Cross-cultural background prepares graduate for Peace Corps
Baldwin City, Kan. — When Sam Beecher arrived on the Baldwin City campus in 2009, he was eager to play wide receiver for the Baker University football team. Before this weekend's commencement ceremonies at the Collins Center, the sociology major from Baldwin City reflected on how the College of Arts and Sciences transformed him for his two-year Peace Corps assignment in Africa.
"Joining the Peace Corps has been a lifelong goal," said Beecher, who is graduating early after attending classes for 3 ½ years. "My mom works for the United Way and introduced me to volunteering, the importance of community, and opportunities like the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps. I had idealized and romanticized about what the opportunity would be like. My different experiences at Baker attracted me more and more to join the Peace Corps."
Like Baker, the Peace Corps strongly believes international opportunities and cross-cultural understanding are attributes highly regarded in today's global economy. Known for his environmental initiatives and efforts to lead Baker Farm Hands on the Baldwin City campus, Beecher will work with the agriculture and forestry program in Zambia.
"I am so blessed with the assignment because it matches me with my interests," said Beecher, who will be provided a bicycle to visit small rural villages in a 12- to 18-mile radius. "I will get to implement sustainable farming techniques. My job will be to encourage farmers to plant perennial trees and shrubs that will provide not only fruit but help with soil fertility, structure, stop soil erosion and increase food security."
Beecher plans to report to Zambia in February and return to the United States in May 2015. His academic journey and interaction with faculty helped prepare him for the Peace Corps.
"I enjoyed the relationships I built as academics became more interesting to me," Beecher said. "Professors Dr. (Timothy) Buzzell, Dr. (Jake) Bucher and former professor Dr. (Wendi) Born really influenced me, encouraged me and made me feel I was going to be successful."
As a freshman, Beecher worked at the Collins Library and had daily access to inspiring books. He became engrossed in the resources in this academic environment and they piqued his interests.
"I stumbled on a lot of interesting books that shaped my life and influenced me to start practicing yoga, become interested in cultures and farming," he said. "I have integrated that into my Baker experience through internships and traveling abroad."
Beecher studied his sophomore year in New Zealand, where he joined Students for Environment Action and interacted with farmers during his daily walks by a farmers' market. He later helped with a nonprofit community garden in Arizona, seeing firsthand the benefits of 10,000 pounds of fresh produce being donated to local residents. Before his senior year Beecher participated in a summer internship at SongCroft Self-Sufficiency School, a small-business and homestead outside of Seattle.
"The job I held as a farm hand the summer after I returned form New Zealand influenced me to start the Baker Farm Hands," he said.
The Baker Farm Hands have accomplished a lot in a short time, including the organization of volunteer efforts on 10 farms in the area, bringing guest speakers to campus and providing a virtual farm tour and local-food dinner.
"We recently purchased 10 apple trees to be placed on campus," Beecher proudly noted. "Three to four years from now the students will have trees to pick fruit from because of our group's sustainability efforts."
Before heading to the Peace Corps, Beecher plans to work at Midnight Farm's therapeutic riding programs north of Baldwin and sit in on a couple of classes at Baker. After returning from the Peace Corps in a couple of years, he figures to attend graduate school, focusing on the environment, sociology and public administration in rural development.
"I hope to thread agriculture and education," he said. "The Peace Corps should provide a foundation for those studies."