Jonathan Marino ’06


During his freshman year at Northwestern, Jonathan Marino ’06 traveled to El Salvador with the University’s Christian Ministry. A native of Rockford, Illinois, Marino had never traveled outside of the United States before—and he embraced the opportunity to learn more about the country and its people through the trip’s hosts, Chaplain Tim Stevens and Campus Minister Julie Windsor Mitchell.


Marino spent his spring break immersed in the small community Stevens and Mitchell had been visiting for many years. “It was the kind of learning experience a person can only get through people with long-standing relationships to a place,” Marino says.


Inspired by his trip to El Salvador—and coursework in social policy—Marino began thinking about how he could bring global engagement opportunities to other students. “While Northwestern provided many opportunities to study abroad at that time,” says Marino, “there was no program that really combined thoughtful service, study, and community immersion all into one.”


During his senior year, Marino partnered with his friend Nathaniel Whittemore ’06 to conceptualize a global service program that would combine academic coursework with experiential learning abroad. With funding from the University, Marino and Whittemore launched the Global Engagement Studies Institute (GESI), which was housed within the Buffet Institute for Global Studies.


GESI started as a small program—serving about ten students and focusing only on Uganda—solidifying under the leadership of Marino and Whittemore, who came back to work at the University after graduating. Marino credits the next generation of GESI staff and former Buffett Institute Associate Director Brian Hanson with “growing the program beyond Uganda and raising funds to enable students on financial aid to participate regardless of cost.”


Today GESI serves hundreds of students who learn from and work in communities in Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Ghana, Guatemala, India, Kenya, and Uganda.


Now a founding director at MapStory—an open atlas for mapping global change over time—Marino lives by the motto “life is best lived as a series of daring adventures taken from a secure base.” He says that the foundation Northwestern provided him has allowed him “to pursue several adventures already.”


After leaving GESI, Marino traveled to northern Uganda to study post-conflict resolution with support from a US Fulbright Scholarship. He then moved to Washington, DC, where he worked at an education policy think tank for several years before stepping into his current role.


Marino says that his commitment to learning is as strong now as it was when he was a student. “Life really is a journey,” says Marino. “It is a really nice feeling to know that I will always have my Northwestern community to turn to along the way.”


One way Marino shows his appreciation for Northwestern is by giving to programs that are especially meaningful to him. “I give back to Northwestern because I want future generations to have the world opened up to them, as it was for me,” Marino says.