Student Spotlight: Ashley Lenihan
Major: General Coursework
When Ashely Lenihan signed up for "Introduction to International Relations" at College of DuPage, she had no idea what would happen next.
"Kim Turner was a gem of a professor," Lenihan said. "I appreciated how she took the time to talk to me individually about how I was handling the course material and then provided opportunities that challenged me. Knowing my vague plans for a career, Kim Turner helped enlighten me to the different career avenues that my interest in international relations could take."
One of these avenues was the Peace Corps. And through Turner, Lenihan met the diplomat-in-residence who represented the Foreign Services of the Department of State in Chicago.
"During a meeting with him, he explained that his experience in the Peace Corps helped to prepare him for the Foreign Services," she said. "Intrigued, I researched more about the Peace Corps and quickly decided it was an excellent opportunity to pursue."
Lenihan was ready to take the next step. She was taking courses at COD to either supplement her studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign or to pursue her own interests and personal development, and her undergraduate major and minor are History and Political Science, respectively. Part of her undergraduate coursework included training to be a social studies teacher.
Yet part of her always hungered for some adventure.
"Teaching is a rewarding and challenging career, but my mind was constantly drawn toward places beyond Illinois and the United States," she said. "When I learned that the Peace Corps is largely made up from an English-teaching initiative, I thought it would be a great way to achieve both teaching and adventure at once.
"Furthermore, I understood that the Peace Corps would likely send me somewhere I would never have gone on my own. As a 'TEFL' (teaching English as a foreign language) volunteer, I now teach in a high school in the poorest county of Romania. I split classes with the other English teacher(s) of the school to help improve the students' skills.
"I like bringing a fresh perspective with different ideas for classroom and learning activities that benefit the faculty. In addition, I can also help local people and organizations design and implement a variety of projects based on my skills and interests. For example, most schools in Romania do not have any manner of after-school sports or clubs. I plan to initiate a drama club or school magazine.
"Also, I can work with people and organizations in the whole community to engage in self-improvement projects, such as starting a recycling program or improving the resources at the local library. One of the important aspects of these projects is that my host community be able to continue with them after my service is completed."
Lenihan will extend that service to a third year. Right now she is planning a conference for young women's leadership and empowerment in her community. After this conference, the girls will ideally be able to plan and implement their own community and school development projects, as well as pass on their new knowledge and skills to their younger peers.
Lenihan wants to pursue graduate coursework in Political Science and International Relations. Ultimately, she would like to join the U.S. Foreign Services, work at a U.S. embassy or consulate, or work with a company or organization that furthers the goals of international development and peace.
She also loves to learn. Even in the Peace Corps, she has signed up for an online college course.
"I'm not sure I'll ever be able to quit school, and my interests are so eclectic, I would hate to have to choose one over another," she said. "To that end, I knew COD could help me. I was perfectly able to pursue my intellectual development in the way I desired. COD allowed me to complete necessary requirements for my undergraduate degree as well as explore other areas I would never have been able to otherwise study, such as personal finance.
"I am a believer in the old saying 'Knowledge is power.' COD empowers people of all ages, interests and backgrounds to choose and follow their own path."
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