Amanda Denney, COE grad, named state’s first Peace Corps recruiter

August 18, 2016


Denney pictured with two small boys in cultural dress.Amanda Denney, a 2008 graduate in Secondary English Language Arts Education, has returned to her alma mater in a unique role: she is the state’s first-ever Peace Corps campus recruiter.

After four years of teaching English at Beauregard High School, Denney wanted to see the world, but she also loved teaching. That’s when she decided to apply to the Peace Corps.

“I knew it was competitive, and that it might take a while, but this is something that really appealed to me,” Denney said. “I was accepted into the Corps, and assigned to teach English in Burkina Faso, a small country in West Africa. Burkina Faso is about the size of Colorado, and its national language is French. As is the case with almost all Peace Corps assignments, I spent my first three months in intensive language and cultural training before being assigned to a school.”

As was the case in Beauregard, Denney served as an English teacher. But that was about the only similarity.

“To say the classrooms in Burkina Faso were different from ours is an understatement,” she said. “Here, a large class size would be 30 students. I had a class of 94. Here we have textbooks, copy machines, desks, and computers. There, the teacher gets a book and a blackboard. But the spirit of the students was infectious. I loved my kids so much!”

In addition to material differences, there were cultural differences, as well. Children in Burkina Faso are taught early on to sit quietly and not ask questions.

“Being in that situation taught me to be resourceful and self-reliant,” Denney said. “You can’t make excuses. You must work with what you have. Your allegiance is to the children. Looking back, I now realize that in Beauregard I used to complain and wait passively for someone to come along and fix a problem. I’d say the Peace Corps really teaches you how to make the best of a situation and focus on priorities. That was definitely the most transformative 27 months of my life. Nothing else I’ve done is even close.”

Group of women with arms raisedLong road back home

When her service came to an end in 2014, Denney still felt the pull to work in the international arena. She found a program in Nicaragua doing ESL training for a year, where she also taught adult education on weekends and evenings. She was checking into a possible job in Abu Dhabi when she heard about the opening at Auburn.

“Working as a Peace Corps recruiter was never part of my plan, but of course I love everything about the Peace Corps and who wouldn’t jump at a chance to return to Auburn? I had already had withdrawals not being able to follow Auburn football while I was in Africa, especially during our 2013 championship season. It was weird to be in a place where no one cared about the SEC!”

Although there has never been a permanent Peace Corps recruiter in the state, Dr. Andrew Gillespie wrote a grant for Auburn, modeling our program on similar programs at the University of Georgia and the University of California at Berkley. The University of Alabama is now following suit, and will be hiring its own Peace Corps recruiter this year. Denney is housed in the Office of International Programs.

“I’m in Foy Union, just up from Panda Express,” Denney said. “I’m starting to do class talks and trying to get up with people and spread the word. Now that classes are starting up I’ll be doing career fairs, information sessions, and things like that. I’ll focus on engineering, agriculture, and Liberal Arts, but other majors as well. For example, I’ll be at the College of Ed Interview Day on October 18. There is no upper age limit, and really any major can contribute to the Peace Corps.”

Denney explained that the Peace Corps has three main goals:

  • Meeting the needs of the people of their assigned country;
  • Sharing American culture with the people served; and
  • Sharing the host country’s culture with Americans.

“Since two of the three goals are really about cultural exchange, any major could find a way to contribute to the Peace Corps,” Denney said. “In addition to being the greatest adventure of your life, the Peace Corps provides terrific work experience.”

College of Ed great asset for Denney

Denney said in addition to the English and Language Arts classes she took at Auburn, Education 3000 – Diversity of Learners and Settings – was a huge help to her.

“One of the many great things about our College is that class, and it is required of anyone who wants to be a teacher,” she said. “It truly helped me to understand and recognize that a wide variety of learners will be out there, so to me that was probably my most important class. But you also cannot be an effective teacher without the methods classes, things like pedagogy, psychology, and related classes. It all came together for me as a teacher both here in the states as well as around the world. Knowing how to build lesson plans and units was so helpful abroad. You just need to know that in many of these places there won’t be many resources so you must know how to build it yourself. I have always been thankful that I understand the cogs and wheels of a good lesson.”

It is also notable that so many of our outstanding faculty have been in the Peace Corps. These include Conner Bailey (Malaysia), Professor of Agricultural Economics; Williams Daniels (Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo), Professor of Fisheries; Patricia Duffy (Zaire), Professor of Agricultural Economics; John Jensen (Brazil), Professor Emeritus of Fisheries; Emily Nichols (the Gambia), 4H Administration and Outreach; and Mona Dominguez (Panama), Extension Service.

“I just want to invite anyone who is interested to come by and see me,” Denney said. “I’m also happy to do class or club talks. I really believe in the Peace Corps, I really believe in Auburn, so this for me is as good as it gets.”

For more information, contact Amanda Denney at peaceco@auburn.edu, and learn more at peacecorps.gov.

Large group photo from a camp