Thanks for the ‘heads up’ from Barry Hillerbrand (Ethiopia 1963-65)
from Amy Glasser (Tanzania)
By Elissa Johnston
Just a month and half after graduating from Fordham in 2016, Amy Glasser packed her bags and went to teach math in Tanzania with Peace Corps for two years. She had come into Fordham fully expecting to pursue a career in publishing, but at the very beginning of her senior year — fall 2015 — she had a conversation that suddenly changed her career trajectory.
At a back-to-school barbecue, Amy found herself talking to the new graduate assistant for the honors program, who had just returned from working with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. “It had never occurred to me that this kind of work was an option,” said Amy in our interview. “I went back to the dorm that afternoon and immediately looked up the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. I quickly realized that the JVC wasn’t quite right for me, but during that research, Peace Corps came up. And I just knew that that was what I wanted to do. That day, I knew that this was it.”
Once she knew that she wanted to pursue this new direction, Amy immediately started pouring time into volunteer work to strengthen her application to Peace Corps. She emphasized that volunteer experience goes a long way towards creating a successful Peace Corps application. “I really focused on my volunteer work outside of the school,” she told me. “I joined a new volunteer organization my last semester at Fordham, and I started volunteering twice a week instead of once with another organization I had already been working with.”
Amy’s efforts paid off: Peace Corps accepted her application. Amy already knew she wanted to teach math, and she began teaching secondary math in Tanzania just six weeks after finishing at Fordham. She started off teaching early high school (O-level) math, but after fifteen months she switched to a different school where she began to teach A-level classes, which she described as being “more like our AP calculus.” “I taught everything from basic algebra to calculus,” she said.
Amy spoke appreciatively of how she had learned to think differently about doing aid work. “A misconception that westerners sometimes have of foreign aid work is that we’re the experts and it’s a one-sided thing we’re doing to go over and help these communities. But really, it’s a lot more complicated than that. It’s a partnership.”
Glasser with some of her students in Tanzania.
Amy’s experience with Peace Corps led her directly to her current career. She now works as a grants manager for the federal government (specifically, the Health, Resources, and Services Administration, or HRSA). Her first exposure to grants work came through her work on the Peace Corps Tanzania HIV Education Committee, where she watched her fellow committee members write grants and read templates. “I thought, man, I have no idea how to do any of that!” She laughed. “And I thought that this would be a really useful skill to have if I do go into educational development at any point.” Amy’s first job after returning from Peace Corps did not allow her to work with grants—she worked in HR for the Department of the Navy. Once she was into the federal government, though, it didn’t take her long to find her way into grants work.
Now, Amy is setting her sights on a new goal: a graduate degree in public policy. She loved teaching with Peace Corps, but it also taught her that she was more interested in educational development and policy than in classroom teaching. “I don’t mind teaching, and I love doing volunteer work that has to do with teaching, but I also didn’t want that to be my career,” she said. “And this degree is a great way for me to further my interest in education without being limited to teaching.”
Amy also emphasized how her Fordham English major prepared her for her current work in grants and educational policy. “Studying English — and just getting the liberal arts background in general — it’s made me a much stronger writer who can think critically about things,” she said. “For me, a big part of the English degree was reading books and enjoying books, but also learning to think about them in a way that you might not be able to if you didn’t have that specific training.” She finds that her background in both English and math has helped her hone her critical thinking skills in ways that have prepared her perfectly for her work with grants and policy.
As Amy reflected on her time as an undergrad at Fordham, she shared a few pieces of advice for current students. “Students who want to study abroad with Fordham definitely should,” she said, reflecting on how much she had appreciated her semester in London in 2014. “Also, take advantage of the fact that you’re in the Bronx, that you’re in New York City. There’s so much Fordham has to offer, but also so much New York has to offer. I live in Philadelphia now, and I love it, but I’m always trying to come back to New York, so enjoy it while you’re there!”
Finally, Amy had some advice for those interested in Peace Corps (or any kind of aid work). She stressed how important it is to think of aid work not as one-sided charity, but as an opportunity to partner with and learn from different communities. “You are always going to be the learner, and you’re going to be working with counterparts in the community who have a lot to offer, whose insight is very valuable. I think that’s something that tends to be forgotten in the western narrative, but it’s something that Peace Corps very strongly stresses: we can’t get anything done on our own. It has to be with the community, it has to be community-driven, and we’re just there to assist in whatever way we can.”