Returned Peace Corps Volunteers and UTEP
Karla Yvette Sierra was born and raised in El Paso, Texas to Mexican-American parents. Her maternal and paternal grandparents migrated from Mexico in search for a prosperous life for all of their children.
Karla graduated from Colorado Christian University in Denver, Colorado with a Bachelor’s in Business Administration and a minor in Computer Information Systems. During her undergraduate studies, Karla was elected by her peers and professors to serve as the Chi Beta Sigma president, the university’s business society. She was also appointed to serve as the student body government’s secretary for a two-year term. Karla volunteered her time as a youth counselor in inner city Denver with Westside Ministries during her undergraduate studies. She completed her Master’s Degree in Business Administration at the University of Texas in El Paso.
Shortly upon graduation, she began her professional career in several management positions. One of which, led her to become the circulation department’s promotion manager for Media News Group’s El Paso Times Newspaper. She was later promoted to The Gazette in Colorado where she partnered with the Denver Broncos to implement charitable fundraising activities for Colorado Springs and its surrounding communities.
Karla’s altruistic nature inspired her to apply and later be accepted into the United States Peace Corps, where she served and completed a three-year commitment as a community economic development consultant in Panama. Karla created partnerships with agencies such as the Ministry of Education in Panama and the United Nation’s Development Programme in efforts to reduce poverty, increase awareness of HIV and AIDS and assist in the implementation of sustainable projects, which would benefit her Panamanian counterparts. Her Peace Corps experience with the Hispanic community led her to LIBRE upon her return to the United States. Karla now serves her community of El Paso as the Texas Senior Field Director for The LIBRE Initiative.
Donna Ekal, Ph.D.
Donna Ekal, Ph.D. can’t remember where she had heard about it, or even what struck her, but from the very beginning she knew the Peace Corps was right for her. Dr. Ekal joined the Peace Corps in 1983, after receiving her undergraduate degree from the University of Minnesota.
“It’s not what you do, it’s what you do next,” Dr. Ekal said.
She entered Trang, Thailand as an agronomist. Her work assignments included drying and storing grain products, vaccinating chickens, and grafting fruit trees. Dr. Ekal was always fascinated with figuring out the educational moment.
“There I was teaching them what they didn’t know and they were teaching me what I didn’t know, and we were both different and better for it,” Dr. Ekal said.
One of the many moments of service that changed Dr. Ekal’s view of the world came on the first day of being left with her host family. With only 100 words of Thai, Dr. Ekal managed to settle in and sleep through a down-poor of rain that lasted the entire night. Upon waking the next morning Dr. Ekal found every host family member, even grandparents, waiting in the house.
Dr. Ekal learned that the deluge she slept through was actually the first rain of the season. This is the time in Thailand when all the frogs come out. The family had spent the night hunting the frogs for their meat. They were happy to be able to give their honored guest meat on her first morning. There was just one problem, she had never eaten frog. But there it was- they had saved the biggest frog just for her. Dr. Ekal decided to eat the frog and began the transformation from her teenage years.
The memory of how quickly word got out about her presence has stayed with Dr. Ekal. She remembers how some had ventured to touch white skin that they had never seen before. No thanks to increasing American communication around the world, many had gotten the impression that Americans were all-knowing. One desperate woman carried her dying baby to Dr. Ekal in the hope that she might heal the child. Dr. Ekal could not give the woman the help that she wanted.
“I don’t know how far she walked…yeah I did stuff. I vaccinated a thousand chickens… and grafting fruit trees...that’s not what made a difference,” Dr. Ekal said.
However difficult it was at times, Dr. Ekal says these were the types of moments that made a difference in her personal and professional transformation. She was face-to-face with hopelessness and learned how to grow. Following her service, Dr. Ekal went on to Cornell University because of its substantial Returned Peace Corps Volunteer population.
“I wanted to be around other people who got what I went through,” Ekal said.
Dr. Ekal applied for a job on a U.S.A.I.D grant with the University of Illinois at Egerton University in Nijoro, Kenya. She was offered the position because she was a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer and had proven herself in a challenging international setting. After meeting her future husband in Kenya and achieving two graduate degrees from Cornell University, Donna eventually found her way to El Paso.
