In October 2011, Julie Theibert completed a 27-month term of service as a United States Peace Corps volunteer in Namibia. After two years of teaching in a village, she was ready for a new challenge. But, instead of packing her bags and heading home, she signed up for an “extension year” - 13 additional months of life in a country where half the population lives below the international poverty line and HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death.
Theibert moved from the village school where she taught for two years to a rapidly expanding regional capital, Rundu. In the regional office for the Ministry of Education, she began work in special units that support students experiencing a range of educational and developmental challenges, including intellectual impairments, hearing impairment and those who are blind or have low-vision. Theibert also signed up to be a Volunteer Leader, a Peace Corps position that involves supporting other volunteers and facilitating projects.
|Julie Theibert, right, spent three years in Namibia as a Peace Corps volunteer, working alongside local educators.|
Julie Theibert’s commitment to service and hard work reflects the Peace Corps’ slogan, “the toughest job you’ll ever love.” It also typifies the type of student that the Lilly Scholar program seeks to support. This statewide scholarship program, managed in Hamilton and Marion County by Central Indiana Community Foundation (CICF), offers Theibert and other young leaders the chance to attend an Indiana college or university tuition-free and, ideally, to return that investment through service.
An Honor and A Responsibility
Each year, at high schools throughout the state, guidance counselors and school leaders nominate students for a special honor – recognition as a Lilly Scholar. This scholarship program, supported by the Lilly Endowment, recognizes students who achieve good grades, plan to attend a full-time baccalaureate program in Indiana, demonstrate leadership and promise to give back to their community. After writing essays about their lives and goals, submitting details of their college plans and being interviewed by a selection committee, a group of those impressive seniors is awarded full-tuition scholarships to their Indiana college of choice.
In 2005, Noblesville senior Julie Theibert was one of those students, winning a Hamilton County Lilly Scholarship through the Legacy Fund. With that support she attended DePauw University, where she found a community of learners and a network of supportive professors.
“The Lilly Scholarship let me go to the school that was right for me, where I got to learn from brilliant teachers,” says Theibert. “I still ask some of my DePauw professors for life advice.”
In addition to her studies focused on English Writing, with a minor in Education, Theibert ran both cross-country and track at DePauw. At first, it was a challenge to balance her almost-weekly trips for meets, challenging classes, and efforts to form strong friendships and get a good night’s sleep. But she remained focused on honoring the recognition she received.
“The scholarship let me attend a great school and be immersed in a close-knit academic community,” says Theibert. “But it also gave me the responsibility not to waste the opportunity.”
The Next Degree of Service
Julie Theibert finished her extension year in November 2012. After traveling for a few months in 2013, she plans to return to the United States and begin work on another educational effort. She wants to join an accelerated Master’s Degree program, where she can become a certified teacher and teach at an underserved school at the same time.
“My educational goals keep expanding, and I want to gain experiences in more settings,” says Theibert.
Ultimately, Theibert may end up creating her own extension years after spending some time back in the states. She has plans to return to southern Africa, to continue to work in the developing world.
“I’ve promised my friends and adopted Namibian family that I will be back,” she says. “And that’s a promise I intend to keep.”