An NDSU Grad making a difference

Jennifer Odom: A Peace Corps volunteer in rural Jamaica

Jennifer Odom holding Jamaica’s flag with the Peace Corps emblem hung up behind her.

As an editor, it is common to be sent a lot of emails, with the bulk of them made up of social media updates or spam messages. Wading through these emails can be tedious but sometimes you stumble upon something incredible, like Jennifer’s story.

Recently, I logged into my account with a heartwarming email from Brandalyn Bickner, a Press Relations Specialist in the U.S. Peace Corps. She reached out to me to tell me that Jennifer Odom, an NDSU Alumni, is “putting her degree to good use in rural Jamaica.”

Brandalyn says, “As a Peace Corps Volunteer in rural Jamaica, Jenni focuses on fostering a culture of self-care and mental health with her women’s group. Together they’ve done everything from making beauty masks from the blue clay in their local river to crafting resumes. Jenni also works with local beekeepers to manage and distribute their honey, and co-wrote a grant to build a public bathroom that will give women and girls a safe space to use the restroom.”

Wanting to know more, I reached out to Jennifer through email (she’s still currently serving for the Peace Corps in Jamaica). I was able to further ask her about her journey to the Peace Corps and what it has been like thus far.

Throughout a string of email replies, I learned that; Jennifer attended the first part of her undergraduate at a community college in Virginia. While taking an English course, the professor at the community college assigned a project that challenged students with, “Compiling a portfolio describing everything that just one word can denote/connote.” The word Jennifer was assigned was peace and it was because of this project she became familiar with the U.S. Peace Corps and vowed to herself she would one day volunteer.

After two years of community college, Jennifer furthered her degree at Virginia State University “graduating with a bachelor’s in plant and soil science.” After discovering a liking for plant pathology she decided to enroll in the graduate program at NDSU and put the Peace Corps opportunity on hold.

“After graduating in May 2017 and not getting any bites with any of the jobs I’d applied to, the Post Doc in my lab, Kimberly Anderson, asked upon looking over my resume, ‘What is it that you really want to do?’ I responded, ‘I’ve always wanted to join the Peace Corps and give back in some way.’ And she replied, ‘There you go.’ I applied to the Peace Corps right away.”

“Being halfway across the U.S., away from all my family and friends that I knew and having to integrate to a life in Fargo, ND for four years prepared me to be out of the country away from my family and friends for two years. I haven’t left the island since flying out on March 13, 2018.”

Jennifer’s story proves to us all, that one person has the power to change people’s lives for the better. Thank you, Jennifer, for continuing to positively impact girls’ lives across the globe along with your other involvements in honey and grant writing. North Dakota State is proud to have you as alumni.

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