When Kelly Behrend, ’10, flips open her MacBook to show you photos from her service trip to Guatemala, the first thing you see is the Greenpeace logo that graces her desktop wallpaper. For the Spanish minor who created her own major in peace and conflict studies, it’s easy to see that Behrend’s passion for peace extends into everything she does, both at home and abroad.

“I went to a really diverse public high school in South Jersey,” said Behrend. “As part of a new peace initiative, the school hired a peace teacher who taught a peace studies class. Students attended peace seminars instead of going to detention, which was really successful. I was president of the school’s peace club, and during my senior year, we put together a summit called Summit Up, designed to sum up our differences and promote an upward elevation of social consciousness.”

At 18 years old, Behrend turned the front room of her parents’ home into her office, quit her part-time job and dedicated herself to organizing the summit. She secured Vernon King, a nephew of Martin Luther King, Jr., and journalist and nonviolence educator Colman McCarthy as speakers. In two months, the club raised $14,000 and hosted an event that had impact far beyond the walls of her high school.

“I didn’t consider myself to be brilliant. I wasn’t an athlete. But I was always interested in non-profit work and loved community service,” said Behrend.

She applied to University of Richmond for its unique School of Leadership Studies and was accepted into the Bonner Scholars Program, a scholarship program in which students complete community service throughout their four-year course of study. Her Spanish classes had been an important part of her high school experience, so she continued those as well.

Behrend’s first few leadership classes helped her realize that she needed something more. The classes were interesting but familiar; she’d learned a lot on the job while she was running a non-profit in high school and working for a leadership development organization during her summers.

“I felt like maybe I was overdoing it. That I needed to design a major that took into account my passion for service work and peace.”

Working within the framework of the international studies degree, Behrend began hammering out an interdisciplinary major in peace and conflict studies with a minor in Spanish. A service trip she took to Guatemala, where she and about two-dozen other Richmond students built stoves in Mayan communities, confirmed her decision.

“I wouldn’t say that the trip was life changing, but it was life affirming,” Behrend said. “I was still deciding on my major, had only done domestic service work at that point and realized that this kind of work really fulfills me.”

As one might expect having read this far, Behrend wasn’t just a participant in the Guatemala program. She helped plan the trip through her work with the Chaplaincy, part of her Bonner service commitment. She worked with a group called the Highland Support Project, which uses a point system to reward Mayan women who contribute to their communities. Points can be turned into necessities like kitchen stoves.

“Not having stoves is a huge problem for the community,” said Behrend. “ Women cook over open fires in enclosed shacks. The soot on the interior walls of these shacks can be one to two inches thick, so imagine the interior of their lungs. As a consequence, women age prematurely and die at young ages, disrupting the family structure and healthy community development. Something as simple as building a stove can drastically improve their lives and their community.”

Back at Richmond, Behrend was eager to help the local Latino community, as well as all immigrants and refugees. As part of the Bonner Scholars Program, she was assigned to volunteer with Refugee and Immigration Services, but she quickly became more than a volunteer. In fact, she became an ESL teacher, leading a class of 30 refugees and immigrants who ranged in age from seven to 65 and spoke between 10 and 15 different languages between them. In her free time, she managed to find time to be a drill instructor for a Spanish class on campus.

Next year, Behrend’s students, both on and off campus, will have to learn to live without her. Always eager for new experiences, she has not one, but two, study abroad experiences planned. She’ll spend one semester in the Basque Country of Spain, studying terrorist groups and cultural clashes in the region and the next semester in Northern Ireland studying the IRA at the University of Ulster’s peace and conflict studies program. If all goes according to plan, she’ll spend this summer in Jordan studying linguistics according to culture.

“The nature of peace studies is cultural understanding, so it makes sense for me to take advantage of all these opportunities,” said Behrend.