AmeriCorps VISTA Carrie Christensen: College Changes Everything in Marshalltown

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Carrie ChristensenCarrie Christensen serves as the College Changes Everything  AmeriCorps VISTA in Marshalltown. Carrie holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from Simpson College and a master’s degree in public health from Boston University. She is working at Marshalltown Community College to improve retention rates among students attending college while helping increase the number of college-going high school graduates.

My background has been working alongside individuals from diverse backgrounds and helping these individuals improve their communities. Prior to receiving my master’s degree in public health, I served in the United States Peace Corps as a community health worker in Nicaragua.  As a community health worker in the Peace Corps, I worked at a local health center and a casa materna (a birthing home).  My main objective in my community was to educate community members about public health concerns including HIV/AIDS, reproductive health and other communicable diseases. As secondary activities, I helped teach English classes with the local English teacher at my site and worked with adolescents to lower teenage pregnancy in my community.  It is during this time that I realized I enjoy empowering people and working alongside them to improve their communities.  This experience is what led me to obtaining a master’s degree in public health.

I am originally from Iowa, so it was a very daunting feeling to leave the comforts of home to go to the Peace Corps and also to go to Boston.  What I have learned through my Peace Corps experience and obtaining my masters is so eloquently said by Mother Teresa:  “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” I learned that in doing small things with great love we are actually doing great things. I am grateful for my experiences in the Peace Corps and the time that I spent in Boston.  I decided to become a VISTA member (Volunteers in Service to America) to continue to work alongside communities to address their specific needs.

I hope this year that I can help empower students and provide them with effective resources so they are able to attend college. I do remember the anxiety I felt as a high school student trying to navigate the college application process.  Hopefully throughout this year, I can help students have less anxiety about applying to college and assist them in accomplishing their professional and personal goals.

My goal this year as a VISTA member is to become an active member in the Marshalltown and Tama/Toledo area.  I plan to work closely with schools to encourage and educate students on the college application and financial aid processes. I also want to reach out to local businesses and organizations that work directly with students to build stronger partnerships, align efforts and learn from each other’s challenges and successes so we can understand how to help and support students better.

While I have been an AmeriCorps Vista for less than 6 weeks, I have been busy identifying and learning about barriers that keep students in my community from applying to college and filing for financial aid. During my year-long term, I hope to figure out the best way to effectively integrate sustainability into my projects, so that after my departure the community can successfully continue the college-going efforts.  I am looking forward to the coming year and serving college-bound students in my community.

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