ASU Peace Corps Prep program primes Sun Devils for volunteer service abroad

November 29, 2018

Thousands of Americans every year contribute their time and abilities to communities around the world through service in the Peace Corps. This spring, Arizona State University senior and Barrett, The Honors College student Meghan Hiryak will become one of them, helping to fulfill the Peace Corps’ mission of promoting world peace, friendship and understanding between Americans and people from other countries.

Hiryak will graduate this December with her degree in women and gender studies from ASU’s School of Social Transformation and in March will depart for her assignment in Guatemala, a move she began preparing for with ASU’s Peace Corps Prep Program. Meghan Hiryak Meghan Hiryak will graduate from ASU in December and serve with the Peace Corps beginning in spring 2019. Photo by August Tang Download Full Image

The ASU Peace Corps Prep program helps students acquire the knowledge, skills and experience needed to serve in the U.S. Peace Corps. It is open to all majors and is flexible with options that allow students to join through their senior year.

“ASU’s program is designed for students to explore opportunities in Peace Corps, determine which ones align with their career goals and prepare for their desired position through targeted coursework and experiential learning,” said Claire Michael, Peace Corps Prep coordinator at ASU.

Michael said the Peace Corps created the prep program for students to obtain sector-specific skills, foreign language proficiency, intercultural competence and professional savvy and leadership. As volunteers, they have the option to focus their service in a range of areas including education, health, community economic development, environment, youth in development and agriculture.

ASU offers two program options including a for-credit option recognized by both ASU and Peace Corps, as well as a non-credit option that is recognized by Peace Corps alone. Both options increase participants’ competitiveness for Peace Corps service (and the global workforce) by pairing coursework with sector-related service and professional development opportunities. 

ASU’s program also offers a range of support for students in an effort to make their experience as relevant and useful as possible. Some of these developments include a dedicated ASU Mentor Network Group for Peace Corps Prep Students and Coverdell Fellows; a canvas organization providing resources for students’ academic, career and Peace Corps goals; and a monthly newsletter focused on opportunities, events and articles meant to broaden students’ understanding of the prep program’s goals.

Hiryak took a Peace Corps Prep class during her sophomore year and applied for the program this year as a senior. Growing up in a military family, she lived in many different places, including Skopje, Macedonia, which is where she first encountered the Peace Corps. Her upbringing, as well as her passion for travel, especially in developing countries, inspired her to pursue the program.

“I actually kind of lost sight of my goal to apply to the Peace Corps through the rest of my years in school, but after living in Peru this summer I was reminded of my love for this kind of work and decided to apply,” Hiryak said. 

Hiryak will complete three months of pre-service training and will then be assigned to a specific community in Guatemala as a maternal and child health volunteer. She will work with women and children in either a clinic or a community setting, will survey the population to determine specific public health needs and help develop a plan of action. 

Her volunteer assignment will help her develop new abilities as well as provide an opportunity to use her language skills and apply knowledge acquired through her college major.

“I am very excited to practice and continue my Spanish language skills because that will be so useful not only in country but when I return,” she said. “My gender studies degree has also really increased my knowledge of working with communities and empowering them to amplify their own voice, so I am excited to put sustainable change in a community into practice.” 

The experience Hiryak has received through the Peace Corps Prep program and that she will receive during her time as a Peace Corps volunteer will also help her pursue her professional goals of working in public health and increasing diversity and access in health care.

“I hope to continue my education when I return in the medical field and work on creating a diverse and culturally competent education system for health care professionals that is inclusive of marginalized communities such as LGBT folks and people of color,” she said. 

Copy writer and editor, Educational Outreach and Student Services


ASU experiences create unexpected path for alumna

November 29, 2018

Saying yes to an opportunity can open doors in your life that you didn’t know existed. This is especially true for Arizona State University alumna Angelica Wagner.

As a freshman at ASU in 2010, Wagner initially focused her studies on French and Spanish. Although she enjoyed her classes, Wagner considered changing her major to one that offered a more holistic approach while still maintaining a global aspect. That is when she heard of the BA in global studies within the School of Politics and Global Studies. ASU global studies alumna Angelica Wagner Angelica Wagner. Download Full Image

“I kept hearing people talk about this global studies thing and I was like, that sounds kind of fun,” Wagner said.  

All global studies majors are required to complete a global experience abroad. Wagner believed this would give her the extra push she needed to travel outside the U.S. during her time in college.

A year into the program, Wagner met with Gisela Grant, a senior coordinator within the School of Politics and Global Studies. Wagner said that Grant was instrumental in helping plan her time abroad during the summer between her sophomore and junior years.

“To this day, Gisela is one of my biggest mentors,” Wagner shared.

That summer Wagner had planned to go to Spain to complete her global experience when Grant told her of another opportunity to teach English in South Korea. Although she wasn’t sure if she’d get accepted, or even if it was an opportunity she thought would be a fit, Wagner applied and was accepted into the program.

Wagner would only have roughly 36 hours from the time she returned from Spain to when she would depart to South Korea.

“I had just enough time to unpack all my luggage from my nine weeks in Spain, do a whole bunch of laundry, repack for Korea and jump on another plane,” Wagner said. “I would go back and do it a million times.”

Both experiences abroad helped teach Wagner how to adapt to culture shock rather than dwell on the differences.

When Wagner returned to ASU to begin the fall semester of her junior year, Grant introduced her to another opportunity — the Arizona Legislative Internship Program. Wagner didn’t consider herself politically minded, but she applied. The spring semester of 2013 Wagner started as a student intern in the Arizona Supreme Court.

The program helped Wagner develop professional skills and opened up the idea of focusing locally as well as globally. According to Wagner, going abroad and doing these various internship programs helped prepare her for life after college.

“Taking opportunities whether or not I thought they were the right fit, helped me in my current position a ton.”

Upon graduation, Wagner started working at Financial Engines as an administrative assistant to the vice president of investor services. Although Wagner enjoyed the people she worked with, she knew she didn’t want to be an admin forever.

In her position, Wagner had exposure to different parts of the company that most wouldn’t. She took advantage of this and conducted informational interviews with fellow employees to see what career path interested her. Then when Financial Engines acquired The Mutual Fund Store, a new position was created from the merger: live events coordinator.

Wagner recalled her time at ASU when she worked with Grant on various events like ASU Open Door. She learned the process of organizing and running events and how to quickly adapt when things don’t go as planned.

“I had never thought about events as something I was interested in until I started working with Gisela,” Wagner said.

Going back to her notes from her career development course, Wagner updated her resume to apply for the position. Although she didn’t get the job initially she was offered to work part time helping with events while she continued her current role. After a year of that, she moved into a full-time events position.

Wagner’s role requires her to travel all over the country to put on financial education events for clients. She is on the road for three weeks out of four, which can be difficult but allows Wagner the opportunity to visit places she would not have seen otherwise.

“I’m lucky in that I’m surrounded by some awesome, supportive people,” Wagner said. “They know that what we are doing in terms of traveling is really hard on us so that when we are home, they are so flexible and understanding.”

Eventually Wagner wants to transition to a role within the company that allows her to coordinate the events rather than executing but for now, she is enjoying every minute of her job. In looking back, Wagner said that all of her college experiences fed into the career path she’s on.

“How did I go from studying abroad in Spain, to teaching English in Korea, to being an intern at the Arizona Supreme Court? All of these things don’t really seem connected until I get to where I’m at.”

Matt Oxford

Manager of marketing and communications, School of Politics and Global Studies