The Susan Donna Lessenco fund was established to honor the life, ambitions, and ideals of SIT Graduate Institute student Susan Lessenco. Susan, who was working towards a master’s degree from SIT in 1979, passed away in 1981 at the age of 26 while on assignment for Save the Children in Tunisia. Her father, Gilbert Lessenco, created the fund in her memory so that SIT students could make a meaningful contribution to the world in Susan’s name and in her spirit.
“Our students are very active and they have a lot of causes they care about,” said SIT Provost John Lucas. “We’ve talked about the environment, becoming a more sustainable campus, and the need for inclusivity. We’ve talked about social justice. This fund provides students with some resources to make some real progress.”
"I feel humble. In most situations I listen harder and am not so insistent on dominating. It’s important to me to reach consensus, to really hear each other, to be respectful, to care." — Susan Donna Lessenco, 1980
Susan devoted her life to service and development. She worked for the NGO ACTION in Washington, volunteered for the 1972 presidential campaign of Senator George McGovern, and planned to pursue a career in development.
In her private writings, Susan recounted how rewarding her experiences in Tunisia were proving to be, and that she felt herself developing as a person. In January 1980 she wrote, “I feel humble. In most situations I listen harder and am not so insistent on dominating. It’s important to me to reach consensus, to really hear each other, to be respectful, to care.”
It is indeed in this vein that the Lessenco fund will operate in future years. When deciding which project the Fund will help support, SIT students will come together and, as a whole, reach a consensus regarding the use of the funds. “The SIT Student Association will lead the process. They’ll gather input from the whole student body and help the student body come to consensus,” Lucas said. The project that the Lessenco fund supports will benefit not just class members, but also others outside the graduate program, and will enhance understanding of global issues and community development.
“As an elected representative body, I think that the student government can bring all of the students together to prioritize a cause. It’s the best way to ensure that the SIT community is accountable to Susan’s wishes — accountable to the student role,” Lucas said.
Students on studying on campus during the 2015-2016 academic year selected a community engagement program for next year’s project, which will coordinate volunteer opportunities, workshops, and speakers for faculty, staff, students, and members of the local community. Two SIT students will receive scholarships to lead the program as community outreach volunteers with the goal of engaging at least five local organizations during the next school year. The aim of the project is to create connections between SIT and the Brattleboro community to provide students with a chance to give back to and learn from those in the area and practice the skills they are learning in the classroom.
“May my work be a voyage of growth,” Susan wrote in a report in 1980 of her time in Tunisia. And it is World Learning’s hope that all those who benefit from and are involved in the Lessenco fund will embark on this same journey of growth, self-discovery, and community service.