NRES Alumna Begins Peace Corps Service in Peru

September 24, 2013

Jessica Ann Vega, 23, of Chicago, Ill., has been accepted into the Peace Corps and will depart for Peru Sept. 11 to begin training as an environmental volunteer. Vega will live and work in a community to promote agro-forestry, educate the community on environmental initiatives, and serve as a protected areas facilitator. Vega is participating in the Peace Corps Master's International program, which allows volunteers to integrate their service and a graduate degree from certain universities.

"I was motivated by the concept of working and learning and helping others at the same time," Vega said.

Vega is the daughter of Romelia Mercado and Rudy Vega, step-daughter of Richard Gertler, and sister of Alexander Mercado-Gertler.  She is a graduate of Oak Park River Forest High School in Oak Park, Ill., and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she earned a
bachelor's degree in natural resources and environmental science, with a concentration in human dimensions, in 2012.

Vega is continuing her academic career at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Mich., with the Master's International program. She is a candidate for the Community, Agriculture, Recreation, and Resource Studies (CARRS) Master's program, focusing on natural resources
management in an international setting, and her assignment in Peru aligns with her academic areas of interest.

During the first three months of her service in Peru, Vega will complete technical, language, health, and safety training while living
with a host family to become fully immersed in the country's language and culture. The training and cultural exchange prepare Vega for her two years of service, while also allowing community members to gain a better understanding of Americans. After Vega is sworn into service and assigned to a community, she will work on sustainable, community-driven development projects that make a difference for the people of Peru and provide Vega with leadership and cross-cultural skills she can use throughout her career.

"I hope to gain some hands-on experience working with my community and facilitating interest groups, and I hope to expand my understanding of other cultures and peoples," she said.

Vega joins the 352 Illinois residents currently serving in the Peace Corps. More than 8,157 Illinois residents have served as volunteers
since the agency was created in 1961.

About volunteers in Peru

More than 3,170 Peace Corps volunteers have served in Peru since the program was established in 1962. Currently, 271 volunteers serve in Peru. Volunteers work in the areas of youth development, small business development, health and environment. Volunteers are trained and work in Spanish, and some receive language training in Quechua.

About the Peace Corps

Since President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps by executive order on March 1, 1961, more than 210,000 Americans have served in 139 host countries. Today, 8,073 volunteers are working with local communities in 76 host countries in
agriculture, community economic development, education, environment, health and youth in development. Peace Corps volunteers must be U.S. citizens and at least 18 years of age. Peace Corps service is a 27-month commitment and the agency's mission is to promote world peace and friendship and a better understanding between Americans and people of other countries. Visit for more information.

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