Skip to main content

News and Media

Open Main MenuClose Main Menu
Haley Butler tends to wheat plants, which serve as sustenance for colonies of aphids she uses in her research. Photo by Jaden Brunnemer.

Global Impact: A journey from Peace Corps service to a doctorate

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Media Contact: Sophia Fahleson | Digital Communications Specialist | 405-744-7063 |

In a world where wanderlust tugs at the hearts of many, Haley Butler’s adventurous life path stands out.

Butler’s roots run deep at Oklahoma State University, where she not only earned her undergraduate degree in natural resource ecology and management but also completed her master’s in entomology and plant pathology with unwavering determination, Butler said.

Yet, in 2017 she stepped into the unknown, signing up to serve in the Peace Corps and charting a course filled with challenges, cultural immersion, and profound personal growth, Butler said.

“A normal Peace Corps service is 27 months,” Butler said. “I started serving in the Peace Corps in September 2017. I was selected to serve in Paraguay. I ended my service in October 2019.”

Many people have heard of the Peace Corps but do not know what the organization is or what volunteers do, Butler said.

“The Peace Corps is a governmental organization dedicated to helping community development in other countries,” she said.

Butler’s love of travel paired with her passion for helping others led her to apply with the Peace Corps.

“It’s hard to get selected for the Peace Corps,” Butler said. “So, when I got the message that I was picked, I was shocked and excited.”

Butler was nervous about the training assignment because the locations are given at random, she said, but her enthusiasm for traveling helped her make a smooth transition.

“I had never been to Paraguay before, but the first three months you’re in Paraguay, you go through training,” Butler said. “Everyone within my cohort was thrown into a new situation since most of us had never been to Paraguay before.”

Being 5,000 miles away from home was an experience, Butler said, and having multiple cultural differences in a country she had never visited before was a hurdle.

“Training consisted of four hours of language training every day,” Butler said. “I came in with almost no knowledge of Spanish. However, because of the time spent in the classroom learning the culture and language from a Paraguayan teacher, I was able to learn quicker than I thought.”

While learning Spanish, Butler also was learning an Indigenous language of Guaraní.

“I served as a volunteer in the environmental sector,” Butler said. “We focused on waste management recycling and reusing because there is not waste management in the rural areas of Paraguay. We also worked on the issue of deforestation, which is one of the biggest environmental threats to Paraguay’s ecosystem.

“I worked with a local nonprofit organization to plant trees at my local elementary school,” Butler said. “We also focused on deforestation and conservation education with young kids in the community.”

After serving in the Peace Corps, Butler faced the choice of what to do next in life.

During her time in undergraduate and graduate school, Butler always had a passion for knowledge and challenged herself to continue to learn more, she said.

This passion led her back to OSU to pursue her doctoral degree in entomology.

“She was always passionate about her work, but when she spoke of her time in the Peace Corps, you could see a completely different perspective on identifying important things in her life,” said Justin Talley, head of the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology.

“She always has a positive outlook, and her time abroad brought about a world perspective that really communicates the message with a more meaningful impact,” Talley said.

Butler’s experiences allow her to apply what she learned within the Peace Corps to what she is doing now, Talley said.

“Within a classroom and outside of class, Haley motivates students to have a deeper understanding of the concepts they are learning so that they can communicate it to a broader audience,” Talley said.

“Her approach and experience bring a unique perspective by being positive but always challenging those around her to address hard questions,” he said. “Overall, Haley has been a tremendous advocate for our department.”

Her experiences in the Peace Corps were a huge stepping stone for her doctorate.

“I learned to be flexible when projects don’t go the way you anticipate,” Butler said. “And I had a ton of learning experiences that pushed me outside of my comfort zone during my time in Paraguay.”

Growing in a place where you’ve never been leads you to gain resilience, she said.

“Haley has brought her experiences and background to the department, which is a benefit to her fellow students,” said Kris Giles, OSU entomology and plant pathology professor.

To Butler’s knowledge, no one within the department had served within the Peace Corps, allowing her to provide insights no one else could, she said.

Butler’s journey shows her dedication to living a life of service and pursuing knowledge, Butler said.

Butler will graduate with her doctorate in summer 2024. She plans to pursue a career within the biological control field.

“I’ve been taking advantage of opportunities when they come my way,” Butler said, “even if I was not expecting them.”

Story by: Jaden Brunnemer | Cowboy Journal

Back To Top
SVG directory not found.