A Lesson in Personal Sustainability

Fahimeh helping to make shea butter in Ghana

For Fahimeh Baziari, making the decision to apply for Michigan Tech’s Peace Corps Master’s International (PCMI) program was a smooth process after earning her bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences at Michigan State University. She was already committed to the goal of being a Peace Corps volunteer and liked the idea of coupling that experience with graduate research. When she saw that she could do both at once and that she could earn a master’s degree at a reduced cost in the well-established MTU Forestry program, she knew it was the perfect opportunity. Fahimeh pursued this path and graduated from Michigan Tech in 2015 with a master’s degree in the Forestry PCMI program.

Anyone who has ever volunteered in the Peace Corps knows that experience is anything but smooth. After her first year of course work, Baziari was about to encounter multiple twists and turns. For Peace Corps’ service, she was placed in Ghana, where she partnered with the USAID Feed the Future Initiative as an agricultural extension agent. From her education at Michigan Tech, she felt prepared for her service project, but found it difficult to work with other volunteers who were placed into forestry positions yet lacked forestry experience. Then, halfway through her service, Baziari was medically evacuated due to knee surgery, which meant cancelling her first big site project. All of the preliminary sampling for her field data was destroyed, and, as Baziari states, “I almost went home with nothing.”

Fortunately, there was to be a silver lining. She was able to return to her Peace Corps site after the evacuation and ended up noticing what she calls a “really cool tree species” to study—shea (Vitellarial paradoxa). Shea trees produce a nut that is processed into shea butter and used for cooking. One of the reasons shea caught Fahimeh’s attention is that mainly women manage and harvest shea nuts, and there are important questions about women’s continued access to shea as it has become increasingly incorporated into larger farms managed by men. Working with farmers for her service project and recording observations about their approaches to agriculture, she engaged in an extensive literature review and created a research project in the field of agroforestry: “Understanding Farmers’ Perceptions and the Effects of Shea Tree Vitellarial paradoxa Distribution in Agroforestry Parklands of Upper West Region, Ghana.” Baziari was committed to taking an active stance in finding a research topic that was meaningful both to her and to the community she was studying. She also wanted to leave graduate school with a publication and research that would lead her down her chosen career path.

Since graduating from Michigan Tech in 2015, Baziari has taken time to reflect upon her PCMI experience. One lesson she has taken with her is not to worry about the things that are beyond her control. She learned this from working so hard down one path only to see it change completely. After moving past the initial feeling of loss, she was surprised by her resilience, her ability to turn a disappointment into a positive outcome. With confidence and the strength to adapt, Baziari’s career path will indeed be full of meaning and achievement.

Written by Heather Deering