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Diana Wheelen to take her skills to Ukraine
Diana Wheelen to take her skills to Ukraine
Teacher to take her skills to Ukraine
Jul 24, 2004
by Robin Heflin Correspondent
Teacher to take her skills to Ukraine panhandle pieces
By Robin Heflin
One day you may hear about Diana Wheelen walking on Mars. But first, there's the Peace Corps to experience. At a time in her life when many people would settle in and enjoy the fruits of their efforts, Wheelen is chucking it all and taking off for Ukraine.
The 45-year-old teacher quit her job with the Lakeland School District and sold her house and all her possessions.
Sitting on the floor of her empty house just days before the close of escrow, she joked, "Once you get yourself homeless and unemployed, you don't worry about much."
For Wheelen, the call to service came from a desire for adventure.
"I've done so much of what I thought I should or would do as a person, a human, an American, a woman, in this society. I grew up, graduated high school, got a job, got married, had a kid, went back to college. It was almost a checklist."
Divorced, with her 18-year-old son out of high school and in the Air Force, Wheelen realized she had choices. She considered moving to North Carolina to be near her sisters, but she realized that she would have the same kind of lifestyle there as she had here.
"I'm getting ready to turn 46. I thought, what about the other 30 years? I can get a bigger house, a bigger car, a title. It felt like more of what I had already accomplished."
Wheelen went online and did a search for teaching opportunities overseas and English as a second language.
"There was all kinds of stuff," she said. "When I signed onto the Peace Corps Web site, it clicked.
"I'm not married. My son graduated. I have a degree in education. You have to have three years experience. I've traveled all over the United States. I'm not afraid to travel. It fit exactly."
Then began the lengthy process to join the Peace Corps. First she filled out an application. The corps "nominated" her by reviewing her background and ensuring she was a good fit, and then it finally "invited" her to join.
"I had to put in my resignation at school before I received the invitation (acceptance). That was a little scary," she said.
First the Peace Corps told her she would be sent somewhere in Eastern Europe. She signed up for a Slovak language and culture class through North Idaho College Workforce Training and Community Education, thinking it would helpful.
Later, the Peace Corps told her she would go to Uzbekistan in August. Recently, because of security concerns, it changed her assignment again, this time to Ukraine. She's now supposed to leave in September.
The changes set the tone for her experience in the corps. All the Peace Corps materials stress the need for flexibility.
Wheelen has no difficulty being flexible and said her entire life has prepared her for this.
She spent four years in the Air Force herself and later moved from state to state with her then-husband, who was in the military. She graduated from the University of Idaho in 2001.
It took her 14 years, attending seven schools in five states, to get her degree. She worked in a real estate office. She taught middle school at Lakeland School District for three years, working many more years as a substitute while she got her degree.
"Funny and outgoing" is how Dustin Burtis, 15, a former student, described her. Burtis and Wheelen have kept in contact since he was in her class two years ago.
"She was really a good teacher. She improved (a student's) way of thinking."
Pandora Logsdon, one of Wheelen's sisters, predicted her sister will be a "tremendous asset" to her students, and said that the Peace Corps is a good fit for her sibling.
"She has always done everything just a little more and before everyone else," Logsdon said. "She's always had a sense of adventure ... she likes to learn."
Said friend David Carson: "She's very caring. Very giving. She puts everyone first. She's an excellent mother ... she's very special to give up two years of her life to help someone."
Though she's called by adventure, Wheelen wants to help people.
"I would like to do some good, not save the world, but I would like to know that when I look back, the world was a little better, that something moved in a positive direction, that I helped humanity."
Wheelen will spend 27 months in the Peace Corps: three months in training, then two years teaching secondary education. After her stint is up, she doesn't know what she'll do, but she's open to anything.
"My mom and I were joking about NASA. The only thing left is go to space ... I'd like to do the John Glenn thing," Wheelen said.
Jokes aside, she's serious. "I'd love to be the first woman, the first person on Mars."
Will she really try for it?
Said her sister: "I believe it."
When this story was prepared, here was the front page of PCOL magazine:
This Month's Issue: August 2004
Teresa Heinz Kerry celebrates the Peace Corps Volunteer as one of the best faces America has ever projected in a speech to the Democratic Convention. The National Review disagreed and said that Heinz's celebration of the PCV was "truly offensive." What's your opinion and who can come up with the funniest caption for our Current Events Funny?
Exclusive: Director Vasquez speaks out in an op-ed published exclusively on the web by Peace Corps Online saying the Dayton Daily News' portrayal of Peace Corps "doesn't jibe with facts."
In other news, the NPCA makes the case for improving governance and explains the challenges facing the organization, RPCV Bob Shaconis says Peace Corps has been a "sacred cow", RPCV Shaun McNally picks up support for his Aug 10 primary and has a plan to win in Connecticut, and the movie "Open Water" based on the negligent deaths of two RPCVs in Australia opens August 6. Op-ed's by RPCVs: Cops of the World is not a good goal and Peace Corps must emphasize community development.
Read the stories and leave your comments.