Dr. Ekal served as Associate Provost in the Office for Undergraduate Studies (OUS) and, later, the Associate Dean of the Graduate School at the University of Texas at El Paso before leaving the institution in 2018.
Gary Frankwick, Ph.D.
Gary Frankwick volunteered with the Peace Corps in The Philippines from 1977 to1979. During this time, he worked with the Central Bank of the Philippines as a small business advisor. From 1980 to 1981, Dr. Frankwick trained Peace Corps volunteers to work with government agencies of The Philippines. Following his service, Dr. Frankwick went on to achieve his Ph.D. from Arizona State University, publish his research in multiple journals and present his papers at the AMA, PDMA and AMS conferences among others. Dr. Frankwick is currently the Marcus Jonathan Hunt Chair in International Business, Associate Dean for Faculty Development and Professor of Marketing at the University of Texas at El Paso.
“My Peace Corps experience made me aware of, and appreciate, the many differences and similarities of various peoples of the world. In general most people have the same dream of a family, home, and living in peace. I discovered the way to accomplish this is through education. Everyone needs to have a skill that they can contribute to the well being of their society. If they have this, society will provide them with income to support their family in peace.”
Dr. Frankwick’s office is located in the Marketing and Management Department in the College of Business Administration 102. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
Jon Amastae, Ph.D.
I served in the Eastern Caribbean on the island of Dominica, from 1968 to 1970. I was in the group identified as EC 4, which was the fourth group to be assigned to the arc of small islands at the eastern reaches of the Caribbean (sometimes called the Lesser Antilles, or less formally the West Indies), though I was in the second group assigned to Dominica. Measuring 28mi by 14, with a population of approximately 78,000, the island featured stunning natural beauty and significant infrastructure and social need. An interesting history of pre-Columbian culture, "discovery" by Columbus, and later colonization by both the French and English left a legacy of cultural and linguistic diversity. Because the island was a former British colony, then in an intermediate status of "Associated State", English was the official language.
Most of the people, however, spoke patois, a French creole language similar to the one spoken in Haiti and other former French colonies. Our training program included language instruction, organized by the linguistics faculty at the University of the West Indies in St. Augustine, Trinidad (also the location of our training program). That experience didn't by itself turn me into a linguist. I didn't return to the US with the goal of graduate study in linguistics. I have returned to Dominica both to work in a Peace Corps training program and to conduct linguistic fieldwork. Peace Corps assignments are created at the request of the host country according to local need and priority. EC 4 was primarily an education group. However, assignments are notoriously flexible, and volunteers typically end up doing many things. My initial assignment was to teach Spanish (a glance at the map will show that the islands are very close to South America, and Dominica wanted to increase those connections). However, I also soon ended up working in a housing project teaching plumbing (that skill by virtue of considerable experience working in housing construction during summers). But what was the experience really like? Almost any description you can come up with: travel/adventure, eye-opening/mind-expanding, exhilarating, fascinating, social, lonely, frightening, disturbing, difficult, frustrating, and on and on. Most, if not all, Volunteers would say that besides the idealism of service to others, we all probably got more than we gave. We learned new histories, politics, cultures, skills, and even more about ourselves. That was true forty years ago, and from the blogs I've read recently, it is just as true now. I have maintained contacts with Dominicans there and abroad, and while the housing project was washed away in a hurricane, less tangible but more important effects remain. Former students are school principals, national team coaches, journalists, builders, and the like. The Peace Corps has been pulled out and put back in many countries. It says something that the most recent group in the Eastern Caribbean region is EC 85. And volunteers are never the same after the experience.
Dr. Amastae is currently a Professor of Languages and Linguistics at UTEP. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kathleen (Kathy) Staudt, Ph.D.
After inspiration from President Kennedy, (the "ask not..." sentence), I served in the Peace Corps/Philippines from 1966 to 1968. At the time, it was the country with the second-largest number of Peace Corps Volunteers. I worked in the regional Peace Corps office, and I co-taught "modern math" to third and fourth graders in Baguio Central School. I was fortunate to be assigned to a beautiful, mountainous region in Northern Luzon, the largest of the 7,000 islands in the Philippines. The Peace Corps internationalized my life, increased cross-cultural sensitivity, and deepened empathy as a personal characteristic. I became very interested in international development policies and U.S. historic and contemporary relations with other countries.
