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Gabrielle Gueye is on a path with a purpose. From AmeriCorps to the Peace Corps to Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University, each experience has paved the way for the next.
“Each one felt like a community,” she said. “And I’ve found that to be a common theme wherever I go.”
Gueye grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and attended a performing arts school there. After high school, she was accepted into West Point but after a couple of years decided it wasn’t the right path for her. Gueye headed home to Ohio to complete her undergraduate studies at Kent State University.
“I had grown very interested in volunteering, so I applied to the Peace Corps. During the application process, I decided to get some volunteer experience, so I joined AmeriCorps and served in the Ohio Reading Corps. It was really fun — I was a literacy coach for kids from kindergarten through 3rd grade.”
With AmeriCorps experience under her belt, Gueye began her Peace Corps service. She was sent to Ethiopia, where she was an English Language Improvement Advisor. “As a teacher-trainer, I was assigned to a cluster of schools where I would train primary school teachers in things like classroom management and lesson planning. I also taught grammar to 8th graders after school and ran gender clubs in a couple of schools. So the entire experience was a lot of fun.”
Not long after returning from Ethiopia, Gueye headed to Thunderbird. She was heartened “just to see the closeness of the students and the faculty — everyone knows everyone,” she said. “It’s a family environment, and that’s what I had a taste of in the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps.”
Thunderbird on the radar
Even before the Peace Corps, Gueye had her eye on Thunderbird. “I was interested in international travel and in being philanthropic — I wanted to do something that would impact people around the world,” she said. “So I was looking for a master’s program that would propel me in that direction.”
Her research led to Thunderbird. “I started reading more about it. The website had profiles about students from around the world, their experiences with TEM Labs and travels. I remember thinking, ‘Wow, that’s fascinating, I’d love to go to a school where could travel the world and have experiences related to business.’”
Gueye looked at other business schools, but Thunderbird won her over. “A big draw was the student body — the fact that Thunderbird had so many international students,” she said.
That international focus struck a personal chord for Gueye, whose father is from Senegal. “Since I was born, I’ve always been around different cultures. I really like being around different people. So that’s probably the biggest draw at Thunderbird – the people.”
Confident that Thunderbird was the right fit, Gueye built a relationship with a recruiter. “I did this for a couple of years, just asking questions and staying in contact. And then I finally thought, ‘You know what, let’s go for it.’ While I was in Ethiopia, I did my application interviews so I was set up to go straight to Thunderbird afterwards.”
‘You have to listen’
Now that she’s at Thunderbird, Gueye sees the connections between all her experiences. “These lessons all kind of mesh into each other. In AmeriCorps, I was working with children. Yes, they’re super cute, but they’re also very smart and intuitive. The AmeriCorps experience got me feeling hopeful about the younger generation,” she says.
“Peace Corps was a different animal. I was in another country and working with adults. It taught me a lot about going outside of your comfort zone and really trying to be part of a community and understand the people and their needs. Adaptation and tolerance were the biggest lessons I learned there.
“It taught me how to listen,” she said. “You can’t just go into a country and say, ‘This is what you need,’ and expect them to roll with it. You have to listen.
“And all of this was only enhanced by the Thunderbird experience,” she said. “While Peace Corps was from just one cultural perspective, Thunderbird is from many. And not just the student body. The professors have so much experience outside of academia, and that’s reflected in the classroom. They share situations they’ve faced in different parts of the world, and they tie it into the lesson.”
As an example, Gueye points to Assistant Professor Joshua Ault, who conducts debates in his class and gives every student a different role. “I love his style of teaching. Sometimes you have to take a role you may not agree with, but it forces you to think in other ways and put yourself in someone else’s shoes. The variety of perspectives in the classroom is one of the major positives at Thunderbird.”
“These takeaways could be applied to consulting, they could be applied to any type of work in the business world,” she said. “You have to listen.”
The path to diplomacy
As Gueye pursues her master's degree in global affairs and management, she’s counting on the program to prepare her for the next step. “Someone with my degree could do many different things. I’m interested in moving around, learning about different governments and people in different places. I’m looking at the Foreign Service and possibly diplomacy. It would align well with my experiences.”
“I especially want to go to West Africa – it’s near and dear to my heart because my dad is from Senegal — but I could go anywhere in the world,” she said. “I’m very flexible.”
Gueye is already building those diplomatic skills as an international student advisor assistant at Thunderbird. In this role, she works with and advises international students to ensure they get the appropriate authorizations to do internships and remain in the United States for work after finishing at Thunderbird.
“I get to meet people from all over, which is awesome,” she said. “I get to learn the nuances of their cultures, and that helps you act more appropriately in certain situations. It makes you a more well-rounded and cultured person. And I think it prepares you do business better.”
And if a career in diplomacy becomes a reality, Gueye knows she’s in a great position right now to build cultural knowledge.
“It’s very important in diplomacy — or any globally focused career — because there are so many different stakeholders at the table. You never know who you’ll be in negotiations with or have to compromise with,” she said.
“You’ll have mutual understanding and more patience and appreciation for other people and their thought processes. You’ll be able to make meaningful connections and pass any barrier in front of you. And that will make for better deals and more lasting relationships,” she said.
“Those are the things you put in your toolkit and take with you from Thunderbird — they are going to serve you well.”
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