One of the most intelligent people I have ever met is Kanni, a Senegalese woman who never received a formal education.  With little exposure to the world outside of a remote village far from the capital, Dakar, Kanni has an uncanny ability to understand and educate a range of people that spans from village elders to myself.


As a Peace Corps Volunteer in Senegal from 2006 to 2008, one of my most rewarding experiences was seeing Kanni and other members of a women’s group sign their names for the first time while depositing their earnings into a bank account.  This seemingly small feat marked a shift towards independence for this group of entrepreneurs, and rewarded them with a sense of dignity in the faces of their often-unsympathetic brethren.

Assigned as a sustainable agriculture volunteer, much of my time in Senegal was spent working in the fields with farmers to establish more sustainable techniques.  Otherwise, I taught basic literacy skills to the women’s group (and anyone who wanted to learn) and worked with the group to build a more lucrative jewelry business. As Senegal Gender and Development (SeneGAD) Representative for the Tambacounda region, I worked with junior high school girls and their teachers and principles to boost scholarship access and rewards.


In 2008 I returned to Brooklyn, New York where my background in the arts, particularly metal casting and fabrication, previously lead me to such jobs as building sets for theater and movies, and fabricating steel, dinosaur amateurs for various natural history museums.  Here, I also volunteered with organizations that serve at-risk youth like Free Arts NYC in the Bronx, and Added Value in Brooklyn.  Now I want to bridge the gap between my career work and the volunteer work I have done in the US and abroad.  I realized that what ties it all together and the direction in which to focus is Education. 


It is easy in the US to take education for granted.  This realization was never more apparent to me than in 2003 when I biked through much of South East Asia, visiting several schools.  Although the widespread misconception that all Americans know only wealth without sacrifice is just that, a misconception, it was never more clear to me than in rural Laos and Indonesia, of just how much opportunity I have had.  Growing up relatively poor by US standards, and being more expected to achieve a living wage than a higher education, I explained to the locals whom I spent time with and insisted on my being “rich”, that I am more like them than they assumed.  At the end of the day, we were both right.


From my first trip abroad in 1995 as an art student participating in an international program at Tallinn University, Estonia, to my recent work as a research assistant and liaison between soil scientists at Cornell University and New York City community gardeners, I have been intrigued by different cultures and customs, our ideas about each other, and how we learn.


With a rich multicultural atmosphere and a strong emphasis in non-formal education, CIE is a perfect match for my interests and academic pursuit.  As a lover of hiking, biking and simply being outdoors, the Pioneer Valley is a natural playground similar to the one where I grew up in North Carolina.  I am thrilled to be here and I feel right at home.


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