Impacting students a world away

Contact: Erin Flynn

Bailey Papes is joining the Peace Corps after graduation.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—No electricity. No running water. No problem.

Bailey Papes is getting ready to embark on the adventure of her life. After graduating with a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering, the Port Huron native will travel to Africa. She's accepted an assignment with the Peace Corps to teach science to secondary education students in Sierra Leone.

"I'm nervous because it's a (developing nation), but I’m excited to take a step back and not be in the technologically advanced world," says Papes. "We spend so much time staring at screens, it will be nice to have personal interactions."

About 5% of recent graduates surveyed in WMU's  2017-18 Post-Graduation Activity Report are employed by the U.S. government.

"Last summer, I realized I didn't want to go straight into industry," says Papes. "I really enjoy traveling and feel the most valuable thing I can do with my degree is to teach science and math. It will be something different and challenging."

Papes first learned about the Peace Corps from a calculus professor.

"I was sitting outside her office waiting to talk to her about class and she had an article posted about the Peace Corps," says Papes. "After office hours, I did a little more research and began to look into the positions and application process."

Called to Volunteer

Papes' passion for helping others started while she was in high school and participating in a program that encouraged elementary students to exercise. 

"I've always been very interested in volunteering, and every opportunity I get, I try to grab it. I know there are a lot of people in the world who don't have as many opportunities as I do."

She kept that spirit of giving going at WMU through the Alpha Omicron Pi sorority as well as through Alternative Bronco Breaks, which takes students on service trips during spring break.

"It's been fun to travel throughout the United States. I've been to Colorado to build houses with Habitat for Humanity. Another trip I went to San Antonio, Texas, to work with the AIDS Foundation. It was a truly eye-opening experience."

Opportunities Abound

A survey of recent WMU graduates reveals 46% were active in extracurricular activities, such as student-run organizations like those Papes was involved with.

"Western offers a lot of opportunities to get involved on campus, which made my experience and also helped boost my resume," she says.

During her time at WMU, Papes also had the opportunity to represent the Office of Student Success Services at the Gateway to Learning National Conference. As part of the program, Papes helped the College of Arts and Sciences develop ways to increase retention rates in freshmen-level courses. She has experience in the program as a learning assistant, helping students understand the curriculum and leading study sessions.

"Having this job has instilled a love for teaching and was part of the reason why I applied for my position with the Peace Corps,"  Papes says. "All my professors that I worked with have definitely helped me develop my leadership skills and taught me new ways to explain the material in easy-to-understand terms."

Once she completes her 27-month commitment to the Peace Corps, Papes would like to work as an environmental consultant, helping companies reduce waste and become more sustainable.

"Commitment to sustainability is one of the reasons I chose WMU. I enjoyed how many trees we have on campus and the preserves like Asylum Lake," Papes says. "I'm very into the environment and saving the planet, because what we do now will have a huge impact on the future."

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