Blythe Duckworth ’07 / Life after transylvania is transforming
In the three years since Blythe Duckworth ’07 graduated from Transylvania, she has been through a transformation. “I’ve realized that I have certain core attributes,” she said. “I’m extremely ambitious, and I have a commitment to service. I thought everyone had that, but now I see that not everyone is just like me and not everyone has had the opportunities I’ve had.”
Duckworth has always felt the pull toward service, but during her senior year at Transy, she completed observation hours in speech pathology and came away with an understanding that she needed a deeper connection to her community.
“I knew there was this thing called the nonprofit sector,” she said, “and I wanted to know more about that, so I set up an internship with AVOL (AIDS Volunteers of Lexington).”
Soon after, Transylvania recognized Duckworth’s commitment to service by nominating her for a fellowship with the Jessie Ball duPont Fund. The fund’s president, Sherry P. Magill, contacted 37 liberal arts colleges requesting that they nominate one graduating senior to compete for the fellowship. The learning opportunity in Jacksonville, Fla., would involve working full-time with grant applicants ranging from national nonprofits to colleges and small churches.
“It was originally supposed to be one position,” Duckworth said, “but they ended up hiring two of us. So, I’m one of two fellows who started the program, and because I was one of the first ones, I got to help shape it. It was a position that developed organically.”
During the two-year fellowship, Duckworth worked with organizations like the National Audubon Society and the Girl Scouts helping to find a match between the mission of the nonprofits and the grant-making priorities of the fund’s trustees.
“What I learned working at AVOL was how hard it is to raise money, what it means to communicate a message, and how lost and small you can feel in the world of nonprofit. It gives me the ability to be sympathetic and empathetic when I’m sitting on the other side of the desk. I think, always, about being kind.”
Much of her work during the fellowship involved research on the topic of environmental sustainability.
“The trustees wanted to develop grant-making possibilities for the small liberal arts college,” she said, “so we interviewed 17 college presidents, including (Transylvania) President (Charles L.) Shearer, and asked about the challenges on the horizon for higher education.”
What came out of those interviews was the need for energy conservation and sustainability, so Duckworth developed a series of three conferences that the fund hosted in April 2009.
“We invited the college presidents, along with the CFOs and plant directors, to come as a group and meet the consultants we identified and learn how the process gets started,” she said. “I went to national conferences, brought in the consultants, and then designed our conferences. I got to see this process from the very beginning.”
Transylvania was the first university to apply for and receive an energy conservation grant from the fund.
When the two-year fellowship ended, Duckworth was offered a position as program associate, which she held until March of this year. Before that position ended, she had begun to consider her options. Duckworth studied abroad, at the University of Westminster in London, England, while she was a student at Transylvania, sparking her interest in further travel. After much thought, she decided on a 27-month commitment to serve in the Peace Corps.
“I thought about law school and I thought about working, and it became clear to me that the Peace Corps wed the two things I’m passionate about—an international experience and working in the nonprofit sector,” she said.
“It was my fellowship at the Jessie Ball duPont Fund that got me that placement, because I needed to have two years’ experience working with a non-governmental organization,” she said. “My opportunity to get the fellowship was rooted in all the skills I gathered at Transy—writing, critical thinking, leadership.”
Duckworth will live for three months with a host family, then be matched with a non-governmental organization in Ukraine for her two years of service as a community developer and NGO adviser.
“The first thing I’ll do is a community assessment—build my relationships and figure out what the needs are—but I’d love to start an empowerment program for young girls in Ukraine and particularly through some sort of physical education or running program.”
Running was something Duckworth began as a social outlet when she moved to Jacksonville. She ran her first half-marathon in February 2008 and ran the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati in May 2009.
“The first time someone asked me if I wanted to train for a marathon, I thought it was impossible,” she said. “Now I run marathons and do yoga, and I’ve discovered a lot about myself through those things. I think I could teach young girls something about their own strengths and coping skills.”
Duckworth sees her work as a part of her that can’t be denied and the passing on of what she’s learned from others.
“Sherry Magill (duPont Fund president) and other mentors have seen the changes in me,” she said. “I took advantage of the opportunity to learn as much as I could from the smart people who were around me, and I was lucky enough to be working with people who liked young people. That’s also something that makes Transy so special—the faculty and staff there like young people. It’s one of the most empowering gifts to be around mentors who support you.”