College of Sciences and Mathematics alumna
Cara Tupps, a May 2013 College of Sciences and Mathematics graduate with a bachelor of science in microbiology, has joined the Peace Corps and will teach biology to middle and/or high school students in the Republic of Mozambique in Africa. In preparation for her two-year commitment to the Peace Corps, Tupps will donate her long hair for the fourth time to Locks of Love, a nonprofit organization that provides hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children suffering from long-term hair loss due to a medical condition. She also will spend the summer with family at her home in Conyers, Ga., before reporting for duty in September. Once in Mozambique, Tupps will go through an extensive, three-month training process with the Peace Corps where she will learn about the culture, history, politics and economic structure of the country. She also will be expected to learn the local language, Portuguese, and participate in a workshop about the education system and strategies for teaching in the classroom. Once training is complete, Tupps will be assigned to a village in Mozambique where she will teach for two years. In addition to teaching, she said she hopes to pursue secondary projects, like hosting AIDS awareness classes in the community.
Tupps said it was her experience working with the Committee of 19 that fueled her desire to work with and help people in developing countries. As an undergraduate, Tupps also worked in the lab of Dawn Boothe, professor of physiology and pharmacology in the College of Veterinary Medicine, where she learned about basic laboratory techniques such as sequencing and bacterial culture procedures. Working in the lab sparked her interest in epidemiology, and Tupps said she hopes to eventually pursue a Ph.D. in microbiology. She said her dream job would be to work for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
1. Why did you decide to join the Peace Corps?
I changed my mind a lot about what I wanted to do after graduation. I looked at Doctors Without Borders when I was still thinking I wanted to go to medical school. I looked at faith-based missions. I knew I wanted to go overseas and I knew I wanted to help in some way related to health care. I also knew I did not want to pursue my Ph.D. directly after graduation. I wanted to use my major and spend some time away from school, so this is a great way to apply everything I learned at Auburn. I am interested in global and infectious diseases - that is what I want to pursue my Ph.D. in - and the work with the Peace Corps is relevant to that. The Peace Corps just appealed to me the most. I like that it is international and they offer a lot of support for college graduates, such as assisting with student loans and stipends for that education afterwards. But mainly I just liked the mission. They are very broad because they really assess what the country needs, like educators or engineers. Also, part of the goal of the Peace Corps is to improve the image of America in other countries, and I think that is really important.
2. What challenges do you anticipate you will be faced with?
They speak Portuguese officially, so I will teach in Portuguese. I speak Spanish, not Portuguese. They will teach me in training to speak Portuguese and I will have to pass a language proficiency exam before they place me in a village, so I will really just have to jump in with the language. I also have never taught before in a traditional classroom setting, so that will be interesting. I know I will be hitting up my education major friends for tips.
They do not have the classroom supplies that we have in the U.S. They just have a chalkboard and a teacher. I will have to offer more than lecture-style teaching and incorporate a more well-rounded approach so I can reach the kids who do not learn by listening. To do that, I'll have to be very creative. I am privileged to be a biology teacher because biology is all around you wherever you go; I can use the natural world in a hands-on approach to teaching to get the point across.
3. How did your family respond to the news that you decided to join the Peace Corps?
At first, they were very concerned. My mom was very, very concerned about Africa, but I think the image they had in their heads is nowhere near the circumstances I will actually work under. It will not be unsafe and there is an embassy I can go to if something does come up. I will basically have to use the same common sense I would use anywhere, like in New York or Atlanta. Now that they have researched the country, I think they are really excited. My siblings are excited. My sister is a fourth-grade teacher and the Peace Corps has a program where you can partner with a teacher in the U.S. I will partner with her and send information about my work, things about village life, how the schools are different from the U.S., etc. It's a good learning opportunity for her classroom and she is really excited about that.
4. What do you think you will miss the most about the U.S.?
I have been out of the country before, once to Mexico and once to Peru. Both were mission trips. Based on that, I imagine I will miss the food. I know the food will be so different and in my experience overseas, everything tastes bland. I will miss mac-and-cheese, cheeseburgers and comfort food. But, if I can get someone to mail me some sweet tea, I will be fine.
5. It sounds like you are philanthropic by nature. Why do you think you are driven to help others?
I can't pinpoint an exact moment in my life where I decided I wanted to help people but it probably comes from my parents. They volunteer their time in homeless shelters, my dad works with a prison ministry, and I admire what they have done with their time, so I want to make my life about helping others.
While she is working in Mozambique, Tupps will maintain a blog. Follow her progress at carainafrica.blogspot.com.