New Mexico Highlands University M.B.A. graduate Shawn Abeita is putting his business knowledge to good use as a Peace Corp community economic development volunteer in La Soledad de Santiago, Panama. Abeita said in an e-mail interview that when he completed his M.B.A. in international business in 2007, he wanted to contribute to an organization that operated internationally. He also wanted to experience living in a different culture. The Peace Corp offered both. “The international business education I received at NMHU definitely prepared me for the work I’m doing in the Peace Corps,” Abeita said. “As a community economic development volunteer, I work with government agencies to identify projects that will benefit the community. I also work with locals on business plans and small business management skills. I teach English and also a youth business program called Junior Achievement. And, I work with an environmental group to raise awareness about conservation.”Abeita, 28, is from the Isleta Pueblo in the Rio Grande Valley 13 miles south of Albuquerque. He also earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration from Highlands. Abeita said Bill Taylor, vice president for finance and administration at Highlands, was influential in Abeita’s decision to join the Peace Corp. Taylor was the dean of the university’s School of Business when Abeita studied at the university.”Dr. Taylor was a big factor in my decision to join the Peace Corps,” Abeita said. “He is a former Peace Corps Volunteer who served in West Africa and South America. We met several times and discussed his experiences with cross-cultural exchange. He also assisted me through the Peace Corps application process. His advice and insight helped my Peace Corps application be more competitive, and made my interview much easier.”Taylor said Abeita is a Highlands University success story. “I’m very proud of Shawn,” Taylor said. “He came out of the business program and wanted to make a difference in the world. At Highlands, we were able to help him achieve his own goals and purposes in life.” Abeita said he is grateful the Peace Corps chose him to serve in La Soledad de Santiago, a community of approximately 2,800 people four hours west of Panama City in the province of Veraguas.”The people in my community are friendly, outgoing and are always talkative with me,” Abeita said. “The Peace Corps helps communities turn their ideas to action, and builds a framework that encourages self reliance and sustainable development. The people in my community are committed to having their projects succeed.” I have grown enormously in the Peace Corps, thanks to the support from other volunteers and their insights. My Peace Corps experience has been a constant learning process. One of the benefits is acquiring a second language. My Spanish has improved dramatically. I feel I will be a proficient communicator once I finish my Peace Corps Serviceâ€¦ Then I want to find a job working internationally where I can continue to advance my Spanish.” Abeita is working to complete two more community projects before he leaves the Peace Corps this fall. The first is a reforestation project intended to raise environmental awareness in the community by planting 500 trees. It is a joint project with Panama’s National Environmental Authority, the Autoridad Nacional del Ambiente. La Soledad de la Santiago community members will help plant the trees. Abeita said the second is a park renovation project that gives community members the opportunity to learn business skills such as management, accounting and budgeting. Community planning is also part of the project, including where to place park sidewalks and lighting. Abeita wrote a Peace Corps Partnership grant to help fund the park project, which costs $4,600. The grant will award $2,392 for the project and the community must raise the remaining $2,208. To date, Abeita said the community still needs to raise $1,650.Those interested in making a tax deductible donation for the park project may visit the Peace Corps Web site at Use the “donate now” link on the left side of the front page. Then search by Abeita’s name and find the park project under Panama.