There are a lot of other places Tracy Renier could be right now.
After graduating from the College of Saint Benedict last spring with a degree in economics and minors in Hispanic studies and communication, the 4.0 student and standout athlete had plenty of options available to her had she had chosen to enter the job market.
Instead, she is in Colombia – having just embarked on a two-year-plus service stint with the Peace Corps. It’s a role that fits perfectly with the Benilde-St. Margaret’s High School graduate’s desire to make a difference in places that need it most.
“The last place I saw myself after college was behind a desk, crunching numbers to make GDP grow,” she said via email from Colombia where she arrived earlier this month. “I wanted to be part of meaningful change in the world. My sophomore year of college, I had my sights set on (a) Fulbright (award). But somewhere between my sophomore year and my senior year, I got to know myself a little bit better, and I realized that teaching as a Fulbright scholar really wasn’t what I was looking for. I didn’t even like teaching, and I knew that would show through (on) my application.
“I wanted to find an opportunity that harnessed my strengths, ignited my passion, fueled my curiosity and pushed me miles (or countries, rather) beyond my comfort zone — all at the same time. I found the Peace Corps.”
Lending a helping hand
Renier is scheduled to remain in Colombia through November 2024. She will work in community economic development, with an emphasis on female entrepreneurial advancement.
“The work of CED volunteers in Colombia revolves around three objectives,” Renier said. “The first is to increase high school students’ personal and economic empowerment. The second is to improve individuals’ capacity to implement small-scale businesses, especially women. The third is to increase the capacity of individuals, with special emphasis on women and youth, for sound financial decision-making and money management.
“I’ll be working in high schools with 10th and 11th graders,” she continued. “And one-on-one with business owners and entrepreneurs.”
Immersed in the experience
Two years may seem like a long time, especially for someone young and just out of college. But Renier said the length of time was actually a big part of what drew her toward this opportunity.
“I chose to apply to the Peace Corps specifically because it offered an experience that no other organization could,” she said. “The two-year commitment to service that would have deterred most people was attractive to me because that sort of time frame offers an unparalleled level of cultural and social immersion, and ensures sustainability of the project.
“You’re not just there for a short period of time to transfer knowledge or skills to others, leave, then smack it on your resume. You’re there to learn from others, to grow, to form meaningful relationships and to take part in helping a community achieve its own goals. It’s an exchange of culture that shorter periods of service don’t allow for.”
Standout athlete and leader
At CSB, Renier was captain of both the cross country and track and field teams, and the Nordic ski club team as well. She earned all-region honors in cross country last fall and won the MIAC title in the steeplechase during the track and field season last spring.
But Robin Balder-Lanoue, Renier’s head coach in both cross country and track, said her contributions extended far deeper than that.
“Not only is Tracy successful and brilliant, but she was a great teammate as well,” Balder-Lanoue said. “She wanted everyone around her to be successful. She values people. When she interacts with someone, she gives them her full attention. She makes it seem like they are the only thing she has going on in that moment.”
Balder-Lanoue said it came as no surprise that Renier chose to give of her time with the Peace Corps.
“That’s always been who Tracy is,” she said. “She’s always valued service. It’s a big part of her core values. Every year she was here, she continued to find new ways to give back to the community around her.”
Volunteers back in the field
Renier is part of the first wave of Peace Corps volunteers to serve abroad since the independent agency and program of the U.S. government suspended operations and evacuated over 7,300 volunteers from more than 60 countries at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March of 2020.
“I’m so early into my service and it’s hard to have anything to compare it to,” Renier said. “I’ve been told that it’s momentous, and that we are part of a special group of volunteers -- paving the way post-pandemic. So, it feels special. I definitely feel extremely lucky to be here, given how uncertain travel was in the wake of the pandemic.
“Things will certainly look different than they have in the past. Within our sites, we will definitely still be experiencing the effects of COVID on the local community, and will have to mitigate them through our projects.”
Renier credits her experience at CSB with helping develop leadership skills she can apply in her current work.
“Reflecting on my time at the College of Saint Benedict, I’m realizing that I’ve never felt satisfied,” she said. “However, the greatest lesson I’ve learned by far during my four years at CSB is that being unsatisfied is actually the best place to be. As a student, I’ve learned that if you think you know everything, you don’t — there is still more to learn. I’ve set my (long-range) sights on law school, or a graduate degree in economics. As a three-sport athlete, I’ve learned that if you think you’ve already done your best, you’ll never do better. I’ve already begun dreaming about qualifying for the (U.S.) Olympic Trials in the marathon. As a servant-leader, I’ve learned that there’s always more you can do to serve those around you.
“The College of Saint Benedict has transformed me into the student, the athlete and the leader I’ve always wanted to be,” she continued. “The kind that is always trying to better herself and her community. The kind that is never satisfied.”