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February 27, 2019

Legacy, Community, Impact


Austin Bryla ’19 will graduate in May ready to take what he’s learned as a student at Guilford into the Peace Corps as a volunteer in Namibia.

Austin, a Community and Justice Studies major and Quaker Studies minor, says he felt a strong pull to join the Guilford College Class of 2019. 

“My grandfather was William C. Burris, a Political Science Professor and Academic Dean at Guilford,” he shares. “I never got the chance to know him, so coming to Guilford where I’d be able to work closely with faculty and staff who did know him, and to become a part of this special community that he dedicated his career to, was that chance.” 

Austin also felt called by the College’s Core Values — community, diversity, equality, excellence, integrity, justice, and stewardship. “Guilford’s got a history of doing things differently. We dig deep here, push farther and engage more. I sensed some of that early, and so Guilford just felt like the best fit.” 

A leader in the African Student Association, teaching assistant in Quaker Studies, and volunteer at multiple Guilford College community service sites, Austin has certainly dug deep and gotten involved. He’ll bring that all-in approach to the Peace Corps after graduation. 

Prepared for His Future

In Namibia, Austin will teach English to primarily secondary school students. When he isn’t teaching he’ll be serving with grassroots organizations that support gender equity and combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic. His experiences at Guilford have shaped an already primed personality for this work. 

“Before I came to college, I already had background in theatre,” he explains. “Performing teaches you to go with the flow, put yourself in other people’s shoes and, as one of my mentors here at Guilford later stressed to me, ‘dwell in the discomfort.’” That mentor is Diya Abdo, English Professor and founder of Every Campus a Refuge. 

“Diya was my adviser for my first study abroad experience at Guilford,” he says. Austin went abroad twice as a Guilfordian, first to Siena, Italy, and then to the University of Cape Coast, Ghana, with an additional peace-building program in Rwanda. 

Read about Austin’s time in Africa on our student-authored study abroad blog, Beyond Friendly.

“The skills I learned abroad, in my elective classes and as a Community and Justice Studies major, Quaker Studies minor, taught me to be creative under pressure, engage people personally, and solve problems through community dialogue,” he says. “Those skills will be invaluable to conduct a successful classroom in Namibia, and Guilford taught me that.” 

Other important mentors and educators in Austin’s college life are C. Wess Daniels, William R. Rogers Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies; Krista Craven, Assistant Professor of Justice and Policy Studies and Austin’s academic adviser; Dave Walters, Sports Information Director and professional mentor to many students who gain meaningful work experience in his office; Jill Peterfeso, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies; and Matt Armstrong, Lecturer in English

Austin’s advice for prospective Guilford students is to “break barriers and burst bubbles! Be open to those hands-on opportunities that shake up your environment. That’s when you’ll learn the most. Those experiences will shift your perspective away from yourself and toward your community, and your definition of self and community will be better and richer for it.”

Meet your future mentors and learn about study abroad at Guilford by scheduling your personalized campus tour.