Seizing an International Opportunity

Sonja Egeland

Sonja Egeland

Sonja Egeland ’08 spent hundreds of hours on a major honors project last year seeking ways to improve the economic status of Pakistani women. Although she earned eight units, the research was more than just an academic exercise. Through Susan Penksa, a political science professor at Westmont, Sonja had met Amy Meyer ’96, who works for USAID in Pakistan. Amy asked for specific information she needed to do her job better. Analyzing data collected for the U.S. government and organizations in Pakistan, Sonja focused on six sectors of the country’s economy and submitted a formal report to USAID. “It was exciting to know that the work I did was practical and might even be used,” she says.

The research revealed that microfinance — providing women with small loans to start businesses — provided the best return on investment. Sonja needed four units of internship credit to complete her dual degrees in international relations and English at Westmont, and she looked for an organization where she could work internationally and help the poor. She found Opportunity International (OI) and arranged an internship there. Based in Chicago, OI offers microloans to people willing to work their way out of poverty by starting small businesses. But before Sonja could finish the program, OI offered her a full-time job as coordinator of international education.

“I love my work,” Sonja says. “I can’t believe how lucky I am to find this job right out of college. I connect OI supporters with impoverished entrepreneurs to broaden their perspective and create a sense of shared global responsibility.” She has taken donors to Ghana and Mexico to see OI at work; in the process, she has met a number of Westmont people involved with the organization.

“I find my liberal arts education allows me to relate to a host of different people and easily adapt to a range of different situations,” Sonja says. “The global focus of the education I received at Westmont makes communicating cross-culturally a much more natural thing than it would have been otherwise.”

Sonja attended Westmont because she wanted to be like the people she met there. “Mentors shaped my college experience,” she says. “Michele Mollkoy encouraged me to develop professionally, Susan Penksa taught me to think globally and consider the plight of women, and Paul Delaney showed me the value of listening to other cultures and people to hear what they have to say.”

Westmont also gave Sonja a deep appreciation for community, and she recognizes the importance of neighborliness in community development initiatives. Leaving college hasn’t been easy for her. “Being cut off from a body that has become so important to you is painful,” she says. “I had studied enough and was prepared to graduate, but I had to learn to function on my own without the people who had surrounded me. I keep in touch with a lot of my friends, and I’m very grateful for the Westmont network.”

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