University Students Embark on Service Missions with Peace Corps and AmeriCorps

May 22, 2024
Student Lauren at La Calandria field station on the 2024 Costa Rica trip. She has since been accepted into the Peace Corps.

Lauren Berardi at La Calandria Field Station on the 2024 Costa Rica trip.

While the University continues to celebrate its 185th year of excellence, three students stand out for their commitment to global and national service. Lauren Berardi, Taylor Griffin, and Ben Chartrand have recently been accepted into prestigious programs, the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps respectively, highlighting the University's tradition of talent, dedication, and community outreach. These incredible efforts align with Horace Mann’s original vision for the institution, showcasing the immense dedication to unity in which Westfield State’s students are known.

The Peace Corps is a governmental program dedicated to collaborating with more than 60 countries on a number of initiatives, including academic education, environmental awareness and protection, health equity, food security, and more. Over 240k Americans have served in the Peace Corps, with volunteers spending anywhere from 3-12 months in host countries. 

Berardi commented on her acceptance into the organization, stating, "I have been invited to serve in the Peace Corps as a volunteer for 27 months in Paraguay, in the agriculture sector. This includes building interest in youth as future farmers at vocational schools and helping families and communities achieve a more nutritious diet while teaching new farming skills in rural areas. Overall, I will be helping rural areas achieve sustainable agriculture. With this being a dream of mine since a young age, I am excited and eager to give back to communities and be immersed in a new culture and language, all while expanding on my environmental knowledge.”

AmeriCorps, although working in similar initiatives, serves within the United States itself. Approximately 36k locations in the country have been supported by AmeriCorps efforts, with over 1.8 billion hours being served. Fellow environmental since majors Griffin and Chartrand have been accepted into their ranks. 

Both Griffin and Chartrand will be serving in the National Civilian Community Corps Forest Corp (NCCC) program, which is also partnered with the United States Forest Service. “We will be serving around 11 months, from June 2024—April 2025, starting at the regional campus in Sacramento, California,” Griffin said. “During that time, we will be working on different projects in the areas of wildfire risk mitigation, reforestation, environmental conservation, and research management. We could be assigned to projects such as hazardous fuel reduction, protecting threatened habitat, conducting prescribed burns, wildfire surveys, infrastructure, trail maintenance, or working with plant nurseries to support growing seedlings.” She went on to relay their focus on the Pacific Region, meaning the two could serve in a variety of states along the west coast. 

Student Ben Chartrand carrying out his independent research on carbon sequestration at La Calandria Field Station on the 2024 Costa Rica trip. He has since been accepted into the AmeriCorps.
Student Ben Chartrand conducting research on carbon sequestration at La Calandria Field Station on the 2024 Costa Rica trip.
Student Elizabeth Griffin working on her environmental science senior capstone research project on the Westfield River. She stands by the edge and smiles at the camera.
Elizabeth Griffin tackling her environmental science senior capstone research project on the Westfield River.

Dr. Michael Vorwerk, Professor of Environmental Science at the University, celebrated the students and their commitment to supporting various demographics in domestic and international communities. “It takes special people to give of themselves like this, and it gives me hope,” he said. “Maybe the future is brighter than it seems!”

 Several other faculty members expressed similar sentiments, praising the group’s individual and joint efforts. “What wonderful news of our students taking their experiences here and reaching out into the world to help,” Dr. Claudia Ciano-Boyce, Professor of Psychology, said. “You all should be proud! I hope they keep sending news of their experiences.”

“This is so amazing,” Heather Caldwell, Assistant Professor of Ethnic and Gender Studies added. “It inspires us to do what we do! We understand these experiences are life changing and will expand their worldview exponentially. I was in AmeriCorps in my twenties, and it was a city-based arm for schools and youth development called AmeriCorps II.”

Timothy Doak, Visiting Lecturer for the Music Department and former Peace Corps volunteer, also extended his congratulations, emphasizing the life-changing nature of service missions. “As a returned Peace Corps volunteer (Fiji 2013-2015), it is amazing to see other folks go into such a great program and service. I talk about my peace corps experience almost everyday and it certainly has inspired how I live my day to day life!”

By venturing into the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps, these students not only embody the university's commitment to service, but also demonstrate the transformative power of education in fostering global citizenship and community engagement. Their journeys serve as inspirations to current and future Westfield State students, encouraging them to embrace opportunities for growth, learning, and meaningful contributions to society.