Savannah Parson Portrait

Savannah Parson '18

Curiosity and Compassion, and a Calling to Match

Savannah Parson ’18 had no idea what she wanted to do with her life. But this Slippery Rock, Pa., native had a pretty good idea who she wanted to be: A peacemaker and problem solver for a world in desperate need of both.

“I’ve always known that I wanted a career that helped other people.”

With Savannah’s declaration as a guide, she and her two faculty advisers collaborated to design her education, and zeroed in on an academic plan custom fit to her career goals. She built her Program of Emphasis (POE) around social organization and change, and it uniquely combines sociology, peace and conflict studies, and gender studies. It’s a thoughtful plan to help her keep learning long after she graduates.

Dig Deep Into Justice

Savannah’s passion for social justice fits right in at Juniata, thanks to the College’s Peace & Conflict Studies (PACS) program. A highly specialized pursuit rarely available elsewhere, the PACS academic program challenges students and faculty to dig deeply into the issues around justice, war, and peace. Sponsored by Juniata’s Baker Institute for Peace & Conflict Studies – where Savannah currently serves on the advisory board – PACS has inspired Savannah to stretch in her field, from expanding the school’s Genocide Action and Awareness Week to participating in the Nobel Peace Prize Forum in Minneapolis, Minn.

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Savannah's memorabilia
Savannah has a clothesline in her room where she hangs memorabilia from her projects. On it is a zine she created for a class, posters for events she’s helped lead, and reminders of the causes she actively supports.
“I saw the inside of a prison—as a teaching assistant.”

Her sociology professor, Daniel Welliver, conducts a class at the nearby Smithfield Correctional Institute in a weekly program that puts 10 Juniata students in a class alongside inmates. When Savannah asked if she could audit the course, Welliver instead offered her a position as teaching assistant—something she’d never done before, let alone at a maximum security prison. The experience placed her in a highly challenging teaching environment where she honed her skills working with diverse people while cultivating invaluable empathy for life on the inside of a prison.

Savannah's internship
“I had the privilege of meeting a family as they stepped off of a plane to start their new lives in the U.S.”

In summer 2017, Savannah interned at the Pittsburgh Jewish Family and Children’s Service in the Resettlement and Placement department, where she had the chance to meet with refugees, assist as they set up their new apartments, and help as they enrolled their kids in school. The project brought clarity to the type of work Savannah will find challenging and rewarding for years to come.

“My daily work experience was never consistent, and I loved how every day required me to be flexible and provided a challenge,” Savannah says. “There were days when I was completely energized by this work, and others where it took everything out of me—but at the end of the day, the words and looks of gratitude and true appreciation from both clients and my supervisor made it beyond worth it.”

Nobel forum group
“The Nobel Peace Prize Forum solidified the importance of having tough conversations.”

Savannah jumped at the chance to attend the Nobel Peace Prize Forum in Minneapolis in September 2017, where she heard from some of the world’s great thinkers on the subject of conflict. It reaffirmed her own convictions.

“At Juniata, we make an effort to have exposure to each other even when we don’t agree. To have those difficult conversations,” she says. “It’s harder to dehumanize someone you sit next to at lunch.”

Savannah Parson at a glance:

  • Designed her own Program of Emphasis in sociology and peace and conflict studies
  • Interned at the Jewish Family and Children’s Service in the Refugee program
  • President of PAX-O, the student peace organization at Juniata
  • Worked as a teaching assistant for Intro to Sociology at Smithfield Correctional Institute
  • Sits on the advisory board for the Baker Institute, Juniata’s center for the study of peace and conflict resolution
  • Served as the chair for Genocide Action and Awareness Week, a week of speakers, activities, and hands-on learning experiences designed to raise awareness about genocide prevention and intervention.
  • Attended the Nobel Peace Forum in Minneapolis, the only forum operating under the auspices of the Norwegian Nobel Institute, and the only such academic affiliation outside of Norway
  • Awarded a Mike Yarrow Peace Fellowship

Think About Who You Are