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Image: Photos from Spring/Summer 2012 SFSU Mag

A Half-Century of Service

Photo of Scott Webb talking with a villager in southwestern NigerOn a return trip to his former Peace Corps village in southwestern Niger, alumnus Scott Webb was deeply moved to see new progress in the form of a paved road, primary school and clinic.

For many years, Andrew Dubin was part of that welcoming committee. The professor in the College of Education's Department of Administration and Interdisciplinary Studies directed a fellows program that placed returning Peace Corps volunteers in urban schools while they completed a master's program or teaching credential. Their language skills and experiences as "outsiders" in developing countries "provided them with the kind of insight and sensitivity necessary to be effective in the urban setting," Dubin says, "since inner-city students often see themselves as ‘outside' the system."

Johnston says her time in the Peace Corps helps her connect with her Stockton constituents. "We're a city of minorities, and I'm continually learning about all the cultures that are here in our community, especially among our non-English speaking population.

"I understand the struggles they go through to fit in, to get an education, to be successful," she says, "because I know what it's like to be a non-native speaker in another country."

The life and career lessons of the Peace Corps are unique, says Raleigh Ellisen (B.A., '52; M.A., '53), who fulfilled a lifetime dream of joining the Corps when he and his wife Jean served in Fiji from 1995 to 1997. Ellisen, a retired teacher, said he tells younger applicants that volunteering is "a wonderful way to get in-depth, worthwhile experience that employers are looking for these days."

Mary Jane Parmentier (M.A., '85) was already planning a career in international relations when she sought out a Peace Corps recruiter on campus in 1986. But after receiving her master's degree, her future took on a slightly different shape with her experiences as a volunteer. "It made me realize I liked teaching, which I didn't think I would go into as a career," says Parmentier, a senior lecturer in the Global Technology and Development Program at Arizona State University who served in Morocco from 1986 to 1988.

"And I had been interested primarily in politics, but being in a developing country made me reconsider my focus when I got my Ph.D."

Like Johnston, she found the "open-minded, intellectually rich" environment at SF State prepared her well for her time in Morocco. And she believes the campus is still home to students ready for the Peace Corps' incomparable experience. "If you go in thinking, ‘I want to live in a different way and I want to learn the language, the culture, the people,' you can't go wrong," she says. "You can't fail."

 

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