December 7, 2022

UW Graduate Student Serves Overseas Communities Without Leaving the United States | News

May 13, 2022

Emily Donaldson, a UW graduate student from Ashland, Wis., participated in the Peace Corps’ first-ever Virtual Service Pilot Program (VSP). VSP is an opportunity for former Peace Corps volunteers to donate their services through virtual engagements with community partners overseas. Donaldson is shown here working at a tree nursery as a Peace Corps Environmental Conservation Volunteer in Asuncion, Paraguay, in 2020. (Carlos Gomez Photo)

Emily Donaldson, a master’s student at the University of Wyoming, participated in the Peace Corps’ first-ever Virtual Service Pilot Program (VSP) that connects volunteers to communities overseas.

Launched in October 2020, VSP is an opportunity for former Peace Corps volunteers to donate their services through virtual engagements with community partners overseas. Returning volunteers from all decades since the 1960s, including those evacuated in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, can participate in the VSP program. Participants are matched with host communities based on their skills and community needs.

Donaldson, of Ashland, Wisconsin, did two virtual engagements — one from October to December 2020 and one from February to April 2021. She averaged about 10 hours a week.

Donaldson’s virtual service involved working with For the Earth, an environmental non-governmental organization in Paraguay. She worked with another VSP participant and personnel from the environmental sector of the Peace Corps and the organization to further develop the Para la Tierra program. environmental education curriculum and program. Together, they produced a monitoring and evaluation protocol to help educators track student progress and program effectiveness.

“By continuing to develop curriculum and programs with the Voces de la Naturaleza de Para la Tierra eco-club program, we have been able to improve the organization and effectiveness of programming for all stakeholders involved,” says Donaldson. “We have prepared recommendations and tools for the recovery of eco-clubs.”

Donaldson contacted his Paraguayan counterparts via email and WhatsApp, a free messaging and video calling app. She and her colleagues also met on Zoom at least once a month.

Prior to participating in VSP, Donaldson served as a Peace Corps Environmental Conservation Volunteer in Paraguay from 2017-2020. She began her service after earning her bachelor’s degree in Sustainable Community Development from Northland College in 2017.

On its site in Paraguay, Donaldson worked with teachers in public schools and at the health post to improve understanding and behaviors regarding waste management, ecology and conservation of natural resources. She also worked with Para la Tierra during her two years of service. She then extended her service to work with A Todo Pulmón, another environmental organization.

“I was unable to complete my extension due to the global evacuation of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020”, Donaldson said. “I was delighted that VSP offered me the opportunity to collaborate with Para la Tierra. Interacting and working with so many familiar and inspiring people gave me a sense of closure and fulfillment that I sought during my initial third year of extended Peace Corps service.

Donaldson plans to earn a master’s degree in range ecology and watershed management in December. She hopes to find a job in natural resources – either working for a federal agency, like the US Forest Service, or a land trust, ideally in Alaska.

She says she gained valuable experience and knowledge through her service in the Peace Corps.

“Working with an international non-governmental organization in my professional field is a fantastic experience to continue in the field of collaborative natural resources, no matter where I choose to go,” says Donaldson. “I believe I have come back from in-person and virtual service more open-minded and empathetic to places and people who don’t have the privileges and accessibility to resources that we have in the United States. My service has also opened my eyes to the important improvements we need to make in the United States, from improving environmental and social equity to preserving new and existing natural spaces.

About the Peace Corps

Peace Corps is an international service network of volunteers, community members, host country partners, and staff who are driven by the agency’s global peace and friendship mission. Peace Corps Volunteers work alongside community members on local priority projects in education, health, environment, agriculture, community economic development, and youth development .

For more information about the Peace Corps, visit