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Alumni aid Peace Corps cause

Monday, May 19, 2014
Alumni aid Peace Corps cause

by Kelli M. Titus

Traveling the world, 164 Oakland University alumni have dedicated their time and service to the Peace Corps in 70 different posts.

“As the preeminent international service organization of the United States, the Peace Corps sends Americans abroad to tackle the most pressing needs of people around the world,” said Jessica Mayle, public affairs coordinator for the Peace Corps Midwest Region.

“Oakland University has a strong spirit of service and global perspectives that we love to see in Peace Corps applicants,” Mayle said. “A degree from OU coupled with two years of international field-experience with Peace Corps leaves alumni well prepared to launch careers, either back in the U.S. or internationally.”

Rural education development in Zambia

As a rural education development volunteer, Jessica Obayan taught eighth grade science and woman’s literacy in a small Zambian village.

Heather Koontz holds a baby at a baptism in Senegal. Heather used her education in economics to offer financial guidance to business owners and women's groups in West Africa.
Marshall Stephens served in Thailand from 2008-11 teaching English and working with musical programs. Shown is the Wanghan School Marching Band rehearsing in October 2009.

While serving in Ecuador, Ronisha Harvey taught flu prevention in an elementary school.

At the age of 12, Jessica Obayan knew that she would one day serve in the Peace Corps. It wasn’t until after she received her bachelor’s degree in public administration and public policy from OU that she would follow her childhood calling. “I wanted to take a break from the books and let life be my teacher for a while,” she said.

In 2010, Jessica left the country for the first time, traveling to a small village in Zambia, southern African. She worked as a rural education development volunteer, teaching eighth grade science and woman’s literacy, as well as facilitating an HIV/AIDS support group.

Jessica called Zambia “home” for two years. Her experience in the southern African village provided her with a sense of contentment, grounded by “the realization that the act of just being is something to honor.”

“I think about my Peace Corps experience, the country, my village, my students and my neighbors every single day,” Jessica said. “For me, Zambia continues to exist in the little ways.”

Teaching English on ‘the other side of the world’

Marshall was stationed in Udon Thani, Thailand, working in Thai rural schools to aid teachers in English programs. As an OU English literature and music major, he was most enthused to work with music programs at Wingham, Soi Phrao and Hongsawasdee schools.

As Marshall served in the small Thai village, he enjoyed the kindness of his neighbors, abundance of agriculture and fresh food. “My favorite times were spent hanging out around the village I lived in during school breaks,” Marshall said. “There were so many incredible moments during those two years on the other side of the world.”

“I joined Peace Corps to travel the world and help people,” said Marshall Stephens, who served in Thailand from 2008-11. He was born into a family of philanthropists, following the footsteps of his parents who served in the Peace Corps in the 1970s and 1980s.

Becoming fearless and open-minded in West Africa

Oakland alumni Heather Koontz did not want an office job after graduating in 2009 with a B.A. and B.S. in economics. She decided her time was best spent serving others. “I wanted to help people, and the Peace Corps was the only way that I could see the world and a different culture in a different light,” she said. 

Heather moved to Matam, Senegal, in West Africa in 2010 to work in community economic development. For two years she served in the business sector, offering financial guidance to business owners and women's groups, making friends and uncovering her strengths. “Peace Corps helped me become fearless, open-minded and confident,” she said.

Wellness and health promotion in Ecuador

Service abroad captivated Ronisha Harvey, as she spent time in college on short-term mission trips. After graduating from OU with a bachelor of arts in psychology and bachelor of science in wellness and health promotion, Ronisha sought out agencies that offered long-term international service.

“I ultimately chose to pursue the Peace Corps over other types of volunteer opportunities because I was seeking guidance and training from a well established organization,” she said.

Equipped with a minor in Spanish, Ronisha journeyed to Ecuador in 2007. She primarily worked in public health while also teaching English in a small rural elementary school. Ronisha remembers her students fondly, recalling “they would each line up and greet me with a big smile, hug and ‘Buenos Días Señorita.’”

Discover the many volunteer opportunities the Peace Corps has to offer by visiting