Peace Corps Volunteers Make an Impact

As a partner university with the Peace Corps, the School’s Master’s in Management program provides opportunities for returning volunteers to connect what they have learned with the business world.

Three former Peace Corps volunteers chose the School of Business as the next step for accomplishing their future goals. Cara McGrath (MA ’18) and Blair Thompson (MA ’18) were recipients of the Coverdell Fellowship from the Peace Corps, a program that allows volunteers to continue their service while also pursuing graduate studies at a reduced cost. Sydney Shapiro (MA ’18) received the Dingledine Scholarship for positive social impact, a Wake Forest University scholarship that provides full tuition for students who worked in a nonprofit setting after completing their undergraduate studies.

Kaitlyn Cooper, associate director for integrative student services for the Master’s in Management program, said Peace Corps applicants bring a unique level of passion and excitement to the interview process.

“I love hearing their stories and imagining how they will connect everything they learned back to the business world,” Cooper said. “We want our students to be honorable, professional, impactful, and global. Peace Corps volunteers are prepared to be global citizens, and they share that experience with their peers in the program.”

Cara McGrath, Uganda

After studying abroad multiple times in sub-Saharan Africa while in college at the University of Oklahoma, Cara McGrath wanted to apply her degree in international security by living in another country after graduation.

“I wanted to get outside of my comfort zone and gain an intimate understanding of how people outside of the United States live their lives,” McGrath said. “Peace Corps taught me resilience, grit, flexibility, and determination. These skills have impacted how I view the world, build relationships, and live and work.”

McGrath worked as a literacy specialist in northern Uganda, with most of her work centered around literacy and youth empowerment projects, as well as initiatives focused on gender equity, reproductive health, and sustainable farming. She managed a team of 17 Peace Corps volunteers to raise money for Books for Africa that brought over 36,000 books to the schools in the area, benefiting more than 34,000 students and teachers.

“The Peace Corps taught me to look at everything from a global and sustainable perspective,” McGrath said. She decided the Wake Forest Master’s in Management program was exactly what she needed when she returned stateside.

“I’ve been able to apply the leadership and project management skills I learned in Uganda to my rigorous coursework. The Management program has given me tangible skills I need to be successful in my future career and the opportunity to learn from professors who are experts in their respective fields. It’s also great to be part of Wake’s expansive alumni network.”

Sydney Shapiro, Zambia

After graduating from Florida State with a degree in international affairs, Sydney Shapiro spent two years of service in an education development program in southern Zambia. She taught English to students ranging in age from 14 to 23. In addition to teaching, she worked on agriculture and health initiatives, conducting more than 24 workshops on various education, health, and agriculture topics. She also worked on long-term projects like building the first rural public school community library and planting more than 500 trees.

“When I decided to join, I felt like I would never understand the world I lived in without taking myself out of it and seeing the opposite side,” Shapiro said. “I wanted a deeper understanding of the world from a less sheltered viewpoint.”

Shapiro worked as a recruiter for the Peace Corps after her two years in Zambia, but she knew she wanted to continue her education. She applied to Wake Forest when she saw that the Management program was geared toward students with limited business experience.

“I didn’t want to be pigeonholed into only nonprofit or strictly international work,” Shapiro said. “In Zambia, I learned so many soft skills like communication, teamwork, and leadership. The hard skills were what I was lacking, and the Master’s in Management program has given me just that through my finance, accounting, and analytics courses.”

Blair Thompson, Togo

Blair Thompson had planned on joining the Peace Corps since high school and applied during her senior year at UNC Chapel Hill, where she studied environmental science and geography. She soon learned she was assigned to Togo, a small country located next to Ghana on the west coast of Africa, where she worked alongside micro businesses like rabbit raisers and farmers. A majority of her time was spent with “Club des Mères,” a club of mothers that met weekly to work on agricultural activities in order to raise money to send their children to school and combat income inequality.

“In Togo, I gained exposure to basic business concepts like marketing and bookkeeping for small businesses,” Thompson said. “Everything I learned, I learned by experience. Now I’m learning the terminology and scaling my knowledge up to be successful in corporate America.”

Thompson found the School’s Master’s in Management program to be the best fit because of the academically challenging, yet comparably short length of the program. She applied from Togo, with limited wifi, and has no regrets.

“I would recommend the program to people coming out of school or coming from an abroad program looking to round out their undergraduate experience,” Thompson said. “I have loved the faculty and seeing how passionate they are about what they’re teaching.”