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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Peace Corps finally a reality for ’Deis alumna

Published: January 20, 2012
Section: News

Emily Gelb ’11 hopes to make her university proud. After four years at Brandeis, she shipped out Jan. 19 with the Peace Corps to Ecuador, where she intends to use her degree in biology and her experience overseas to “assist another community in developing sustainable solutions to the challenges that they face,” she wrote in her application to the Peace Corps.

She joins more than 9,000 people currently working around the world for the Peace Corps. Her specific mission, according to the announcement from the Peace Corps, is “to encourage conservation of natural resources and to promote environmental education and awareness.” She saw the potential for creative solutions to economic and environmental problems after studying the effects of butterfly farming in Zanzibar, Tanzania.

Her first three months will be spent with a host family in Ecuador as she absorbs the culture. Once ready, Gelb will be “sworn into service and be assigned a community,” according to a Peace Corps press release about her departure.

Gelb spent time abroad in Zanzibar during her senior year at Brandeis, as well as Honduras during high school with an internship at the Whale Shark and Oceanic Research Center. The experience abroad prompted the realization of just “how much need there is throughout the world,” she said.

Many encounters at Brandeis compelled her to join the Peace Corps, Gelb explained. “My Conservation Biology and Ecology courses with Professor Perlman and Professor Olson, and my World Music class with Professor Judy Eissenberg,” contributed significantly to her choice. Her Leonard Bernstein Scholarship, though for music, greatly increased her belief in creative solutions to concrete problems.

“I feel extremely fortunate to have been given the chance to attend a school like Brandeis, which I would not have been able to without this scholarship, so I think that Peace Corps will give me the chance to use my education to work with a possibly less fortunate community to find ways to work around the environmentally-related problems that they are facing while figuring out ways to make alternative livelihoods.

“I spent most of my time at Brandeis split between the science and music buildings,” she reminisced. “I also was involved with Mochila, an Arabic-jazz band, Salseros, and the ELL (English Language Learning) group. Being on the [Leonard Bernstein Scholarship] was definitely the most wonderful part of my college experience, since I had the opportunity to be a part of a string quartet for four years with three amazing musicians and people.

“I actually have wanted to apply to Peace Corps since the beginning of college,” she said. After studying “coastal ecology and natural resource management, and … a month doing a research project on butterfly biodiversity and the socio-economic impact of a butterfly farming project in a small village,” in Zanzibar during study abroad, she finally applied to the Peace Corps in the hopes of continuing her work.

It is not easy work. “I know that this will be an extremely challenging experience, and that I may very well gain more from my community than I will give,” she said. Nevertheless, she hopes that her work in the Peace Corps will be enlightening both personally and globally, allowing her “to open my eyes to the world,” she explained, “and to strive to make a difference in the world and contribute whenever I [have] the chance.”