Each year, the Peace Corps receives 18,000 applications and accepts only 4,000 people for service positions abroad. This year, three of the 4,000 volunteers fulfilling their passions for humanitarian work are soon-to-be University of Lynchburg alumni.
Two of the Lynchburg alumni are Bonner Leaders. International relations and Spanish major Hannah Wolf ’19 will join the Peace Corps’ education program and Biomedical science major Dakota Shepherd ’19 will join the health program as a community health promoter in Sierra Leone. A third Lynchburg alum, French major Caitlin Tolley ’19 . Woll, will be stationed in Rwanda with an education program.
“The expectation is to be very involved with the community and students in sports and extracurricular activities,” Tolley said. “There is a lot of emphasis on building relationships to become a part of my village.”
Wolf has known she wanted to join the Peace Corps ever since her first year at Lynchburg, when Dr. Edward DeClair, dean of Westover Honors College, connected her with an alum stationed with the Peace Corps in Benin, West Africa.
“She was very helpful and informative,” Wolf said. “I even reached out to her when I began the application process for advice. I was also exposed to many different cultures through the European Union Simulation and Model United Nations that I participated in for two years.”
Tolley became interested in humanitarian work when she was in middle school, but she didn’t hear about the Peace Corps until her second year at Lynchburg, when veteran Peace Corps volunteer and former faculty member Dr. Lisa Pierce gave her some information and contacts.
“I had originally debated on doing missionary work to help people, but only because I didn’t know any other program to get involved with,” Tolley said. “Dr. Pierce was very helpful because she gave me another option for getting involved in humanitarian work.”
Shepherd, also a Westover Honors student, said a passion for service led her to join the Peace Corps. “I have always wanted to do service that is completely immersive, and the Peace Corps will give me a chance to use problem-solving skills and really communicate with people,” she said.
Studying abroad also influenced Wolf and Tolley’s decisions to join the Peace Corps. Wolf spent a semester living in Chile, affirming she wanted the furthest thing from a desk job. “I was also able to travel to Italy with Dr. Payerhin and Dr. Lipani, giving me first-hand exposure to issues abroad,” she said, referring to Dr. Marek Payerhin and Dr. David Lipani, professors of political science and English, respectively.
For Tolley, a study abroad experience in France impacted her decision. “When I was leaving France, I was struck with the sense that this was only the beginning,” she said. “I had gone outside my comfort zone and got through the challenges, so joining the Peace Corps is the next comfort zone that I’m ready to break out of.”
Shepherd said the University of Lynchburg, specifically its Bonner Leader Program, helped prepare her for this next journey. “As a Bonner Leader here at the University, I have gotten to grow my passion and see what you can really accomplish when you are with a group of people who really want to see and be the change,” she said. “I feel as though Lynchburg has really prepared me for this next big step.”