In 2010, Kate Gray and her husband made the monumental decision to apply to the Peace Corps. They had both considered joining the Peace Corps in the past, but the timing had never worked out. Although Kate had just begun the Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership program at St. Catherine University, both she and her husband felt the moment was right for them to learn a new language, live within a different culture, and take on a huge, challenging adventure together.
Two years later, Kate and her husband were placed in one of the most remote locations the Peace Corps served: a small town in the Sahara desert. They ran programs at a local youth center, including organizing and teaching English, art, and leadership classes. Kate also worked with a women’s group in town, teaching aerobics and yoga in closed classes at the women’s center as it was not accepted for women to exercise in public.
In 2014, Kate and her husband officially completed their two years of service in Morocco, but their commitment to the Peace Corps’ goals did not end when they returned to Minnesota. The third goal of all Peace Corps volunteers is “to help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans,” and the real work towards this objective begins when a volunteer returns home. For Kate, fulfilling this goal included returning to St. Kate’s MAOL program as a Coverdell Fellow.
Bringing a New Perspective to MAOL
The Paul D. Coverdell Fellows program offers a 9-credit tuition waiver, graduate assistantship and tuition grant to each fellow. This program is open to any individuals who have completed Peace Corps services, have a bachelor’s degree or higher, and have demonstrated leadership in at least two years of professional work.
In returning to her coursework, Kate found that she approached the material with a different understanding and perspective. Her learning and comprehension had fundamentally shifted because of her experiences in the Peace Corps. In class discussions, Kate was able to offer a cross-cultural perspective and she enjoyed sharing her experiences with her MAOL classmates.
Continuing to Practice Daily Leadership
Today, Kate is living and working in St. Paul, raising her two-year-old daughter and managing an after-school program at a local middle school. She also serves as the President of the Board of Directors for Hampden Park Food Co-op and has had frequent opportunities to apply the skills learned in MAOL. She says, “Everything I’ve learned in MAOL, I’m practicing in real life. Being Board President, so much of every class I took in MAOL is relevant to what I do.”
Kate thinks that, without MAOL, she may not have had the skills and confidence to take on these new challenges. From Kate’s perspective, the skills she learned through the MAOL program allow her to have a greater impact in her organizations. She also valued the ethical focus of the MAOL, as “being able to look at problems and systems with an ethical lens helps me to make the best decisions for the people that I serve.”
To summarize her experience in MAOL, “Being leader is applicable no matter what you do in life. You don’t have to have a career, you can be a leader in your community, in your household, in your family. All the skills you learn in MAOL are applicable in life.”