Change the World, Transform Yourself
All across the globe, alumni are making a difference
by Dirk Sutro

When Jason Doherty ‘98 came to USD, visions of great athletic feats and ecstatic fans danced in his head.

But long before he began his collegiate football career, Doherty had found his true calling, and it wasn’t on the gridiron.

At age 13, his family visited Tanzania. “Within 24 hours of being on the ground, I knew — even at that age — that my life would play out on that side of the world,” he says. “From then on I have been consumed with Africa. In fact I majored in international relations because I saw it as the best route back to East Africa.” In January 2009, he and his wife, Jennilyn, will open Daraja Academy, a free secondary boarding school for girls.

Doherty’s not alone. USD is renowned for creating graduates who are passionate about changing the world.

After graduating from USD, Joanna Cole ‘07 spent 10 months with Mercy Ships International providing medical care in Liberia, a country on the west coast of Africa. Living aboard her Mercy Ship, Cole shared a cabin with five others. While lightning flashed and flooding was common during the rainy season, Cole was witness to surgeries ranging from tumor removal to bone grafts.

“I think my time at USD was a large force in drawing me into volunteer work,” Cole said via e-mail. “Through the honors program, I took courses on American culture and the culture of Southeast Asia, which both expanded my world view and challenged my ethnocentricity. My time studying abroad in Cork, Ireland, and working in the Study Abroad Office also increased my desire to get out of San Diego and my comfort zone. Now that I’m home again, I hope that I’ll continue to make medical missions a priority in my life, but also be more aware of the needs within my own community.”

Michael Harris, father of Kelsey ‘10, is CEO of Faribault Mills in Minnesota, and founder of the Blanket the World organization. Faribault makes fine woolen blankets, and Harris’ goal is to distribute one million blankets to needy children.

“It is our corporate belief that every company should give back in some way to the community, the environment and/or a worldly cause,” Harris says. “We approached Feed The Children about (our company) donating a few blankets.” By the time Harris launched his effort — which aims to ultimately raise $10 million in funding — the goal had ballooned into a promise to provide a million blankets. Meanwhile, daughter Kelsey is following dad’s example. She helped organize a powder puff football challenge through her Alpha Phi sorority that raised $6,000 for Ronald McDonald House to help needy families.

Just after his graduation from USD, Doherty taught for a year at Makambako Secondary School in Tanzania. He fell in love not just with education, but with his African students’ passion for learning. While public schools are generally in short supply in the region, Doherty saw that teenage girls had an especially difficult time. When he returned to the United States in 1999 to earn his teaching credential, he met his wife, Jennilyn, and infused her with his enthusiasm for bringing education to Africa.

Nearly a decade later, the Dohertys’ Daraja Academy will open in January near Nanyuki, Kenya, roughly 200 miles north of Nairobi. The school will launch with 25 students and eventually be able to accommodate as many as 200. A modest budget goes a long way. Doherty figures Daraja can serve 100 students for the price of sending nine through the private school.

“I now understand the value of a liberal arts curriculum and plan to incorporate it into the Daraja Academy experience,” Doherty explains. “This is why USD grads are so successful once they leave campus. Rather than being specialized cogs that fit into the world like replaceable parts, they graduate as well-rounded, balanced people who are mindful of the world and how they fit into it.”