Luke Bowman Interview and FAQs

Luke Bowman was a Peace Corps volunteer in Honduras from 2004-2006, then began my Masters at Tech in 2007 during which he lived in El Salvador for 5 months collecting data for his MS research. After completing his MS in Geology, he started his doctoral studies at Michigan Tech, building on his MS work. He returned to El Salvador for a short (6-month) Peace Corps Response project in 2011 and stayed for an additional 9 months through a Fulbright fellowship in order to continue research in volcanic hazards for his PhD. He is currently back at Michigan Tech working on his PhD and helping the Masters International program here recruit new students. Below are some Frequently Asked Questions and his responses to those questions.

Questions

01

What motivated you to apply to Michigan Tech?

I had visited grad programs at University of Buffalo, University of Oregon, and Oregon State, and though I was accepted at all 3, each of those universities recommended I apply and visit Michigan Tech, given its outstanding program in natural hazards in Latin America. I really wanted there to be a human/social component to my graduate research, and Bill Rose and the rest of the department seemed very supportive of this research interest when I visited. Plus, when I visited I fell in love with the area . . . so many things to do outside!

02

Was it difficult to return to school after serving in Honduras?

Not really. Sure, there is an adjustment period of dealing with reverse culture shock. And I had debated about extending another year in Honduras before entering a grad program—I didn't extend, which afterwards I had second-guessed that decision, so that made readjustment a little harder. But coming up to Tech was a great transition time, and I think it made coming back from Peace Corps much easier. There is a very tight-knit Returned Peace Corps community up here, so there are many people close by that have been through similar experiences and understand what the readjustment process entails. This is very unique, and huge positive about the program.

03

What do you enjoy the most about the MI-Geohazards program?

Currently there are 16 students in the MI program. We usually receive 4 or 5 students each year—sometimes, a student arrives to start Winter term in January. I would say about half of the students are working on projects related to volcanic hazards. 

04

How large is the MI-Geohazards program? About how many students are working on projects related to volcanic hazards?

Currently there are 16 students in the MI program. We usually receive 4 or 5 students each year—sometimes, a student arrives to start Winter term in January. I would say about half of the students are working on projects related to volcanic hazards. 

05

Do MI students have the opportunity to explore different areas of research well before they start their PC service?

Yes, there are a variety of classes that you can take to explore different areas of research. Since your Peace Corps placement is sort of a crapshoot, we constantly remind MI students to remain flexible and open-minded about research ideas, countries of placements, and potential environments in which they might be working. 

06

Are MS students generally required to find their own funding? Do they typically rely on external sources for funding, or are all expenses paid by the PC? Do MS students serve as TAs and receive a stipend?

PCMI students rarely get a full TA or full RA.  Their course demands are just too heavy.  Practically all of the PCMI students pay half or more of their tuition and fees and all of their living expenses.  PCMI tuition is discounted from regular graduate tuition rates. We have had some modest funding to offer but it is not something we can expect every year. PCMI students have no university expenses during their service, and they receive up to 7 credits (1 cr. per semester of service) towards their MS, which is just under 25% of the credits needed.  While serving in the PC they receive the same benefits and pay as a regular PCV and the university covers their tuition costs. 

07

How selective is the MI-Geohazards program? For most volcanic hazards-related projects, do you find that your advisors are supportive? Is their teaching/advising style fairly hands-on or hands-off?

I feel like each student's experience is a little different. Throughout my Masters research, I was visited by Tech faculty from both the GMES and Social Sciences department, and I had ample support while I was in the field. During my PhD field work in El Salvador, I was visited by one or both of my advisors no less than 4 times (which is definitely rare, but shows how involved faculty can be). I was also assisted by USGS scientists. Some members of my graduate committee are heavily involved, others are not. A lot of this depends on the student's needs, as well. You will have the freedom to choose (and change) your advisory committee, so much of this is in your hands. Teach styles vary widely between faculty, but most professors I've had a very accommodating and willing to help inside and outside of class.

08

How often did you talk to your advisor over the duration of your PC service? Was it ever difficult to communicate with them?

I touched on this in the last response. Ease of communication also varies widely in Peace Corps sites, but most of us in Central America had small USB modems that would work wherever there was cell signal. I was on Gchat and Skype almost all day of everyday, so it was very easy to keep in touch with friends and faculty at Michigan Tech. 

09

Compared to other PC volunteers, would you say that your PC service was more structured than that of a typical PCV? Was this something that you found to be positive/beneficial?

My service in Honduras (not PCMI) was very unstructured, but I thrived in this work environment. I think this just depends on the Volunteer and how they prefer to work. My 2nd time around in El Salvador as a PC Response volunteer was much more structured, as I worked directly with the University of El Salvador and a variety of other NGOs and local institutions. Even though it was much different than PC Honduras, it was actually really positive, because it kept me on task and furthered my own research. Either way, you have a year of classes and interaction with RPCVs at Tech to design strategies to help you thrive once you get to your site.

10

Do MI-Geohazards students have more control over which countries they serve in?

We have very little (or no) control over where the students serve, unfortunately. 

11

How difficult is it to find affordable student housing in and around Houghton? Does the university offer housing support for students?

Housing is VERY reasonable. You can find a nice place for between $250 - $400/month. I pay $233/month, and our house is very nice. We can help you find good housing options. The University does have campus housing, which is nice and convenient, but its often pricier than other options.

12

I've never been to the Upper Peninsula (or Michigan, for that matter). Is it difficult getting around the area without a car?

I live 2 miles from campus and my housemate has never owned a car here. She walks, bikes, gets rides, etc. And now Michigan Tech has a new car-sharing service. For a small fee, you can check out a Michigan Tech car for short trips, errand runs, etc. A car is not essential here.

13

How safe is the campus and the surrounding areas?

Extremely safe. I haven't locked my doors in 4 years (which maybe is not recommended, but still...). 

14

What do Michigan Tech students do for fun?

There are lots of outdoor activities. Summers are short, but gorgeous, so we try to be outside as much as possible. Swimming, biking, hiking, great camping, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, hunting, etc. During the winter, there is skiing (downhill and cross-country), snowboarding, snowshoeing, ice skating, hockey, ice-fishing, etc. Also, we get some pretty good live music and community events. The campus and grad school do a great job at putting together fun events. We also have a roving (a different person/house hosts the event each week) Cocktail Social every other Wednesday night for all of the PCMI students. During the Fall, we put together a roving Latin American movie night with a potluck dinner. Also, once a month, there is a pizza night at a local pizzeria in Houghton for all of the PCMI students and RPCV students in the area (free!). Life in the UP/Keweenaw is great. Marquette, Duluth, Green Bay, and the Minneapolis/St. Paul area are all close enough, so its not unusual to take a weekend trip to the big city for some good live music.