Like many college students, Jamie Bequette wasn’t quite sure where she wanted her career path to take her.
“I knew that I wanted to work with people and be outside,” the 35-year-old Missouri native said.
Bequette ultimately earned her bachelor’s degree in parks, recreation and tourism from the University of Missouri-Columbia, and eventually landed in Colorado Springs in 2011 as the supervisor of the Bear Creek Nature Center. She worked there for five years before deciding to pursue a lifelong dream of joining the Peace Corps.
“My life aligned perfectly to where I was like, ‘Yeah, this is a great time for me to do that,’” Bequette said.
Bequette spent two years in Fiji, where she worked on an agritourism farm and at a primary school helping children with their English literacy skills. Upon returning to the United States in October 2018, she stumbled upon a job opening for manager of the Colorado Springs World Affairs Council’s international visitor program.
“It was a perfect fit because I could still keep my connections to other places in the world,” Bequette said. “I really enjoyed that part of being in Peace Corps … and that’s one thing that I really love about this job. I get to meet people from all over the world and learn about what’s actually happening in their countries, rather than what you see in media or hear on TV.”
Bequette talked with the Business Journal this week about her stint in the Peace Corps, the World Affairs Council’s mission, and what makes Colorado Springs an attractive destination for international visitors.
Talk about what the Colorado Springs World Affairs Council does.
So the mission of the Colorado Springs World Affairs Council is to be a nonpartisan nonprofit that fosters education in public affairs and international affairs, so we basically offer different types of programs to keep people engaged in international affairs. We bring different speakers into the Springs and talk about global issues that are very relevant.
My part is basically connecting Colorado Springs and the world together. … The particular program that I work on is the International Visitor Leadership Program. … It’s the State Department’s premier educational and cultural exchange program, so embassies around the world hand select the visitors that participate in this program. These are top-notch people in their country that are doing good work in their particular fields, so when they get selected to participate, they come over and meet their peers here in the U.S. They’re trying to learn what we are doing in their fields and take back best practices to their own country, and also create relationships. There might be ways to work together overseas.
What are some examples of that?
There’s a professor at UCCS [Scott Kupferman, assistant professor of teaching and learning in the College of Education] that has participated in the International Visitor Leadership Program since the council has been hosting these groups back in 2017. He typically will be a presenter for visitors who come over learning about disability rights or inclusive education, and because of his involvement, he’s traveled to both Russia and Japan twice to present.
… Another example is, the [Pikes Peak] Library District actually has hosted two projects … about the programs that they’ve been involved with developing library systems. They’ll meet with people from around the world. … They have gone over to Georgia last year because of the Georgians that came over in 2017, so they have maintained a relationship from 2017 until now.
… It’s really, really amazing. The relationships that are formed within the IVLP are really kind of unimaginable. You have no idea what’s going to happen after the fact.
Talk about your time in the Peace Corps.
I was working at an agritourism farm, and the gentleman who owned the farm was trying to develop his historical sugarcane farm into a tourist destination. … The location was right in between two very prime tourist destinations and he was like, ‘Well, how perfect is this? … We can still do some farming, but we can also do some tourism activities like horseback riding and interpretive tours talking about medicinal plants for locals, and camping options and event space options.’
… Then I was also working at a primary school helping kids who were behind in their English literacy. I helped them organize their library and … did literacy testing on kids. Those that were behind, I sat down with them, a few kids at a time, and did literacy work. … There’s a kind of lack of enthusiasm in Fiji for progressing on to education or finding a good job, so it was basically just trying to be a good mentor and help them find resources that might be helpful for whatever goals they have set for themselves.
Do you think you accomplished that?
I don’t know, to be honest. I have no idea. The beautiful thing about Peace Corps is you never really know what kind of influence you’re making. It’s not like you can do a survey at the end and get all of the feedback of what your existence there at that time meant to people.
Talk about the transition from parks and recreation to your current role. Are there any similarities?
I think just working with people. People aren’t all the same, but there’s a lot of commonality across all boards. I think that’s probably like the tightest connection between the two.
… We’re only a staff of two [at the World Affairs Council], so that’s the most challenging part. It’s just me and the executive director, so that’s two people doing everything — programming, fundraising, putting on these international programs. … I was the supervisor [at Bear Creek] for five years and was the only full-time person for most of those five years, so again [I did] everything — fundraising, planning special events, working on public programs.
How do world affairs affect people living in Colorado Springs?
Well, I think that we need to have a broader mindset than just local. It’s very important to know what is happening around the world, especially if it is going to affect us. … You can’t be so focused on your one small, tiny, little bubble. There’s a ripple effect out there, and I think that … we should have a better understanding of what’s happening in the world, and of different cultures.
What professional accomplishment are you most proud of during your time with the council?
Probably just expanding the number of visitors that we received. Before I started, the program was run by volunteers. So I was hired on, and because a full-time staff person is able to dedicate full focus to the program, we were able to bring more international visitors to Colorado Springs. It’s really putting Colorado Springs on a global map. Relationships are happening. People from international areas are coming to the Colorado Springs community and they’re seeing what a real U.S. community is like. Rather than just going to [Los Angeles] or New York, they’re coming to some smaller cities like ours, and they’re getting a better idea of what true American culture is.
When these visitors come, they’re usually here for about three weeks and they’ll always start in Washington, D.C. … They basically get a rundown of what the project is going to be … and then they go off to about four or five different communities across the U.S. So they might go to L.A. or to New York, but they also go to smaller and medium-sized cities to get a true sense of what America is really like.
Why is Colorado Springs, specifically, a good place for these visitors to come?
There are some really amazing things happening in Colorado Springs, and it’s exciting to show off those amazing things to the international world. We have a really incredible library district. The visitors from Belarus that were just here visited some pretty incredible places, and we hosted them the longest. So the State Department is also recognizing what our community has … and the fact that we’re able to show off what’s happening in Colorado Springs to the world says a lot about the community here and the progress that’s being made, and the talent in the city.
What else do you think people should know about the World Affairs Council?
I think the biggest thing is that it is nonpartisan, so we’re not taking sides on issues. We’re just trying to bring education and empowerment to people. … Honestly, [the council] is kind of a hidden gem. … We have a membership base, and these events are open to the members, but they’re also open to the public. I would invite folks to visit our website and see what kind of events are on our calendar. … We have hosted some really incredible speakers and it’s really eye-opening to hear about true occurrences from somebody, rather than hearsay or reading about it in the paper.