Alumni making a difference

Elizabeth Riley and some of her students in one of their school gardens.

Elizabeth Riley and some of her students in one of their school gardens.

By Amy Loeffler

It’s no surprise that many graduates from Virginia Tech go on to serve in volunteer organizations like the Peace Corps, where agricultural knowledge and leadership skills are widely sought-after. In fact, Virginia Tech is among the top 25 large universities when it comes to the number of alumni who volunteer for the Peace Corps.

A career in the Peace Corps seemed like a logical step for Elizabeth Riley, of Hopkinsville, Kentucky, who received her master’s degree in animal and poultry sciences in 2012. Her family has a history of military service, but Riley was looking for a way to give back that would draw on her training in animal and poultry sciences and her experience growing up as a member of 4-H.

Riley saw the Peace Corps as a way to incorporate the 4-H “learning by doing” mission in her career.

She currently serves in the Parish of Saint Ann, Jamaica, where she helps students establish school gardens that teach them about healthy eating habits, sustainable agriculture, and environmental science.

“Teaching kids about natural resources is important for 4-H goals and the Peace Corps mission,” she said.

Mary Elmer, of Surry County, Virginia, who received her bachelor’s degree in agricultural and applied economics and agricultural sciences in 2012, is currently serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Panama. She started traveling abroad in high school and studied in Australia as an undergraduate at Virginia Tech.

One of Elmer’s projects is a collaboration with the University of Panama where she leads seminars that introduce volunteers to farming and business practices. “I can see a measurable change and really feel like I am empowering people,” she said.