The Peace Corps Connection

International Program

Peace CorpsWe participate Master's International Program, which was created by the US Peace Corps to enable students who are interested in furthering their education and volunteering with the Peace Corps to do both at the same time. Students become a Peace Corps Volunteer as partial fulfillment of their graduate degree and are given assignments that make good use of their academic backgrounds while giving them practical experiences in their fields.

Learn more about the Master's International Program in the department.

Many faculty members and students connected to the Department of Forestry & Environmental Resources come from the ranks of Peace Corps volunteers or participate in Peace Corps-sponsored activities.

For almost 50 years, the Peace Corps has been promoting world peace and friendship while also providing badly-needed training and teaching services to countries around the world. Today, the Peace Corps' priority areas include agriculture, forestry, environmental awareness, protected areas and wildlife management — all fields where FER can provide trained individuals to be of assistance. A number of students and faculty have answered this call and served as Peace Corps Volunteers.

The Peace Corps has now opened its short term projects in Peace Corps Response up to anyone! These shorter term assignments are a great way for our graduates to test out their knowledge from graduate school, without the 27 month commitment. To learn more, go to the Peace Corps Response website and see the many opportunities available! Want to see what life is really like out there? View photos on the Peace Corps' Flickr page.

Others have participated in a unique initiative called the Master's International Program, which is part of a broader effort at NC State to promote the Peace Corps. Students become a Peace Corps Volunteer as partial fulfillment of their graduate degree requirements and are given assignments that make good use of their academic backgrounds while giving them practical experiences in their fields. and its activities.

Mary Elmer
Mary Elmer is a Peace Corps volunteer
in Ngäbe-Bugle, Panama

Profiles of Peace Corps Volunteers affiliated with FER

Mary Elmer is currently serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Comarca Ngäbe-Bugle, Panama. She is working as a Sustainable Agricultural Systems Extension Agent. Mary lives in an indigenous community mostly comprised of subsistence farmers where the native language is Ngäbe; however, almost everyone under the age of 40 also fluently speaks Spanish. Within this region of Panama, the main agricultural problems are with soil fertility, insect infestations, and fungal viruses. Mary hopes to help improve productivity of traditional crops, such as, corn, beans, rice, and cassava through best management practices and integrated pest management techniques. As well, Mary will be working with a local cooperative and community members to improve their basic business management skills. As a Master's International student at NCSU she will conduct her research for her Master's Thesis in Natural Resources, Economics and Management Technical Option, over the next two years within her community with a specific focus on impact evaluation. 

Chris Dreps was a volunteer in the Central African Republic in 1995 and 1996. He was in a new program at that time to train youth about how to educate their peers about preventing HIV/AIDS. While in the Peace Corps, he developed a much stronger love for ecology and a strong respect for the ability of poor people to survive, and even prosper, with very few resources. He returned to the US for a masters in urban planning at University of Arizona, focusing on environmental planning. Since that time, he has worked as an environmental consultant and run a non-profit called the Upper Neuse River Basin Association ( He also served as a Crisis Corps Volunteer in Honduras (2000) and a Mennonite Central Committee volunteer in southern Mexico (2006). Currently, his family is involved in projects in Nicaragua. Chris recently completed an MS in Forestry with Dr. April James.

Kirsten Cassingham was an agroforestry volunteer in Guatemala, serving from 1996 to 1998. She worked in a rural area with a non-governmental organization in sustainable agriculture, mainly helping to promote the implementation of new soil conservation techniques. She also formed several women's groups. In 1998 Kirsten was a Crisis Corps Volunteer in Bolivia working on road reconstruction and forestry projects. Kirsten graduated in August 2001 with a Master of Science in International Resources and GIS and is currently working for the USGS.

Ginger Deason was an agroforestry volunteer in Guatemala from 1995 to 1997. She worked in a small rural village helping farmers with improved agricultural techniques and helping women's groups in home gardening and use of medicinal plants. Ginger graduated with a Master of Natural Resources in May of 2000, after completing a project on non-timber forest products in Belize. She is currently a PhD  student at the Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism Management at NCSU.

Greg Frey volunteered in Paraguay from 2001-2004. He completed a PhD in the department, focusing on agroforestry as a tool for sustainable production of agricultural and forest products. He has spent significant time observing silvopasture systems (combinations of native or plantation forests with livestock) and their practitioners in northern Argentina. Greg has been investigating the social and economic impacts of this system, and in particular is interested in the similarities and differences in adoption motives and system implementation between farmers of different scales.  Greg is currently an extension specialist with Virginia State University.

