UCSC prepares alumna for Peace Corps path

Alyssa Scarsciotti is fulfilling a lifelong dream as a Peace Corps volunteer, and is among the first to return overseas post-pandemic

Alyssa Scarsciotti (Stevenson ’20, Sociology and Linguistics)

When she was 13 years old, UCSC alumna Alyssa Scarsciotti (Stevenson ’20, Sociology and Linguistics) dreamed of joining the Peace Corps. This dream is now a reality: she is part of the first cohort of Peace Corps volunteers to return to overseas service since the service network’s pandemic-induced global evacuation in 2020. She will serve as a teacher in Costa Rica through May 2025. 

 “I had always seen the Peace Corps as an opportunity to expand my perspective on the world and gain an intercultural experience that would stay with me for the rest of my life,” she says. “I'm excited to hear about students’ dreams and aspirations and engage them in a meaningful classroom experience.”

She is grateful to UCSC for offering the Peace Corps Preparation Program which helped her gain tools and experience to be a competitive applicant. She arrived in Costa Rica in early March and will teach vocational English to students in grades 8 through 12, serving as a co-teacher at a Colegio Técnico Profesional, a vocational high school that offers career paths for students to develop technical skills.

Scarsciotti’s swearing-in ceremony—when she officially starts her two years of service—is May 26. Volunteers receive three months of 40-hour training weeks covering topics such as the Peace Corps’ approach to development, valuing diversity, cultural norms and how to live with a host family, the host country’s history, classroom management skills, student-centered teaching approaches, classroom error and correction feedback, and the danger of a single story. The latter references Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's TED talk, which explores how single stories can lead people to develop prejudiced ideas.  

“The language program alone includes 160 hours of training,” said Scarsciotti. “I learned so much and I’m very excited to grow more relationships with the local community members and feel more acclimated to the culture and language. In whatever small way I can, I aim to empower the community through improving opportunities for higher education, improving health and nutrition levels, and making a lasting impact through building inventive, self-sustaining solutions with community members.”

Volunteering at UCSC

Empowering people is something Scarsciotti did throughout her time at UCSC. As an undergrad student, she spent over 1,500 hours volunteering in various programs. The majority of these hours were spent with the Artistic Rehabilitative Therapeutic (ART) Initiative, a student-run organization that facilitates therapeutic art classes in Santa Cruz County correctional facilities. She volunteered with the ART Initiative for four years, teaching in the Blaine Street minimum-security jail, Rountree medium-security jail, and the Santa Cruz Main maximum-security jail. 

“The ART Initiative was the cornerstone of the most meaningful work of my life,” she says. “After the first year of my involvement, I sought out additional opportunities to provide classes to people affected by incarceration. I began to volunteer with the William James Association (WJA), a similar organization that provides arts to adults and youth in correctional facilities as well as to returning residents.” 

With the WJA, she taught a story-telling class and collage classes to adults experiencing mental health issues. She also co-facilitated a Transcommunal Peace Making class with UCSC Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Sociology John Brown Childs at the Soledad Prison. They discussed techniques for navigating barriers to peace between diverse communities. 

In her senior year, she worked with fellow undergrad student Alyssa Tamboura, supporting her in creating the Walls to Bridges Book Project. This project was created in response to the pandemic’s impact on families affected by incarceration, as the pandemic closed all visitation opportunities in correctional facilities. They received letters from adults experiencing incarceration and gathered information about their children and what types of books they would appreciate. After receiving the initial letter, they called the child’s guardian and received permission to mail the child a book on behalf of the incarcerated family member, free of cost to the family. 

“It was very important to us that system-impacted family members could maintain active and loving roles in their children’s lives.”

Scarsciotti also volunteered as an English as a Second Language tutor and as a Suicide Hotline Responder for two years. 

“Volunteering provided me with valuable life experience and the chance to respond to issues discussed in my university courses,” she said. “Learning about massive issues in society as a Sociology major could feel overwhelming at times.” 

Focusing on the value of ‘small actions toward social change’ helped her maintain hope for the future. 

“Engaging in work that aligns with my values gave my life a sense of purpose and allowed me to feel connected with the people around me,” Scarsciotti added. “Additionally, the training involved in my volunteering activities cultivated life skills that will forever stay with me. The Suicide Hotline Responder training especially enhanced my communication skills and equipped me with invaluable de-escalation skills.”

Praise for UCSC

Scarsciotti felt an immediate connection to UCSC.

“I was amazed by the beauty of the redwood forests. To have immediate access to the woods as well as the beach felt surreal.”  

In addition to the volunteer opportunities that UCSC facilitated, Scarsciotti appreciates the resources the university provided. 

 I utilized Learning Support Services (LSS) for scholarship essays,” she says. “I used LSS to review my Gilman International scholarship essay as well as my Gabriel Zimmerman Division of Social Sciences scholarship essay. I incorporated the very helpful feedback from the writing tutors, and I won both of those awards. I highly encourage undergrads to utilize this free resource.”

She credits many professors for transforming her academic journey.

Fran Guerra was the first professor to make a huge impact on me as an undergrad in Intro to Sociology. Every single lecture opened my eyes to societal issues and systemic disparity that I had never learned about in high school’s standardized education.” 

Professor Guerra passed away in 2017. It was after Guerra’s lecture about Mass Incarceration that Scarsciotti sought out the opportunity to start teaching art inside correctional facilities.

“And that experience changed my life and the way I navigated through the world. I also want to give a shout out to my life-changing Sociology professors” John Brown Childs, Rebecca London, Christie McCullen, Jenny Reardon, James Doucet-Battlemy, thought-provoking Linguistics professors Jorge Hankamer, Junko Ito, Ivy Sichel, Maziar Toosarvandani, Pranav Anand, and my supportive academic advisor, Tina Cossaboom.”

 Advice for current UCSC students 

Scarsciotti is happy to answer questions and talk about her experience with current undergraduates interested in the Peace Corps. Contact her at alyssaspeacecorpsexperience@gmail.com