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Featured Alumnus: Eric Kowalski (ICPES 97, IIPES 98)

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Eric Kowalski (ICPES 97, IIPES 98) rides a camel during a trip to the ancient city of Petra in Jordan.
Eric Kowalski (ICPES 97, IIPES 98) rides a camel during a trip to the ancient city of Petra in Jordan.

For the past three summers, alumnus Eric Kowalski (ICPES 97, IIPES 98) has funded an international student’s travel to attend the IIPES program in Greece.

This summer, he is funding a Palestinian student currently living in Lebanon. In addition, he has initiated a fundraising campaign to raise money from TFAS alumni to help two other students that were accepted to IIPES, but cannot afford to attend. TFAS will match any money donated towards this fund.

“I think all students accepted into the international programs deserve to attend,” said Kowalski.

Kowalski, who has traveled extensively through Europe, and attended IIPES in 1998, spent the summer of 2002 in Pristina, Kosovo teaching a class on international economic development and policy at the University of Pristina.

While at the University of Pristina, Kowalski says he recommended IIPES to one of his best students, Rezart Molla (IIPES 03) of Albania. He was accepted into the program and became the first student he assisted with travel expenses.

Kowalski now tries to focus on helping students from the Middle East, especially female students who have been accepted and are unable to pay for their travel expenses.

“It is very generous of Eric to assist these students by paying for their travel,” said International Programs Director Michelle Jeffress (J 95, A 96). “Because of him, these students are able to have an extraordinary summer learning about other cultures firsthand.”

Kowalski, who worked as a small business volunteer with the Peace Corps for two years in Chimaltenango, Guatemala, chooses to reach out to international students because of what he learned during his time overseas.

“My Peace Corps experiences made me realize that a lot of people in developing countries are financially poor,” said Kowalski, “but the wealth of knowledge that they possess is not any different than a person in a developed country who is financially wealthy.”

Kowalski was inspired by the current president of Peru, Alejandro Toledo, who came from a family of 16 children and worked as a shoe shiner until he met two Peace Corps volunteers who helped him get a scholarship to attend the University of San Francisco. He eventually went on to earn two master’s degrees and a Ph.D. in economics from Stanford University.

“It is so amazing how a simple scholarship was able to change the life of one man from living in poverty to earning a Ph.D., and then being elected to serve as the president of his country,” said Kowalski.

Kowalski credits TFAS with being a stepping-stone towards his work in the Peace Corps. He feels that his experience in Greece pushed him to volunteer and then to go on to earn a master’s degree in economic development and policy from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

“TFAS was one of the best decisions I ever made,” said Kowalski. “I honestly feel that the more I can give back and to assist foreign students that want to learn at an institute, the stronger TFAS will be for having these students attend.”

Kowalski currently resides in Pittsburgh, Pa. where he works as a business development advisor for Opal Systems Company, LLC, through which he had the opportunity to travel to Jordan and Kuwait this spring. While on his trip, during the first week of April, Kowalski was able to attend the Rebuild Iraq 2005 Conference in Amman.

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