Engineering grads heading halfway across country, around the world to make a difference
She had it on the table. A $68,000 job offer during a still-struggling economy, a position at a major corporation she could jump into fresh out of college, newly minted chemical engineering degree in hand.
Instead, Rowan University’s Kelly Barb, 21, is heading to Guinea in West Africa on July 1 to teach high school-level math for 27 months as one of the newest members of the Peace Corps.
The Mantua Township, N.J., resident and daughter of Kirk and Lisa Barb had her sights set on volunteering with the prominent non-profit organization since her first year at Rowan. That’s when she joined the College of Engineering’s Engineers Without Borders program, which sends student teams to developing countries to work on issues related to water and roadways.
“We went to an EWB conference my freshman year, and I saw a presentation by a panel of Peace Corps volunteers,” recalled Barb, a 2009 graduate of Clearview Regional High School, Mullica Hill, N.J. “After that I called my dad and said, ‘This is what I’m doing after college. I’m going to join the Peace Corps.’ He said that when he was around my age he had actually looked into it, but he had never followed through with it. So he thought it was really cool. My mom was like ‘no.’”
Barb’s mother has come to terms with her daughter’s plans. In fact, Barb is getting a great deal of support from her loved ones. So, too, is classmate and fellow chemical engineering major Sarah Gettings, 22, of Runnemede, N.J., who like Barb is putting full-time engineering employment on hold temporarily to enter the service field.
Gettings, 22, will head to Minneapolis in August to work for a year as a ninth grade physical education teacher at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps.
The Paul VI High School (Haddon Township, N.J.) graduate and daughter of Stephen and Catherine Gettings said, “I’ve always wanted to do some kind of volunteer thing like the Peace Corps, but I didn’t think I could live out of the country for two years.” She said siblings of her best friend from high school both had joined the Jesuit program and had “really good experiences.”
Joining the Peace Corps and Jesuit Volunteer Corps seems like a natural fit for both young women, who have been very active during their four years at Rowan.
Barb was president of Habitat for Humanity for three years and a project lead for the EWB teams that worked on water projects in La Ceiba, El Salvador, for two years, coordinating all aspects of the initiative. She made five trips to assist on projects in La Ceiba. She was a resident assistant for the Rowan townhouse complex for two and a half years. She also served on the board of directors of the Gloucester County Habitat for Humanity during her junior and senior years.
Gettings served as president of EWB her senior year and as a project lead on the La Ceiba work during her sophomore and junior years. She was president of the Catholic Campus Ministry (Newman Club) her senior year and vice president her junior year.
The engineering graduates have some concerns, of course, like being so far from family and friends and, in Barb’s case, living without technology. And, Barb, added, “I don’t know the language. They speak French there, so I have to learn that. This will be the farthest I will be away from home. So I’m pretty scared.”
Excited about the adventure
Still, they are excited not only about helping others but also about undertaking their own adventures. Barb expects to live in either an apartment in the capitol of Conakry or in a hut in a small village and will earn $275 a month, paid at the end as a “readjustment allowance.” She hopes to travel to Europe and Asia while based in Africa. Gettings isn’t sure where or with whom she will live — she’ll probably share an apartment or house with other Jesuit Volunteer Corps youth — and she will only receive a $100 stipend a month.
“I don’t have loans, I don’t have dependants,” Barb said. “This is going to be the only time of my life when I can just pick up and move halfway around the world.”
Gettings, who like Barb hopes to land a job in chemical engineering in this region after her commitment is completed, noted, “I am most excited about going somewhere I’ve never been on my own and having an experience that I never would have been able to have here.” She said she will miss the sun, the warmth and the shore but she won’t miss the potential of earning a nice salary right out of college.
“Missing out getting $70,000 doesn’t really matter to me. I don’t even know what I’d do with it if I had it,” she said. “I don’t need to go buy a new car.”