Lisa Peterson


What was your class year and major/minor?


Psychology major, English minor

What is your current job, and city of residence?

Boston Program Director and National Director of Program Development, Training, and Evaluation at the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship

I live in Boston, MA

Did your academic or extracurricular experience at Bowdoin influence how you are involved in communities now? If yes, how so?

I often wonder where I might have ended up had I not attended Bowdoin, and I’m not sure I would have found my passion so early in my career without my involvement with the McKeen Center (then the Community Service Resource Center). The McKeen Center helped me expand my previous understanding of service work beyond one-time projects to sustained relationships with community-based agencies and community residents. My service work at Bowdoin made me think about ways to partner with agencies and program participants to really address their needs as well as recognize and build on their strengths.  

Bowdoin’s sense of responsibility to the community around it has guided my philosophy as a graduate school student and Boston resident. The McKeen Center provided a helpful structure to learn about the greater Brunswick community in a respectful and comprehensive way. Now at the Schweitzer Fellowship, I strive to provide the same education experience to my Fellows.

Additionally, I was fortunate to take English literature classes in African American and Asian American history and culture, as well as, gay and lesbian studies. Thinking about social justice in a literary framework has given me a strong foundation for my current work.

In what ways have you been engaged with the community since graduating from Bowdoin (both professionally and personally)?

I was involved with Bears and Cubs while at Bowdoin, a mentoring program for young people on the waitlist for Big Brother or Big Sister. I began working with my Little Sister, Katy, in 2003 when she was 12 years old and have been so lucky to maintain our relationship since I graduated. I see her a few times a year, and can’t believe she’ll be 23 this year. One of my very happiest moments was watching her walk across the stage at her high school graduation. I am so proud of her.

Since 2009, I have been volunteering with the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center as a Community Awareness and Prevention Services volunteer. My work there aligns perfectly with my passions in serving the Common Good in that my outreach and education efforts are working to create change on the community level: they seek to raise awareness and change the social norms around sexual violence. I facilitate workshops and trainings with young people, college students, volunteers, and professionals around topics like consent, respecting boundaries, and responding to disclosures of sexual assault.

Professionally, service work has been instrumental in shifting my focus to public health. After I graduated, I started thinking about ways to move service work from a “hobby” to a career path. I received my masters in public health in 2011 and worked for nearly three years in violence prevention at the Boston Public Health Commission. Currently, I am the national and Boston program director for the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship, a program for graduate students in health or health-allied fields that develops leaders in promoting health equity.

What's been your favorite or most meaningful experience in public service since you graduated?

While in grad school, I had a Schweitzer Fellowship and worked with Sociedad Latina for a year, leading a youth-driven advocacy project focused on reducing teens’ consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages. My workshops taught the teens skills around communicating their ideas to various audiences, as well as, information about nutrition. I can honestly say I learned more from the teens than I probably taught them. It took some time to earn their trust and alter the workshops to be engaging and teen-friendly, but by the end of the project, they had developed a collection of phenomenal rap lyrics about the health effects of drinking too much soda, a funny and effective public service announcement, and a teen-friendly blog. Watching them find their voice and creatively express themselves was one of my most rewarding experiences. 

Have any unexpected challenges or difficulties related to this work popped up along the way? If so, what did you learn from these challenges?

Working with urban populations in Boston, I was directly confronted with very real challenges in relating with folks whose backgrounds differed from mine in various ways. I had to learn how to effectively build relationships with the people I was working with; lessons that demanded a lot of introspection and humility and a simple motto: listen more than you speak. I anticipate that understanding cultural humility in a practical, applied sense is going to be a constantly evolving journey and I am so fortunate to have found colleagues and friends to have candid conversations about oppression and privilege with to help me be a better practitioner, presenter, and ally.

Exposure to violence prevention work really opened my eyes to the lived experiences of communities in Boston. The hardest part was feeling at times like despite all our efforts, people were still being hurt. A year into a healthy relationship project with teen peer leaders, one of our young male leaders, a bright, funny teen with huge leadership potential was shot and paralyzed while walking home with a friend. I watched him grow over the past year, and now he was being presented with this life-altering barrier. My faith in service work was really shaken at that point. But I will never cease to be amazed at the resiliency of young people and was comforted by the outpouring of support he received from his peers.

What advice do you have for students who want to work for the common good after Bowdoin?

Make service a priority. It is easy to fill your schedule with work, family, and friend commitments, but if service is important to you, find a way to make time for it.

Dedicating your professional life to service-oriented work may not have a glamorous salary accompanying it, but following your passion makes it well worth it. I have a quotation from JFK I keep at my desk that guides me: “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.” 

Finally, service agencies are often very tied in to one another within a given community, so volunteering, interning, or working at one agency can often help open doors at others if you’re interested in making a career in the field. Informational interviews were particularly helpful to me in deciding my career path after college.