Peace Corps director’s Houston visit spotlights longstanding relationship with Rice

Director of the Peace Corps Jody Olsen was in Houston last week for a conference and stopped by three local universities, including the University of Houston and Texas Southern University. Her final stop was at Rice University Oct. 9 to share stories of Rice alumni and staff who have served in the global volunteer organization.

Director of the Peace Corps Jody Olsen visited with many returned Peace Corps volunteers in the Rice community during her trip to campus last week, including Shawn Regan, assistant director of programs and partnerships for the CCL. (Photo by Jeff Fitlow)

Director of the Peace Corps Jody Olsen visited with many returned Peace Corps volunteers in the Rice community during her trip to campus last week, including Shawn Regan, assistant director of programs and partnerships for the CCL. (Photo by Jeff Fitlow)

Rice has maintained a strong relationship with the Peace Corps since its founding in 1961. Over 250 Rice alumni have served in that time — including six serving right now.

Kimberly Rightor ’16 is one of those alumni. She is currently serving as a youth development volunteer in Morocco, teaching English and leading a fitness class for women and girls. When she’s not leading ladies’ hiking trips, she’s working toward building a library and multimedia center with a group of teachers from the local high school.

Rightor, who graduated with a political science degree and a concentration in Poverty, Justice and Human Capabilities, credits everything she learned during her undergraduate years with paving the path to her work in Morocco.

It all started, she said, with a class on gender and politics in the Middle East with former lecturer Marwa Shalaby.

From there, Rightor went on to win a Baker Institute for Public Policy research grant in 2015 to study female-only gyms and the promotion of physical activity in Jordan, and wrote the foreword to the institute’s winter 2015 issue of The Journal of Women and Human Rights in the Middle East.

“If I had not attended Rice University, I doubt I would be in the Peace Corps,” Rightor said.

While at Rice, Olsen also visited with departments at Rice that provide experiences that are natural extensions into the Peace Corps, including Rice 360°, the Center for Career Development, the Center for Languages and Intercultural Communications, Study Abroad, the Baker Institute and the Center for Civic Leadership (CCL), said Shawn Reagan, assistant director of programs and partnerships for the CCL and a former Peace Corps volunteer.

Pamela Lizette Cruz, at left, is the research analyst for the Baker Institute Center for the United States and Mexico. She is also a returned Peace Corps volunteer who served in Mali. (Photo by Jeff Fitlow)

Pamela Lizette Cruz, at left, is the research analyst for the Baker Institute Center for the United States and Mexico. She is also a returned Peace Corps volunteer who served in Mali. (Photo by Jeff Fitlow)

Reagan served as a secondary English teacher in a rural community school in Malawi before moving into teacher training in the national teachers’ college his second year. He also spent time with multiple camps focused on preparation for secondary school exams and developing a girls’ empowerment camp. It was work, he said, that’s had a tremendous impact on his job at Rice.

“Since I’ve returned from Malawi I’ve focused my professional career on empowering others to create the changes they want to see in the world,” Reagan said.

“A quick and easy way to look at my time in the Peace Corps would be to say that I joined to try to ‘save the world,’ whatever that means,” he said. “Through trying to do that, I learned patience, humility, compassion and the importance of working with others instead of merely for them. The world is a much more complex place than I imagined, but it’s also kinder, more hopeful and less unfamiliar than most people think it is — at least to me.”

About Katharine Shilcutt

Katharine Shilcutt is a media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.