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COVID-19 Pandemic Leads Three Peace Corps Volunteers, One Fulbright Scholar to Tulane SoPA

By Mady Duncan (

The novel coronavirus has caused major upheavals for students around the globe, but for some the pandemic has created opportunities. Four students, including three Peace Corps volunteers and a Fulbright Scholar, have joined Tulane University’s School of Professional Advancement (SoPA) by taking advantage of the school’s new 2020 Peace Corps and Fulbright Initiatives.

“We are so pleased to welcome Peace Corps Volunteers and Fulbright Scholars to SoPA’s graduate programs. They bring tremendous knowledge and passion. Students, staff and faculty alike are benefiting from having them as part of our academic community.”

Here are their stories and why they chose Tulane SoPA:

Emma Skilbred
Saint Paul, Minnesota
Peace Corps location: Senegal, West Africa
SoPA Program: Master of Public Administration

Hamline University – Bachelor of Science in public health

Emma SkilbredWhat inspired you to choose a Master of Public Administration degree from SoPA?
It was really through my role as a Health Extension Agent through Peace Corps Senegal that I realized the value of systems that work for people and how system success depends largely on community support and engagement. Before implementing a new health program, there needed to be community buy-in from religious leaders, education leaders, government leaders and community members at large. Community engagement, lobbying and project planning were all efforts that I adopted in order to implement successful and sustainable health programs. It was after the implementation of a few health programs that I started researching public administration programs and Tulane University kept coming up. Tulane University is highly recognized among the Peace Corps community and after extensive research, it felt like the school for me.  

How will an MPA help you reach your career goals?
An MPA is an opportunity to dive deeply into material and really engage with it. I hope to become a better writer, a better leader and manager through this MPA program and I plan to carry those skills into my career in city government. I also hope to gain a greater ability to process and make sense of complex information. If I’ve learned anything throughout the MPA program so far, it is that government work is almost never straightforward. Government programs that have positive impacts can also have unintended consequences. I have already seen many examples of this in my coursework and I think the MPA program will further open my eyes to the complexities of government and better prepare me for my career.  

What is a cause you are passionate about?
I am passionate about affordable housing. Minneapolis, Minnesota recently passed the 2020 housing plan that bans single family zoning, which restricted the development of multi-family housing on specific lots, disadvantaging low income people and primarily people of color. Access to affordable housing is a human right, not a privilege, and this should be reflected in housing plans and policies. While I believe Minneapolis, took one step in the right direction there are many more steps to take.  

Kasandra Schemel
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Peace Corps Location: Mozambique
SoPA Program: MPS Homeland Security Management

University of Oklahoma – Bachelor of Arts in international and area studies

Kasandra SchemelWhat inspired you to choose an MPS in Homeland Security Management from SoPA?
I chose to pursue an MPS in Homeland Security Management from SoPA over other programs because of the diversity of the program. This program has combined emergency management, intelligence, counterterrorism, cyber security and international development into one degree, so I don’t have to choose only one. What I like most about this program is professor involvement. I feel like they really are interested in the lives of their students and try to get to know us.

How will an MPS in Homeland Security Management help you reach your career goals?
Upon completion of this degree, I would like to work in the intelligence community. My dream job is to one day work as a Foreign Service Officer for USAID and this program will give me the expertise to be comfortable in a position such as that.

What is a cause you are passionate about?
I am passionate about many things, but they all seem to collide into my passion for international development and how to help countries develop fairly and safely in a modern world.

Jessica Pickering
Seattle, Washington
Peace Corps Location: Guinea, West Africa
SoPA Program: MPS Homeland Security Management

University of Washington – Bachelor of Arts in international affairs with a focus on foreign policy, diplomacy, peace and security and a minor in European affairs

Jessica PickeringWhat inspired you to choose an MPS in Homeland Security Management from SoPA?
Throughout my undergraduate studies and work experiences, I often found myself as one of the few women interested in security, which, understandably, is often a male-dominated industry. As sometimes the sole female voice, I realized that not only was my opinion different from my predominantly male, military-associated colleagues, but my voice was also valued for its diversity in perspective. I enjoy the fast-paced, analytic environment, and an MPS in Homeland Security Management from Tulane SoPA will allow me to be more competitive in a federal job market where I can showcase my expertise.

How will an MPS in Homeland Security Management help you reach your career goals?
Although I anticipate shifting passions and emerging opportunities to change them, my career goals as of late point in the direction of Department of State or Department of Defense and perhaps a career in intelligence or diplomacy.

What is a cause you are passionate about?
While working in Guinea, and in particular with the young women in my community, I became acutely aware of the importance of encouraging and empowering females to continue their education beyond secondary school. I was fortunate to teach in class and privately tutor many bright young students, as well as coach and run the new girls' volleyball program at my school. Through living, working and playing alongside these talented members of my community, I became a staunch advocate of equal opportunities for all of my students, despite traditional roles. Gender equity is not only a necessity of human rights, but also, for example, a necessity for economic growth and workforce expansion, which is vital in a developing country such as Guinea. Through Peace Corps-led trainings on gender and development, I was able to further champion the cause within my school in order to make success in education more accessible to our community's young women.

Bridget Roche
Libertyville, Illinois
Fulbright Scholar Location: Bogota, Colombia
SoPA Program: Master of Public Administration

Saint Olaf College – Bachelor of Arts in Spanish, English as an additional language K-12 education and linguistics

Bridget RocheWhat inspired you to choose a Master of Public Administration degree from SoPA?
I was specifically drawn to the SoPA Master of Public Administration program because of its emphatic commitment to producing progressive, long-lasting contributions to society. Tulane University provides an atmosphere for professors and classmates, coming from a wide range of fields and experiences, to build each other up and co-construct knowledge surrounding our nation’s most relevant topics. As a Fulbright Scholar, I learned how to be diplomatic in the face of opposing values, and how to create structure where none exists. We’re living in an era where our most relied-on structures no longer serve us or are being called into question. I knew that a professional degree in public administration was the next step towards reimagining and creating new structures that represent, protect, and value all voices and perspectives in our communities.

How will an MPA help you reach your career goals?
The MPA program will enable me to combine my passion for cross-cultural education with my interest in policy development. As an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher, I witnessed how current policies do and do not support students in their pursuit of sustainable education and equal opportunities. Advanced study in public policy and administration will provide me with the knowledge of educational policy and the administrative skills to create long-lasting contributions to the field. I have been at the ground level of working with students and observing how policies shape their access to education. I seek to become a voice and advocate for my students and to create more equitable education policies.

What is a cause you are passionate about?
I am very passionate about creating a more accessible, equitable education system in our country, specifically with our immigrant populations. The United States has a checkered history in merging multilingual learners into an English-speaking education system. Yet, multilingual identities significantly influence our national character and culture. I believe in the value of bilingual education. Augmenting my teaching experience with administrative skills in revenue and resource development, program evaluation, and leadership is a crucial step in achieving my goal of implementing long-lasting change in multilingual communities. The opportunity to champion legislation supporting a more equitable and inclusive education system would be an honor and personally rewarding experience.

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