Peace Corps volunteer receives fellowship to study at UH Law School

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Beverly Creamer, (808) 389-5736
Media Consultant, William S. Richardson School of Law
Posted: Oct 7, 2015

Grace Magruder in Togo.
Grace Magruder in Togo.

A former U.S. Interior and State Department intern, who spent two years in two African nations during her Peace Corps service from 2011-2013, has been awarded a prestigious Peace Corps Coverdell Fellowship to study law on the UH Mānoa campus.

Grace Magruder ’17 will receive a $3,000 annual grant to study at the William S. Richardson School of Law. This new partnership is the first between a university in Hawai‘i and the Peace Corps, and is one of only a handful of law-related Coverdell Fellowships in the United States.

As a Small Business Volunteer, Magruder sought to promote cultural exchange through food security and ecotourism projects on the island nation of Cape Verde, off the West African coast. In the second year, she served in the nation of Togo, where she worked with a cooperative of local artisans, including an organic coffee farmer and fabric/clothing designer helping to strengthen quality control, design and marketing of their unique products to local and international consumers.

Magruder has long been fascinated by the potential for culture as a way to empower economic development of communities. She had originally intended to come to the University of Hawai‘i in 2006 as an Ethnobotany major, but she chose to stay closer to home and ended up at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

At the time she was researching the noni fruit, which had become a commodity crop in the Pacific. Fascinated by the broader economic, social and cultural implications of niche product markets, she switched her major from botany to political science during her sophomore year.

“My interest in the Pacific began after studying ethnobotany in high school and how niche products like the noni fruit can help build economic capacity and strengthen cultural exchange,” said Magruder. “But it was the Peace Corps that opened my eyes to the broader community of small-island developing states across the Pacific, Caribbean and Africa and the similar challenges that they all face, especially today in light of globalization and the effects of climate change.”

Magruder approached the Richardson Law School about partnering with the Peace Corps during her second year of service. “I had always hoped to eventually attend the University of Hawai‘i, so I reached out to the Law School’s admissions director, Elisabeth Steele Hutchison, who suggested we meet over Skype.  The whole idea of Coverdell at the University of Hawai‘i started in our Peace Corps bureau in Togo. Through the efforts of Elisabeth, Dean Soifer, and Minara Mordecai, the Law School took this idea and ran with it. A year later, when I finally submitted my application, Elisabeth immediately called to let me know they had just gotten approval for the program.”

Magruder moved half-way around the world for a second time to join the Law School’s 2014 entering class.  She now attends school part-time while working as the Peace Corps Recruiter for UH Mānoa.  In this role, she intends to create more educational partnerships between the Peace Corps and Hawai‘i, a state that already has a proud legacy as a former Peace Corps training site and home to many returned Peace Corps volunteers.

With a joint law degree and MA in Pacific Island Studies, Magruder hopes eventually to return home to Washington, D.C., so that she can help bring greater attention to Oceania and its people.

Said Magruder, “The Pacific will be of growing importance to U.S. foreign policy in the coming years and I feel a pull to go back to my own community and educate our government officials about the importance of the Pacific and the long legacy of U.S. foreign policy decisions there – whether it is military build-up on Guam, sea level rise in Kiribati, or the Compact of Free Association with the people of Palau, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands.”

She added, “I am particularly interested in cultural preservation and sustainability of these island states so the idea of working with UNESCO on intangible property rights or food sovereignty really excites me.”

Said Law School Dean Avi Soifer, “We are grateful to Grace and very enthusiastic about the Coverdell Fellowship, which will continue to bring us top-notch students like her who will bring their fresh ideas to our community.  Their global experience combined with local commitment neatly reinforces core values of our Law School.”

The Coverdell Fellowship is one of several opportunities available for returning Peace Corps volunteers, with more than 90 university partners across the country now, including Hawai‘i, Alaska and the District of Columbia.

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