Sustainability Scholar Heads to Senegal in Peace Corps

Though the transition from her hometown of Raleigh to studying at Davidson may not have been too drastic, Melissa Funsten '16 is about to forge a new path that will take her more than 4,000 miles and a world away from home.

Funsten, a psychology major and environmental studies minor, recently accepted an offer with the Peace Corps, and will serve as an agroforestry extension agent in Senegal as part of a two-year service commitment. Three months of job and cultural training, as well as learning the local language of Wolof, await her upon her in-country arrival in August.

In her role, Funsten will teach the local population about sustainable environmental practices, with the goal of growing food and other products for use and consumption. This role is particularly important in the region due to its lack of rainfall and scarce resources.

For Funsten, who served as president of Davidson's Student Athlete Sustainability Council and spent a summer developing programs to increase environmentally-friendly practices in the workplace as a Sustainability Scholar, this opportunity with the Peace Corps clearly fits well with her interests. Yet, one of the things she is most excited about is the chance to live and learn in an environment that is completely different from anything she knows.

"Obviously, a large part of this experience will be very different from everything I am accustomed to," she said. "In Senegal with the Peace Corps, I will be accepted into a community that I would normally never have access to, but I think Davidson's strong emphasis on community will serve me well."

During her time at Davidson, she found a strong sense of this spirit of unity as a member of the field hockey team.

"Playing field hockey here was my most favorite thing I have ever been a part of," Funsten said. "Looking back now on my time as a student athlete, I ask myself ‘How did I do that?' With such an intense commitment, student athletes are forced to learn time management, how to work toward a common goal and forsaking your own personal interests for the benefit of the team."

Following her time in Senegal, Funsten plans to attend graduate school for social work or clinical psychology. If she still feels a bit of wanderlust, she is also considering a stint with Teach Thailand Corps, teaching English in rural parts of Thailand.

Whatever her next chapter may be, Funsten, who exudes confidence, is determined to form real and meaningful relationships with those she works with and serves.

"I really value being as authentic as possible," Funsten said. "In the Peace Corps, and through the rest of my life, I hope to shed the outermost layers and identities and connect with people on much more genuine levels."


  • May 5, 2016