Alicia VerHage Awarded Rotary Scholarship to Study in South Africa
CHICAGO, IL (March 20, 2007) – After graduating from North Park in 2002 with a degree in anthropology, Alicia VerHage was, like many new graduates, not completely sure what her future would hold professionally. Little did she know that less than five years later, she would find herself not only on the brink of completing her master's degree in conflict resolution, but also the recipient of a full scholarship to pursue post-baccalaureate work in international studies at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa.
VerHage's immediate post-North Park days were filled with a variety of jobs and experiences. Her work with Peace Jam, a small organization focused on community-based conflict transformation, gave her an initial taste of the field she has come to embrace as her own – conflict transformation studies. Peace Jam led to a year of voluntary service with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in Zambia, an "amazing experience" during which VerHage had the opportunity to work with a Pan-African institution to educate adults from all over the continent in conflict transformation.
Despite her rewarding African experience, at the encouragement of her African mentor, VerHage returned to the U.S. in 2005 to gain experience and training to prepare to return. It was at this critical juncture that she points to the influence of numerous North Park professors, including Bob Hostetter, Leona Mirza, Frank Steinhart, Don Wagner, and Vern Wettersten C'60, in helping her chart her professional course.
After applying to several graduate programs where cost was a foreboding hurdle, Professor Leona Mirza volunteered to sponsor VerHage in the rigorous 18-month application process for a Rotary Foundation Ambassadorial Scholarship. In the meantime, VerHage began graduate studies at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va., transferred to University of North Carolina – Greensboro, and plans to complete a master's degree in conflict resolution in December - one month in advance of her departure for South Africa.
Since southern hemisphere schools begin their second semester in February, VerHage departs for Rhodes University in January to pursue one year of post-baccalaureate coursework in international studies through her scholarship. Combined with her master's degree, she hopes these credentials will prepare her for her ultimate goal of teaching conflict transformation at the community level.
In the words of one of VerHage's mentors and North Park professors, Don Wagner, "Alicia was one of our first students in the Conflict Transformation Program and certainly the first to go on to pursue graduate study in this field. Perhaps more important are the ways she has put classroom theory into practice during her year in Africa, which was focused on peace and conflict transformation. Alicia is in many ways the exemplary student-practitioner that we point to in terms of engaging her spirituality, study, acquiring peacemaking skills, and then the praxis of employing conflict transformation in her life and vocation. Alicia is not only preparing for a life of significance and service - she is already living it."
VerHage acknowledges that "North Park had a lot to do with supporting my desire to go abroad. Actually, there are tons of us (North Park graduates) all over… I don't think I'm special, but definitely very privileged."