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Wooster grad selected for two-year Peace Corps service in Africa

Thomas Pitney head shot

Thomas Pitney ’24, a double major in political science and French & Francophone studies at The College of Wooster, has been selected to serve in the Peace Corps. After a three-month training starting in September, Pitney will serve for two years in the African nation of Lesotho.

Pitney’s work will center on HIV/AIDS advocacy among adolescents as the country ranks second highest in the world for prevalence of the disease. “A fifth of Lesotho’s population has HIV,” said Pitney. “I’ll be primarily working to educate people on best practices to reduce transmission and make sure HIV/AIDS care is both accessible and gender equitable.”

Wooster first established the Peace Corps Prep program in partnership with the Peace Corps in 2014, and recently merged it with the College’s Global Impacts Pathway which also seeks to help students begin orienting themselves toward service opportunities abroad. These programs include strategic curricular components that map onto the primary work sectors of Peace Corps volunteers. They also provide a flexible structure for reflection, mentoring, and discovery, so that students can prepare themselves more intentionally for international service—whether that be with the Peace Corps or elsewhere.

Harry Gamble, Inez K. Gaylord Professor of French and Francophone Studies, is a returned Peace Corps volunteer who helps supervise the pathway and prep program. “Serving two years in the Peace Corps is a life-altering experience that can give Wooster graduates a lasting boost, regardless of what they go on to do professionally,” said Gamble. “The Peace Corps can be quite selective, so completing a two-year prep program can help Wooster students to stand out.”

Although work experiences in the Peace Corps can be very formative and transferable, Gamble says the soft skills that volunteers acquire usually prove even more transformational. “I was myself a Peace Corps volunteer in Mali, West Africa, and my experiences there still filter into most of what I do.”

Pitney credits Gamble and Kent Kille, professor of political science, for playing integral roles in his development at Wooster and ultimately for his decision to join the Peace Corps. Kille nominated Pitney as one of 20 students from around the world to attend the Athens Democracy Forum in September 2022. “The forum really helped me think globally about different issues and realize there’s a whole world outside the U.S., and to foster a passion for international relations and intercultural communications,” said Pitney. Having taken four of his classes, Pitney said Gamble has been an inspiration and a source of support. “The fact that he had been in the Peace Corps before and had real experiences, he was always willing to help, ease concerns, and gave me a realistic view of what to expect during my service.”

Jennifer Renner ’24, Thomas Pitney ’24, and Antonia Owens Detwiler ’24, all completed the Peace Corps Prep program and global impacts pathway at Wooster, pictured here with Harry Gamble, Inez K. Gaylord Professor of French and Francophone Studies, and Rebecca Webb, coordinator of the pathways programs.

Jennifer Renner ’24, Thomas Pitney ’24, and Antonia Owens Detwiler ’24, all completed the Peace Corps Prep program and Global Impacts Pathway at Wooster, pictured here with Harry Gamble, Inez K. Gaylord Professor of French and Francophone Studies, and Rebecca Webb, coordinator of the pathways programs.

Gamble cited Wooster’s commitment to promoting international understanding, global engagement, leadership, critical thinking, and problem solving, as very effective preparation for students seeking opportunities like the Peace Corps. Pitney will be Wooster’s 99th  alumnus to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer since the organization’s founding in 1961.

The experience won’t be Pitney’s first time living abroad. For his spring 2023 semester, Pitney studied abroad at the School for International Training (SIT) in Geneva, Switzerland. Living with a French-speaking host family—where he could practice his language skills and gain a better understanding of Swiss culture—gave him an even deeper appreciation for intercultural exchange. “People are really glad if you take the time, even if you’re not perfect, to try and make the effort to use the language they use,” said Pitney, who hopes to apply the same approach in the Peace Corps.

Pitney also gained research experience during the SIT program, which included a four-week research study. He conducted three interviews in Warsaw, Poland, a wrote a 30-page research paper on Poland’s response to the war in Ukraine. Upon returning to Wooster, Pitney used these writing and research skills while completing his Independent Study on foreign policy decision-making in two francophone African countries, Benin and Algeria, in the 1960s and 1970s.

Through his study abroad and other Wooster experiences, Pitney knows he wants a profession where he’s on the ground interacting with people and doing things that are meaningful. “In whatever profession I pursue, I want to make human connections that are tangibly helping people, and where I feel like I’m net positive in the world no matter how small that is.”

Posted in News on June 13, 2024.


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Related Areas of Study

Political Science

The study of power, with concentrations in U.S. politics, international relations, political theory and comparative politics.

Major Minor

Global Impacts

Turn an interest in international service, economic development, NGOs and INGOs into a career

Pathway

French & Francophone Studies

French language, literature and culture with study abroad and outside-the-classroom immersion opportunites

Major Minor

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