Graduates, faculty of SDSU serve in Peace Corps

Heather Mangan, a 2007 SDSU graduate, served two years for the Peace Corps in Lesotho, Africa. Mangan was an education volunteer in secondary schools.

By EMILY De WAARD News Editor

On the floor of a mud hut illuminated by candlelight, an African grandmother told stories of entering womanhood in her native language. 

This gathering concluded a deeply symbolic ceremony celebrating women coming of age and entering marriage. 

As the elder woman spoke, a woman of the community placed her hand upon Andréa Mayrose’s back, a personal and intimate moment, in which Mayrose felt like a truly integrated member of the community she served for two years.

Mayrose is one of several Peace Corps volunteers in the SDSU community. A Harvard graduate and now a residence hall director at South Dakota State, Mayrose volunteered for two years in Zambia.

During her time in Africa, Mayrose was a rural education development (RED) volunteer. Her work mostly involved teaching in government schools, traveling to teach in independent village schools and improving HIV/AIDS and malaria awareness and prevention.

Heather Mangan, another member of the SDSU community, served in Africa as well. After graduating from 2007, Mangan was invited to serve after applying a second time. She was to serve community and youth education in the Republic of Niger in 2010. However, the programming was shut down after a month, forcing Mangan to return home. 

In October 2011, Mangan returned to Africa and served two years as an education volunteer, teaching at a secondary school in Lesotho.

Sam Jacomet, a recent SDSU graduate, will begin serving the Peace Corps April 26, in Mozambique, Africa. 

Jacomet graduated from SDSU first with a bachelor of arts in history. He applied to the Peace Corps upon graduation, but, like Mangan, needed more knowledge and experience in his desired field. Jacomet returned to SDSU, earning another degree in health education, which he completed in December 2016.

“It was definitely challenging, but I absolutely enjoyed it,” Jacomet said. “That [health education] was what I wanted to focus on when I first looked into the Peace Corps.”

After a second attempt at applying, Jacomet was accepted to volunteer and has been preparing for his departure this week. After serving in the National Guard for six years, Jacomet said the Peace Corps felt like the next best step.

“The idea of joining the Peace Corps occurred to me while I was deployed in Kuwait from 2009 to 2010,” Jacomet said. “I enjoyed my time in the National Guard. I was very happy with my deployment and my time, but I knew I wouldn’t stay. The Peace Corps offers travel and being engulfed in another culture, without having to follow orders like in the military.” 

Mayrose said the three goals of the Peace Corps as an organization are to provide skilled labor for a country that requests it, share American culture and learn about that country, and bring that knowledge home.

“It’s really about that cultural exchange and learning to live together,” Mayrose said.

Mayrose’s advice for those embarking on their volunteer experience, or who hope to serve the Peace Corps, is simply to enjoy.

“Remember your role as a learner. Embrace every moment of the time and be open to the opportunities that present themselves,” Mayrose said. “Don’t get bogged down worrying about the impact you want to make — it’s their home and their country to develop, and it’s your job to be there supportively and enjoy it.”

Overall, Mayrose said she would encourage anyone to do it.

“The Peace Corps gets to integrate and really engage in cultural development and understanding in a way that almost no other program can do,” Mayrose said. 

Mangan’s advice: write everything down.

“I wrote down a lot of what happened every day in a journal,” Mangan said. “I kept a blog, I wrote my friends letters and had them keep them and give back to me after my service and I’m really thankful I have all of that. Now that I’m on the other side of it and being reintegrated to American life, I can go back and experience what my service was like through all that documentation I kept.”

Carol Gibbon, a fitness graduate assistant at the Wellness Center, is beginning her application process in hopes of serving the Peace Corps following completion of her master’s degree in May 2018. 

Gibbon said serving communities has always been a great passion of hers and she hopes this involvement will set her above other applicants. 

“I have always loved service work and I really just want to immerse myself in another culture,” Gibbon said. “I love to challenge myself and push my boundaries and I’m really excited to just dig in and be able to help a community and find solutions best for them.”

Mangan’s post-college journey led her through journalism jobs before the Peace Corps, and non-profit writing afterward. Mangan said the Peace Corps has been the cornerstone of all of it.

“I think people get this assumption it’s a two-year vacation,” Mangan said. “It is by far one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. I had to give up a lot, but everything I have in my life today I can point back to the Peace Corps. It was the best decision I’ve ever made.”