Matteo Ricci graduate unexpectedly discovered a new passion while studying abroad
Early last year, Kimberly Whalen landed a teaching internship in Zambia, Southern Africa, for her senior teaching practicum at Matteo Ricci College. In many ways her role at Chikuni Girls School in Zambia's Southern Province was the realization of a dream held since Whalen was young: to teach.
The opportunity to apply the knowledge gained in the college's Humanities for Teaching program in a real world setting in a school a world away-far from this corner of the world and the Bellevue, Wash. home she hails from-has proven life changing not only for Whalen but also for the people who live in the village in this rural area.
Although she had her sights set on teaching, she never imagined it would be at an international level.
"When I came to Seattle University as a freshman, I was never planning to study abroad," she says.
But by her junior year, she was getting an urge to explore what existed outside of the campus borders.
"I went to [Dean] Jodi Kelly and said, 'I think I want to study abroad. And Africa seemed pretty cool. It was never something I planned," Whalen says. "The things that are most scary can be the most life changing."
At the school, located on a Jesuit mission, Whalen was tasked with teaching one class period a day. This left her with some time on her hands. One day she got to talking with a priest from the local parish, inquiring about any projects he needed help with and offering her assistance He mentioned a grant he was writing to gain financial support for Chikuni Radio, the community radio station that is the main medium for disseminating news, school lessons and reminders for people living with HIV/AIDS to take their medications. The station serves Chikuni Parish, an area of about 10,000 square kilometers, and operates on an analog broadcasting system. The grant would fund the purchase of new equipment to upgrade to digital, which would vastly improve the clarity and strength of the broadcast signal. The grant was especially critical because ZICTA, the national regulatory organization, mandated a switch to digital broadcasting. Without the new equipment, Chikuni Radio would have to stop broadcasting, Whalen explains, which would be devastating for the community.
Whalen, who as an undergraduate worked in SU's Writing Center, put her skills to use in drafting the grant proposal. And her efforts paid off in a big way. This past July, she learned that the station was awarded the grant, totaling nearly $125,000 USD, providing the necessary funding to buy the equipment and train the DJs and technicians on how to use it.
"It was so exciting to learn we got the grant," says Whalen. "It was rewarding to be able to apply my writing skills to a project like this and have a successful outcome."
Whalen's connection to Zambia didn't end with her teaching and grant writing efforts. Over the summer she was in Zambia for 10 days and in October, went back to start a year-long job as assistant director of Home Based Care, which tackles issues that people living with HIV/AIDS face. As part of her job she will also oversee Taonga, a program that provides free elementary schooling to marginalized youth through lessons broadcast over the radio. In this new position, Whalen is responsible for evaluating and monitoring the various programs, writing grants and developing new programs.
Whalen credits SU, especially her Matteo Ricci College education, for solidifying her career path.
"My education has changed who I am as a person," she says. "… It has been more than memorizing facts and refining skills; it has been discovering who I am as a person and becoming more conscious of who I want to be."