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Alumni Bring their Passion to the Peace Corps

For some students, taking a leap of faith is as quick and exhilarating as bungee jumping off a bridge. For others, that leap of faith involves saying “yes” to living and working on the opposite side of the globe for 27 months as a Peace Corps volunteer.

The Peace Corps accepts less than 17 percent of applicants, but more than 215 Broncos have served abroad since the Peace Corps was founded in 1961 by the federal government. Currently, 20 Boise State alumni serve in Africa, Asia and South America.

Boise State supports its applicants through a Peace Corps Prep program, which helps students build language and leadership skills.

“We work with each student to help them identify which sector of Peace Corps service they might be most interested in and then help that student build their resume with courses and experiences to become a competitive applicant,” said Holly Mikesell, project coordinator for academic planning at Boise State.

The Peace Corps sends volunteers to work abroad at schools and non-profit organizations, with governments and business leaders. Their work: addressing systemic problems in communities.

“It’s really rare in this life to have the opportunity to be able to go somewhere for two years and live in a community at the same level as the people,” Mikesell said.

“The benefits that the Peace Corps provides to a student are immeasurable and can jump-start a career. There’s really no field – from marketing to nursing to social work to politics and beyond – where this kind of experience wouldn’t benefit them and make them attractive to prospective employers.”

Photo Collage
(left) Brook Chick, second from right in front row, with fellow English teachers in Gambia. (right) Gambian women and children walk to a local soccer match.

Brook Chick

BS, political science and sociology, ’18

For Brook Chick, the many service opportunities offered at Boise State positioned her to serve in Gambia, one of Africa’s smallest countries. She also credits the Career Center and political science department for making her application more competitive.

Chick is stationed in the bush village of Pallen Fula, where approximately 1,000 people speak a variety of languages, such as Wolof, Pulaar and Mandinka. She works at the village’s elementary school developing extra-curricular programs. Chick collaborated with teachers to launch a girls’ club – a safe space to learn about healthy relationships, menstruation (making reusable and affordable menstrual pads) and to explore an area that is commonly inaccessible to Gambian women: sports. “It has been amazing to see the joy and happiness of the students,” said Chick.

“I am very grateful for the opportunities and support Boise State offered me throughout my undergraduate career to get me to this amazing point in my life.”
— Brook Chick

Emma Burke

BA, Spanish, ’18

Emma Burke credits Boise State’s Peace Corps Prep for helping her land her current assignment in Peru.

“By the time my interview came around, I felt extremely prepared,” she said.

Burke now lives in Malcas, a rural town of 3,000 people in northern Peru, where she is working to improve the community’s water systems.

Nathan Schneider

BA, history/political science, secondary education, ’18

For Boise State alumnus Nathan Schneider, his childhood dream of becoming a Peace Corps volunteer turned into a reality with the support of Boise State and Michael Humphrey, an associate professor in the College of Education. Schneider is stationed in Benin, West Africa, one of the world’s poorest countries, where he is teaching English to 60 middle schoolers.

“The experience I had at Boise State prepared me for this teaching opportunity,” Schneider said. “It put me in a position to be able to better adapt to different cultures and perspectives.”

The Beninese hope to increase their international commerce with countries beyond France, their former colonizer. The Beninese government asked the U.S. government for English teachers. Schneider and others are filling that role. His extracurricular activities include launching an English club where students can practice speaking, co-directing a boys’ camp and more.

Gianna Alessi

BS, sociology, ’17

Gianna Alessi is serving in Armenia to better position herself for graduate school. At the end of their Peace Corps service, former volunteers have access to more than $12 million in graduate school fellowships. Alessi prepared for the Peace Corps by volunteering with the Upward Bound program at Boise State, which helps high school students whose families qualify as low-income or will be first-generation college students succeed.

Alessi is teaching English to students in grades 10-12 in the city of Talin, located near the Turkish border. Along with teaching, she is involved with projects like “Border to Border,” a program to help build a healthy hiking culture in Armenia.

Jody Olsen

Director of the Peace Corps

“Peace Corps volunteers spread world peace and friendship through their work abroad, build lifelong friendships and connections, and bring diverse perspectives of America to their host communities,” said Jody Olsen, director of the Peace Corps, who visited Boise State in the spring of 2019.

Boise State students are competitive applicants, Olsen said, because of the practical skills they gain in school, and their desire to learn and contribute.

— By Matt Jones