On a warm day in early June, Fairmont State senior, Alicia Nieman and I meet at a local lunch spot. To most people we may look like colleagues or friends who are taking some time to reconnect. In actuality I am stealing a few moments of her time to witness her crossroad moment and to share it with you.
Let’s start at the beginning – Due NORTH
Nieman was born in Morgantown on a winter day in 1979. Seventeen years later she was in love and freshly out of high school when she decided to get married, move to Florida and start her family. After a few years, Nieman longed for the hills of West Virginia and so she returned home with her family in tow.
"My husband and I were just kids and we tried to make our marriage work. But after several attempts we realized it just wasn’t going to happen," Nieman explained. "I decided that I was going to get a fresh start and move to Hawaii to develop my love of scuba diving and try something new."
Moving thousands of miles away would end up being the first of many non-traditional decisions that would lead Nieman on a wild journey. While in Hawaii, both of Nieman’s maternal grandparents fell ill and she once again returned home to care for them. During this time she had a daughter and took a few years to focus on her family and her children.
As her daughter prepared to begin her journey through elementary school, Nieman’s life was also about to head in a whole new direction.
Head WEST - To the Land of Opportunity
Granted, Fairmont may not be thousands of miles to the west of Morgantown, but for Nieman, it was the perfect place to start her new journey.
"I first enrolled in Pierpont Community & Technical College with a general business major because I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do." Her "a-ha" moment happened in American Government class with Dr. Greg Noone, less than a year later.
As she heard Dr. Noone describe his experiences as a Captain in the U.S. Naval Reserve and as the Commanding Officer of the Navy Judge Advocate General (JAG) International and Operational Law reserve unit, Alicia says she knew her personality would be well-suited for a career in international justice. She declared political science as her major and is pursuing minors in geography, international business, international studies and philosophy.
"My characteristics and past work experience helped me understand that my need for a global perspective would directly meld with my career."
At the same time, Nieman decided that she wanted to participate in a few student clubs even though she was a non-traditional student. "I first joined S.T.A.N.D (students taking action in natures defense) and attended several student government meetings. During one of those meetings I realized that government was something I could definitely participate in and so when I was nominated for student body president I immediately accepted."
So at this point in the story, Nieman has been married, divorced, had two kids, lived in three states, began college and is now student body president. I told you this was going to be a wild journey and the best is yet to come.
To the EAST - The Middle East
While making a difference on campus as the student body president is a great start, Nieman was looking for a bigger opportunity and it came at the hand of Dr. Craig White and the PACE (Pathways Advancing Community Employment) project.
According to Nieman, PACE is aimed at increasing literacy and employment through decreased poverty. Although the project began with a local focus, it quickly spread, when an Indian missionary suggested that many villages in India could benefit. After assembling a team of three, including Nieman, White, and Fairmont State professor of Marketing and Management, Dr. Sunil Surendran, three villages that could potentially be impacted by the PACE project were chosen.
After arriving in each village the team conducted first-hand, macro needs assessment analysis by interviewing over 500 villagers. The chosen communities were made up of Dalits, who are an outcast population that come from abjectly poor segments of society.
Nieman recalls, "We discovered that these villagers need healthcare, shoes, transportation, clean water, education on planting the best crops, etc. With a little direction they can maintain their cultural lifestyle but will not have to worry about going to bed hungry. Our hope is to take the observations we have made in the villages of India and create a plan to help abolish the poverty they are experiencing."
Round two of the project will be to go back to India with a plan in place. "Funding is always a determining factor but we will be selecting one village and creating an advisory board. We will then team with a university in India and use their graduate students in addition to students from Fairmont to help deploy the process and monitor the results." The overall timeframe for the project is 3-5 years and will greatly depend on funding resources.
SOUTH for the Summer
Yes, Nieman’s story is not yet over, there is one more non-traditional twist to share with you. Are you ready? Nieman is spending six weeks this summer in South Africa! That’s right. A non-traditional student who is a single mother of two is also choosing to study abroad in South Africa.
"I have always wanted to go to Africa. There has always been something inside of me telling me that it is somewhere that I need to go. I never knew how I was going to do it but I knew that I needed to. I know this is going to sound strange."
During a talk Nieman was having with her French professor, Dr. Erin Hippolyte, she learned that she could take summer classes in South Africa and earn college credit. While South Africa may not have been her first choice, the program is right on point with Nieman’s passions, growing a stronger South Africa.
Nieman did agree that it is hard to make decisions to leave her children and gain the experience and world perspective that she has gained in the last year, however she knows it is worth it.
Due NORTH, but Not for Long
As all journeys go, sometimes you have to return to camp to restock and prepare for your next adventure. Nieman has one year left of her undergraduate career and plans to graduate in spring 2012. This fall she will be looking at several different law schools and preparing for the LSATs. She would one day like to work for an international organization of some kind and continue her world journey.
"Fairmont State has been the stepping stone that I needed to for my future. I will be sad to leave but am so excited for what my next journey will be."
About this story: This story, written by Jessica Sharps, was featured in the Summer 2011 edition of maroon & white. Click here to view this edition. To request a paper copy contact Beth Martin at (304) 367-4009.