in western Ethiopia, the Peace Corps was a logical next step after spending a semester in Vietnam with other Connecticut College students and faculty. “I wanted to challenge myself,” Wantman says. “I had studied abroad, but living with a host family for three months, being immersed in a completely different culture and language, and then navigating a rural town by yourself as the only white person for two years is a completely different experience. I've grown a lot, having to fend for myself and figure everything out on my own.”

Ethan Budiansky '99, a zoology major, tells a similar story. He studied abroad his junior year in a Kenyan wildlife management program.

“That experience really opened my eyes,” says Budiansky, who served as an agroforestry volunteer in Senegal from 2002-04. “There's no sense trying to protect the habitat of the cheetah unless you deal with the human aspect of the problem. Through that, you protect the environment.”

International experiences also led Seth Stulen '07 and Katlyn Morris '02 to the Peace Corps. Stulen, an international relations major, studied in Spain his junior year. With funding from the College's Career Enhancing Life Skills (CELS) program, he interned for six weeks in an indigenous community in the Andes. Today, he is spending his third year in Panama as regional coordinator for the Peace Corps.

Morris, who served in Guatemala from 2003-05, majored in environmental studies and Hispanic studies and also studied in Spain. She credits Associate Professor of Ethnobotany Manuel Lizarralde with sparking her fascination with Latin America; she is now at the University of Vermont, earning a Ph.D. in agricology and rural livelihoods in Central America.

“Professor Lizarralde was a big influence,” Morris says. “I also went to some motivational interviews with some alumni through career services (CELS) my senior year. A bunch of them said I should try the Peace Corps, and it just reminded me that was a dream I'd had.”

None of these accounts surprises the CELS career counselors, who have helped some of the College's best and brightest undertake the lengthy Peace Corps application process.

“This college leans toward service learning,” says Lori Balantic, an associate director of CELS. “Students who come here typically want to study abroad and do internships. They have that sense of challenge and adventure.”

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