Who is he?

Joe Lanning is one of the Admissions Counselors, as well as Assistant Director of Admissions in charge of on-campus events and the involvement of current students in admissions counseling and recruitment. He manages events such as the Spring Open Campus and leads the Meridian Society, our student recruiters and tour guides.

A 2000 alumnus, Lanning majored in anthropology and minored in women’s studies. He is currently finishing his master’s degree in global history, as well as recruiting and helping to select the future undergraduates at the university.

What did you do when you graduated?

“Two weeks after I graduated I left for Africa. I spent two years and a few months working as an HIV/AIDS educator in Malawi, a small country in central Africa. I was there as a Peace Corps volunteer working as a teacher in a secondary school and local health center.

I also worked with small scale farmers on an irrigation project with the aim of increasing the harvests.

We worked to diversify their diets and the quality of the agricultural production through the use of Permaculture, a sustainable method of agriculture using natural inputs, composite, local seeds, plants and trees instead of imports or hybrid seeds.”

Rumor has it you started a non-profit organization for the women of Malawi. Can you tell me more about it?

“The rumors are true. My junior year at UR I studied abroad in Kenya doing a research project on gender disparity in the education system. I was looking at why I was seeing classrooms with 100 kids in them and often fewer than 10 girls.

When I got back I wanted to do something to work against the financial and societal issues that were keeping young women, especially orphans, from being able to pursue secondary school education.

I looked at some of the big non-profit organizations and was quickly frustrated by the exorbitant administrative costs that were scraped off the top of my personal donations. Working with UR faculty, current students and some alumni, I incorporated an organization called the World Education Fund that works to help orphaned girls in parts of Africa get back into the classroom.

We now offer scholarships to help students pay school fees in areas that do not offer free secondary schooling.

We also teach life skills, health education and vocational skills to the students we support through local people in the countries we work.

To top it off, we take several UR students to Africa each year in order to understand the work we do first hand and hopefully are inspired to do some good, sustainable work of their own.

So far, alumni of our past trips have joined the Peace Corps, Teach for America and World Teach to volunteer some of their own time to help others globally.

Other students from the trip have used their skills to help promote the work of the World Education Fund here in UR through organizing conferences on issues surrounding development, while others have used their abilities, such as writing, to create written ethnographies of their experience to share with fellow students. Although I started it, I have to share the credit with my teammate and inspiration in the process, [doctoral candidate] Alexis Spilman. Students are always encouraged to get involved – all they have to do is ask me.”

What made you decide to stay at UR?

“The values of the university and the people who are a part of it are what keep me here. I can’t imagine another school that works as hard to empower its students and its larger community. Our foundation in the undergraduate curriculum promotes exploration, getting better at what you’re good at and finding ways to make your dreams reality. Whether it is a research project or founding a non-profit organization, faculty and staff at UR support the dreams of the students. I know this sounds like a big UR love-fest, and it is because I am living proof that it is true.”

What’s in the near future for Joe Lanning?

“If someone can tell me, I’d be happy to know. Things always change faster than I expect and I have turned some corners recently I never saw coming. I love telling every prospective student that I interview that I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up, but with my UR education I feel like I can do anything. I’d love to see the work I am doing with the World Education Fund thrive and grow. I’d love to be able to expand our ability to support young people who have the skills and desire but lack the resources to pursue an education and develop life skills to succeed in challenging life circumstances. I’d love to be on campus many years down the road and be able to say this is where it all started. I’d love the World Education Fund to be something the university can be proud to be a part of.

Personally, community service is something I want to be part of all I do. I am a firm believer in service learning. I am motivated by learning and by teaching. I have a lot to learn and something to share. I see a lot of both in the future. I value experiences that bring some happiness and some adventure while having the chance to give something back. I hope for a supportive family with lots of little future Peace Corps volunteers running around.”

Where do you see yourself in five years?

“Right here. I hope to continue learning about, and working on the international scene with the World Education Fund, but right now the opportunities UR continues to offer me makes the five year horizon clear. Africa will always be a place I’ll visit and be intimately involved with, but home and family are here in Western New York. The city, the university, the community and support I have here don’t lead me to look elsewhere. I have recently discovered a repressed love for enjoying the great outdoors around UR. In 10 years of being a part of this place, I have only begun to scratch the surface of the opportunities UR offers. In more ways than one, UR is, and always will be my family.”

Any future expectations from UR students?

“Use the resources UR offers. We have an incredibly open and encouraging faculty and staff, beginning with our new president who has strongly encouraged innovations to encourage international understanding. The deans, the faculty and the staff here are unlike any other and students need to engage them. We can all afford to communicate better in all aspects of life. Take advantage of the access you have to high-powered faculty at UR. I hear a lot of students complain about UR not being known on a national level. It is time for them to take some of the responsibility for it. The university isn’t just its buildings or staff – it is the students who use it all. It is time for UR students to shout about this place and make a splash on the national scene.”

Buitrago can be reached at jbuitrago@campustimes.org.

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