Gabriel Ramirez went to Mercer University to be closer to home.
The 2012 Houston County High School graduate now plans to travel almost 8,000 miles for his first job after college.
The 22-year-old Ramirez is joining the Peace Corps and will work in Ethiopia for more than two years starting in January.
“I wanted to stand out and do something that would be meaningful,” he said.
The inspiration came from his adviser, Michael MacCarthy, assistant professor of environmental engineering at Mercer. MacCarthy was in the Peace Corps from 1999-2001 in Cameroon in Central Africa.
He has started a new minor program this fall at Mercer called engineering for development, which combines water supply development and renewable engineering for developing countries.
“Mercer’s strategic plan focuses on research that reaches out with service both domestically and internationally,” said MacCarthy, the program director of the minor.
MacCarthy had the same program at the University of South Florida and came to Mercer three years ago to start up the program there.
Ramirez experienced a short version of field research on a three-week trip to Madagascar this past summer, where he was part of a team that worked on a survey to see how capable the areas would be for rainfall collection.
Part of the mission of the volunteers for the Peace Corps is to work with local governments and community leaders to improve conditions in the villages they work in, said Ramirez.
His undergraduate degree, when he graduates in December, will be in environmental engineering but he has taken many graduate classes on air and water quality.
One of the challenges Ramirez faces is learning the Ethiopian language, which is called Amharic, a combination of African dialects and Arabic.
As a vegetarian, he is looking forward to eating in Ethiopia.
“Their food is pretty good. It is a traditional side of eating with no forks and knives so they eat everything with bread,” Ramirez said.
As part of his time there, he plans to write a book about the work on all the water technologies used, which will also be used for his master’s degree thesis.
“It takes a certain type of person willing to put their life on hold for Peace Corps,” Ramirez said.
One of the advantages to completing the service will be qualification for federal government jobs at a higher eligibility.
“It’s an opportunity to put yourself in a completely different environment that gives different cultural perspectives and opportunities for personal growth with the potential for professional growth,” MacCarthy said.