Nia Wilson rode hours on a bus by herself to land her first job in Dubuque. In a few months, she will fly hours by herself to her next job, in Africa.
The 24-year-old recently was accepted into the Peace Corps and assigned to Swaziland for two years of working with young people in the tiny African country with the world's highest rate of HIV infection.
For nearly two years, Wilson has helped faculty and students at Clarke University with their service-learning program as an AmeriCorps worker and advised the campus' B.L.A.C.K. Student Union. She also recruited volunteer tutors and mentors at Dubuque's Multicultural Family Center and now recruits volunteer tax preparers for Operation: New View.
Wilson was offered multiple positions when she applied to AmeriCorps, but she was most intrigued by the Clarke program. Fresh out of college, she also was fresh out of money.
"I borrowed money for a bus ticket from Gary, Ind., (her hometown) to Dubuque," she said. "I got here right before the interview and changed into my suit and fixed up in the bathroom and walked into the room with a team of interviewers."
Becky Herrig, the assistant director of counseling and career services at Clarke, was one of the interviewers.
"The minute Nia walked in the door and started talking, I knew I wanted her at Clarke," she said. "She was passionate and enthusiastic, but also genuine and not at all nervous."
In her months at Clarke, Wilson has demonstrated positive leadership and networking skills that will serve her well in her Peace Corps work, said Herrig, who works with her daily.
"I will miss her greatly, but the Peace Corps is blessed to get her," she said. "She is going to make a huge difference in a lot of people's lives."
Wilson applied to the U.S. government program of international social and economic development work a year ago, filling out piles of paperwork, and interviewed for the program in March in Iowa City.
"Questions focused on how you would deal with various potential hardships like not having electricity or running water and assessed your commitment, your mental state and existing relationships," she said.
Although the process was slowed due to the federal government shutdown in October, eventually Wilson received word that she had been accepted into the Peace Corps and assigned to Swaziland.
"I had wanted to go to a Spanish-speaking country, but I'm excited," she said. "I mean, who wouldn't want to go to Africa?"
In June, Wilson will start three months of intensive, in-country training and learn a passable amount of the siSwati language. She will settle in a rural area and work with young people on developing the knowledge, skills and attitudes to be good leaders and decision-makers.
"I'll be working with community groups, schools and (nongovernmental organizations)," she said.
Wilson has a lot of loose ends to tie up before heading to Africa, from obtaining a passport to getting a myriad vaccinations, but she is exhilarated at the prospect.
"I've always been fascinated by the Motherland," she said.