Peace Corps stimulated my desire to specialize in development policies and comparative politics in political science at the University of Wisconsin where I earned my Ph.D. To research and write my dissertation, "Agricultural Policy, Political Power, and Women Farmers in Western Kenya," I traveled to Kenya, learned some Swahili in preparation for that work, and lived there for a year, traveling to Tanzania, Malawi, Botswana, and Ghana on the way home. In 1977, UTEP's political science faculty announced a position in "third world politics" and"women and politics." I applied for that position, along with 250 others, and fortunately I was hired and now live in an international environment where I can research 'comparative politics' at home. I have published 17 books and over 100 academic articles and chapters in books. I think/hope that my field research experiences outside the U.S have enhanced my teaching for the border community. I continue to be committed to not only service, but also (and especially) social justice actions in my community at the U.S. - Mexico borderlands.
Kathy has recently retired from her position at UTEP but can be reached at email@example.com.
Arturo Pacheco, Ph.D.
Arturo Pacheco served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in a village in southern Thailand from 1965 to 1967, where he taught English as a second language to middle school students and served as the coach of the basketball team. After serving in the Peace Corps, Pacheco returned to the U.S. where he obtained a master's degree from San Francisco State University and a Ph.D. from Stanford. He has been teaching ever since, for 45 years, and has served as a faculty member and administrator at Stanford, the University of California, and UTEP. He has recently retired as the El Paso Electric Professor of Educational Research and the Director of the Center for Research in Educational Reform.
Mali, West Africa
Pamela was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mali, West Africa, serving as a Water Sanitation Extension Agent. Throughout her service, Pamela spent most of her time working with her community in the construction of top-well repairs, wash areas, latrines, and soak pits. Pamela was also involved in the Peace Corps Food Security Taskforce, attending food security events and trainings. She served as Malaria Regional Coordinator, promoting, monitoring and documenting malaria activities in her region to help the Stomp Out Malaria in Africa Initiative. Pamela Cruz was a graduate student in Political Science at UTEP.
She worked as a Research Assistant on an international project analyzing the transformations of cross-border governance in North America and Europe.
“Peace Corps impacted me in every way possible. It challenged me every day, pushed me to grow, and fall in love with a country and culture I otherwise would have never had a chance to know.” – Pamela.
William Mackay, Ph.D.
Service in the Peace Corps completely changed my life. I had a position in a university in México before I had completed my doctorate and was working in México before I graduated. This would not have been possible without being fluent in Spanish. I have published several books and scientific articles in Spanish and Portuguese. I married my soul mate and best friend, a Colombian national, and am considered an integral part of “our” family. We have raised a family of bilingual children who are very connected to Colombia and to our relatives.
I have returned to Colombia more than 20 times and have seen nearly all of the country, and have done research in nearly all of the Latin American countries. My closest friends live in several of these countries. I became completely integrated into the Hispanic culture, and although I am not ethnically Hispanic, I feel more kinship with Hispanics than with any other group of people. When I enter México or Colombia, I feel I am going home. This is a deeply satisfying and emotional feeling. I also greatly value my experience because I have developed the confidence to learn other languages and to immerse myself into other cultures and continue to enjoy traveling and cultural exchange. Bill Mackay was a Peace Corps volunteer in Neiva, Colombia from 1972 - 1976. During the first tour he worked in disease control in beef cattle, vaccinating animals, taking blood samples, neutering animals and in general working as a veterinarian. During this time he also worked as a coach, lower grades teacher, reconstructed a small medical clinic and helped built a rural school. He also drilled several wells by hand. He published 3 scientific papers during this time.
The second tour was in environmental education and reforestation using native trees. He taught high school courses in environmental sciences, soils and reforestation in several rural schools and wrote 3 books on environmental sciences and reforestation during the second tour. He published a weekly column on ecology and environmental sciences in the local paper.
Bill is a retired Professor from the Biology Department at UTEP. He discussed his Peace Corps experience with his classes and helped several students enter the Peace Corps. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org