Alejandro Alfaro Aco ’11, an economics and government double major at Franklin & Marshall College, has won a Princeton in Latin America Fellowship to support a year of development work in Lima, Peru. Alfaro Aco will work on issues relating to corporate social responsibility at Metis Gaia, a consulting firm that contributes to development in various forms and levels. A native of Mexico, Alfaro Aco will begin his work in Peru this summer.
“I’m really happy to be going,” Alfaro Aco says. “This is the first year that F&M students applied for this fellowship, so this has special meaning. A lot of people had faith in me.”
Princeton in Latin America partners with nonprofit organizations throughout Latin America to match the organizations with young, public-sector professionals seeking full-year fellowships in development work. Previous fellows have focused on microfinance and entrepreneurship in Chile, malnutrition alleviation in Guatemala, and conservation in the Peruvian Amazon, among many other projects.
“The level of competition for these awards is very high,” says Monica Cable, director of postgraduate fellowships and adjunct assistant professor of anthropology. “In the past, fellowships have been awarded to graduates of Princeton, Brown, the University of Southern California, the University of Pennsylvania, Georgetown, Middlebury and Stanford, among others. To my knowledge, this is the first year that an F&M student has received this fellowship.”
In Peru, Alfaro Aco will perform impact assessments in the mining industry. “I’m interested in the idea of a big mining corporation having concern about its social, economic and political impacts,” he says. “Metis Gaia is multidisciplinary in its approach. I’ll be working with economists, sociologists and political scientists.”
In addition to his double major, Alfaro Aco minors in sociology. He also works with Antonio Callari, the Sigmund M. and Mary B. Hyman Professor of Economics, at the Local Economy Center, and holds an internship at the Community First Fund in downtown Lancaster. “I like to be challenged, and I like to take really hard classes, although I’m suffering through the process,” he says with a laugh.
Being busy is the norm for Alfaro Aco, who moved to Lancaster with his family six years ago. He enrolled in McCaskey High School’s international English as a Second Language (ESL) program, and then moved to the school’s International Baccalaureate program. “I was still in culture shock when I applied to college,” he says. “It was the most intense year I ever had, between course work, volunteering at Millersville University, swimming, and taking classes until 5 p.m. I had to do everything in one year, because that’s the time I had to prove myself before college.”
He received strong encouragement from his family along the way, especially his mother. “The main motivation for us to move to the U.S. was so my brother, Raymundo, and I could pursue higher education. That’s always been my mom’s policy,” Alfaro Aco says. Raymundo is a student at Swarthmore College.
Alfaro Aco has known about F&M since he was a child in Mexico, when he met James Taggart, the Lewis Audenreid Professor of History and Archaeology. Taggart became friends with Alfaro Aco’s mother while he was conducting research in Mexico, and is now a close family friend. “He would bring F&M shirts to us,” Alfaro Aco says. “I always had F&M in my head because of him. We consider him a family member.”
Alfaro Aco says his experience in F&M’s community-based learning internship last summer in Nicaragua strengthened his application to the Princeton in Latin America program. In Nicaragua, he and two other students were part of a pilot development program run by Social Entrepreneur Corps. “It put me in a working environment and made me realize how important development work is,” he says. “I saw hope in people’s eyes, and they transferred that hope to us. That’s a special feeling, having that responsibility.”
Now, Alfaro Aco will have even greater responsibility in Peru. “Mining is a very important sector to the government of Peru,” he says. “If you mess up, it really matters. That responsibility is important to me. My actions will have an impact.”