Posted by Zach Tilton
Each year The Rotary Foundation selects up to 50 master’s degree candidates to study at one of five peace centers around the world.  Zach Tilton is Rotary District 5400’s first Rotary Peace Fellow. A program of The Rotary Foundation, the fellowship covers tuition and fees, room and board, round-trip transportation and all internship and field studies. Zach Tilton is D5400’s first Rotary Peace Fellow.
Momentous occasions have a way of searing themselves into our memory. Many of us can recall where we were and who we were with when some historic event transpired or a major life experience took place. In my case, I was talking to my sister over the phone on a cool evening on the 13th of October 2015 when I heard a ‘ding’ and looked down to see an email notification: “Congratulations! You have been selected as a 2016 Rotary Peace Fellow!” I could hardly believe it then and I am still humbled by it today, but that message most assuredly changed my life.
A year later in the fall of 2016, I set off with my wife Julie to Bradford, West Yorkshire, United Kingdom. The University of Bradford, housing one of the oldest and largest programs in peace studies, is one of six Rotary Peace Centers around the world.
For me, living and studying in Bradford was a dream come true, an opportunity to ground my professional peacebuilding practice with rigorous theory and further develop my practical skills for the pursuit of sustainable peace. I was accompanied by 8 other Rotary Peace Fellows and close to 100 other master’s students from around the world, not to mention the 200 undergraduate and 50 doctoral students. Nowhere else have I been in one place where so many people were dedicating themselves to the concerted study and advancement of peace internationally.
During my 15-month fellowship, I spent two semesters receiving a world class education and formal training in courses like Conflict Resolution Theory, Peacebuilding, Peacekeeping and State Building, Cities in Conflict and Religion and Conflict. These courses stretched me and exposed me to theories and practical approaches that sharpened my ability to help fulfill one of Rotary’s missions to promote peace. I spent the summer attending conferences, including the 2017 Rotary International Convention in Atlanta, receiving additional professional training and certifications, and gaining valuable work experience with two peacebuilding organizations, International Alert and Everyday Peace Indicators. Finally, I rounded out my experience writing a 15 thousand-word master’s thesis synthesizing my research.
I joined my fellow classmates as we sought to apply what we were learning through civic engagement and community service by chairing the Student Union Peace Society where we provided students, faculty, and community members with opportunities to learn how to be practical peacebuilders in their communities. Through all of these experiences, I was able to also serve as an emissary for the Rotary Peace Fellowship through various public speaking engagements including interviews by BBC Radio, local Bradford radio stations, university conferences, and Rotary district seminars. It was hard to leave Bradford at the conclusion of my scholarship.
I am now dedicated to putting my new degree to work and making good on Rotary’s investment in me and my future. I recently accepted a position at the United Nations Foundation in Washington, DC as a Monitoring and Evaluation Fellow where I will help generate evidence about creating more inclusive digital ecosystems for social impact, development, and peace. I have also recently been offered an associateship at Western Michigan University for the fall of 2018 to pursue a PhD in Evaluation where I can continue my education and training for specializing in the design, monitoring, and evaluation of peacebuilding programs.
I am confident I would not have been given these opportunities if it weren’t for Rotary District 5400 endorsing me for the 2016 Rotary Peace Fellowship. I thank each and every one of you and look forward to joining you as you practice ‘service above self’ for the promotion of peace here in Idaho and across the world.
Despite needs and opportunities that often take me elsewhere, Rexburg Idaho remains home for me, my wife, and our one-year old daughter Zion.