Second time's the charm for Coro Fellow Mary Beth Wilson
Mary Elizabeth Wilson '99 is one of just twelve people selected nationwide to participate in the Coro Midwestern Center's prestigious Fellows Program in Public Affairs. A rigorous nine-month, full-time, post-graduate fellowship, the Coro program seeks to prepare effective and ethical leaders committed to serving the public.
Wilson's appointment to this program is an accomplishment of which she can be justifiably proud-and she gets to be doubly proud because she was chosen for the program not once, but twice.
"The first time I applied, in my senior year at Kenyon, I was initially wait-listed for the program," Wilson explains. "After graduation, I signed a contract as an assistant fourth-grade teacher at North Shore Country Day School. After I had signed the contract, I was offered a place at Coro, but I had to honor my commitment to North Shore." Deferral was not an option so Wilson went through the entire application process, including an intensive all-day series of interviews, a second time. The second committee was evidently just as impressed as the first and she was selected for a position for the 2000-01 session.
That Wilson would chose to honor her contract with North Shore is typical of this young woman, whose core values reflect the goals of an organization devoted to producing ethical leadership in a variety of settings.
A double major in history and international studies, Wilson still found time to volunteer with Head Start and a local nursing home as a member of Archon Society. One semester of her junior year was spent in Argentina. "I began studying Japanese early in my Kenyon career," Wilson says, "but when it came time to go abroad during my junior year, I couldn't find a Japanese program that met my needs. So, I hauled out my high-school Spanish and went off to Argentina instead." Following graduation, she traveled the United States and then continued her international education, embarking with a friend on a several-week trip through Hong Kong, China, Tibet, Nepal, and Thailand. Confidence in her ability to deal with new situations has been a benefit at Coro.
Coro Fellows engage in field assignments and seminars, and complete both group and individual public-service projects, while working closely with people and institutions that influence life in public, private, and nonprofit sectors. Time is spent in organizations from the government, political, nonprofit, business, union and labor, and media sectors.
"Our first assignment, a group activity, involved preparing a logic study for the city of Creve Coeur, Missouri, and presenting the finished study to the City Council," says Wilson. The group also spent a week interviewing twenty to thirty people in the agriculture industry. "I spent some time on an organic farm and learned a lot about the growth of that industry," says Wilson.
After the introduction to working as a group and dealing with government officials, Wilson was sent to work with the Neighborhood Stabilization Team in St. Louis's Patch and Carondelet areas. "My project was to create a database on all the vacant buildings in those two neighborhoods. I drove through them and took photos and then gathered data about who owned the property, how long it had been vacant, and so on. This data will then be used by the team to develop a revitalization plan."
Wilson's next placement was with Missouri Progressive Voter Coalition, a nonprofit organization dedicated to election of progressive candidates. A progressive candidate is defined by the coalition as one who is pro-environment, pro-public education, pro-choice, and pro-union. "It was my first taste of politics," says Wilson, "and it captured my interest. It is something I might like to do over the longer term."
After the elections in November, Wilson then moved to Jewish Family and Child Services. This agency provides services to adults and children with severe mental illness, acting in an advocacy capacity to ensure that people are receiving appropriate benefits, food, and shelter. "I wrote a business plan for one of the programs in this agency," says Wilson. "I was given a lot of autonomy in doing that, which I like. My supervisor has been great about placing me in situations where I get to work independently."
At the time Wilson was interviewed for this story, she was working at Pasta House Company as a fund raiser. The restaurant, which is a franchise that is expanding to locations outside Missouri, has a twenty-seven-year history as a philanthropic concern, helping various children's causes and St. Jude Hospital. "Pasta House, which operates eighteen restaurants in St. Louis and plans to open new stores in Illinois, Kentucky, and Tennessee, has its own charitable foundation," Wilson explains. "They do a lot of good in the communities they serve."
Wilson is looking forward to her remaining assignments in the areas of labor and the media. Despite grueling seventy-hour weeks that leave little time for social life, the program has more than met her expectations. "I feel a tremendous sense of responsibility in this program and I enjoy the rewards that come from meeting that responsibility," she says. "I'm still an idealist, a realistic one, with high hopes of making people's lives better."
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