Jamie Halperin was an agroforestry volunteer in Togo, West Africa from 1995-97. He worked in small rural villages in the mountains and plains of northern Togo. He focused his activities on developing alley cropping demonstration plots and small scale reforestation efforts with village cooperatives and school groups. Jamie conducted field research for his thesis in Tanzania and graduated with a MS in Natural Resources in December 2002. Jamie is currently employed with the Forest Service in the Pacific Northwest Forest Inventory and Analysis.

Jim Hamilton was an agroforestry extension volunteer in Paraguay from 1993-1995. He focused primarily on tree nursery establishment, citrus grafting, small-scale woodlots, and beekeeping. After the Peace Corps, Jim returned to Paraguay during his masters research on agroforestry extension at Auburn University. He worked for two years at an environmental consulting firm in Atlanta, trained a group of new agroforestry volunteers in Paraguay, and served as a contract regional recruiter for the Atlanta Peace Corps office before coming to N.C. State. Jim graduated in 2004, with a thesis topic of The Dynamics of labor in North Carolina’s Christmas tree industry.

Chris Hopkins was a forestry volunteer in Niger, West Africa from 1988-92. He worked in small villages and towns in the south of Niger. He focused his activities on applied forest management research including a re-inventory of Guesselbodi Forest, direct seeding techniques, pasturage preference studies for domestic animals, and remeasurement of silvicultural trials at Guesselbodi Forest. Chris is pursuing a Ph.D. in Forestry and is conducting work in applied forest economics, and the ecological and economic benefits of biological diversity.

Matt O'Driscoll volunteered in Nicuragua (2002-2004) and lived in a rural fishing village called Potosi, where he worked in elementary schools teaching on environmental themes for about the first half of his service; later he worked more with a local NGO on the management of a nearby protected area, the Cosiguina volcano. He focused mostly on outdoor activities/projects with students, doing things like worm boxes (humus production), home gardens, tree plantings, nurseries etc. His main project was the construction of a local swimming pool. He has completed a masters degree in natural resources(MNR), restoration ecology option where he developed an invasive plant management program at a nearby historical site.

Lucas Sharkey, Jeremy Ferrell, John O'Brien and Marissa Rodman recently served in Paraguay in the Agroforestry Program. Marissa graduated in 2000 from FER, and the others graduated in the Spring of 1999 from FER. Jeremy West is currently serving in Bulgaria working in environmental education. He graduated from FER in the Spring of 1999 with BS in Forest Management.

Mike Tighe was an agroforestry extensionist in rural Paraguay from 1995-1997 working with small-scale farmers in soil conservation and efficient land use practices. After completing 2 years in this capacity, he was asked to extend his service for an additional year (1998) to help complete a reforestation project begun 15 years earlier. In 1999, Mike was a Crisis Corps Volunteer serving in Nicaragua following Hurricane Mitch. Here his work centered on the re-initiation of agricultural activities following the disastrous storms and erosion of fertile soils. Mike graduated with a MS in Forestry, focused on Tropical Pine Pollen Management in 2005.

Faculty Peace Corps Volunteers

Faculty and staff at FER who are Returned Peace Corps Volunteers include:

Bill Dvorak, who is the director of Camcore and an FER professor in forestry, served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Fiji before receiving his PhD from NC State in 1990.

John King, assistant professor of tree physiology, served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Gabon, Central Africa from 1986 to 1988. While there, he led the local population in designing and implementing a root cutting program.

Elizabeth Nichols, assistant professor of environmental technology and management, served in the Peace Corps from 1988 to 1990. She was a fisheries extension agent in Gabon, Central Africa. The program goals were to teach local farmers how to construct ponds and raise Tilapia. Elizabeth also organized the renovation of a Peace Corps elementary school built in the early 70's in the village where she lived. She applied to graduate school from Gabon and went on to UNC-Chapel Hill in the fall of 1991 to complete her Masters and Ph.D.

Jeff Prestemon is an adjunct faculty member with the Department of Forestry at NCSU and a Research Scientist with the USDA Forest Service in Research Triangle Park, NC. He was a forestry and watershed management extension agent in Honduras, 1984 to 1986, working with small, rural communities to organize and take actions to protect watersheds upon which the towns depended for water. Activities promoted included soil conservation, tree nursery management and planting, clean water strategies, and community watershed land acquisitions. He also devoted time to science and environmental education in local public schools.

Willi Woodbridge is a staff member of Camcore at NC State and was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Western Samoa from 1988 to 1990, where he worked in Forest Research.

Read more about other ways our faculty are internationally engaged.