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When Barbara Lenkerd graduated from Emory with a degree in political science, she immediately entered the Peace Corps and was assigned to Ethiopia.
BARBARA LENKERD '65C
Pursuing social change
When Barbara Lenkerd '65C graduated from Emory with a degree in political science, she immediately entered the Peace Corps. She was assigned to Ethiopia, where she taught high-school English in the midst of what she describes as tremendous social change.
"The education system in Ethiopia was expanding rapidly," she says. "A lot of my students came from small villages where the village priests were still teaching that the world was flat. That was the level of change taking place. And because the populations who spoke these students' native languages were so small, they had to learn an international language in order to get a real education and relate to the rest of the world."
Lenkerd returned home in 1967 to a nation torn apart by social upheaval of a dramatically different kind. "There were [race] riots in Washington, D.C., and I lived right on the edge of where the riots were," she says. "U.S. Army tanks occupied downtown Washington. You'd walk on the streets and there would be soldiers with bayonets. It was totally different from anything I'd ever experienced."
Lenkerd's contrasting experiences of social transformation in Africa and what she found in America on her return coalesced into an intellectual and vocational pursuit. "I got very interested in the whole process of social change," she says.
After doing graduate work at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, Lenkerd eventually earned her doctoral degree in anthropology from Catholic University in 1994. Since then, she has studied a range of social, cultural, and organizational changes both in the United States and in developing regions such as Africa, Latin America, and the Philippines.
Now a senior research associate with the Project for Technology, Work, and Character in Washington, Lenkerd is engaged in a study focusing on the rapidly changing health-care industry. "The profit-making organizations have come in so fast that doctors are still reeling from all the change, and they really need to figure out how to organize themselves in new ways," she says.
"The Peace Corps did have a great deal of influence on my career because I got interested in these issues. It was quite new, and to have the opportunity to live for two years overseas was kind of incredible at the time. But I also thought of it as a continuation of my liberal education in a way that would allow me to make a contribution."--A.O.A.