Immersive experiences in the field cannot be taught in a classroom. The key to becoming a successful global health professional is stepping out of your comfort zone and traveling somewhere new. Master of Public Health (MPH) alumna Jenna Koelsch, MPH ’23, is gaining meaningful experiences in the Peace Corps as an HIV/AIDS Youth and Adolescent Health Advocacy Volunteer in Lesotho, Africa.

Koelsch studied laboratory science during her undergraduate at Grand Valley State University. During that time, she began to develop a strong interest in global health and studying infectious diseases. She then became more involved in promoting health equity and social justice causes. “That helped shape the direction I wanted to go. Combined with my background in medicine, I knew at that point public health was what I wanted to pursue.”  

The Michigan State University MPH program appealed to Koelsch right away - the focus on serving diverse local and diverse communities aligned with her mission.

“As public health professionals, it is important to see the bigger picture. It is like a puzzle…there’s environment, healthcare, social and historical context, etc. that make up the pieces. If you do not have all the pieces for your puzzle, you cannot see the full picture. And I love MSU because they enable you to see the full picture with their generalist degree.”

Finding Purpose in Peace Corps

As soon as her interest in global health grew, Koelsch began to seriously consider joining the Peace Corps. “Peace Corps is the perfect opportunity for anyone interested in global health and for anyone who wants to gain a new perspective on the world,” she said. “I knew I had to have an immersive experience to really understand what it’s like to be a global health professional.”

Koelsch also felt the need to help provide opportunities for those living in areas with low economic circumstances and high disease prevalence. “I feel like it’s my responsibility as someone born with opportunities, and as a human being, to give back.”

Koelsch credits a Peace Corps alumna, as a strong advocate for her during her Peace Corps journey. “She has been a big supporter. I love that I am still able to have that student-faculty relationship even after I have finished the MPH program,” Koelsch said. Currier also leads the MPH education abroad program in Ghana every summer.

“I participated in the study abroad trip to Ghana, and that experience really helped prepare me for what service work abroad in a low-income country would look like,” Koelsch said. “And it also showed me how to practice humility. You might come into a community thinking, ‘I have all of this knowledge to share,’ but you still end up being the person who knows the least.”

Shortly after finishing her MPH in August 2023, Koelsch trained for three months to become a Peace Corps volunteer before starting her 2-year position in Africa. As a health volunteer her duties include assisting with supply chain and stock management in community pharmacies. Providing the best services and medications for communities is crucial for HIV/AIDS prevention. Koelsch’s team is also planning youth-friendly services and learning opportunities for the community.

“We’re hoping to create youth clubs in the community that focus on HIV prevention,” she said. “We’re working on community health assessments to get a better understanding of what’s important to the community, what are the strengths, what resources are already available, and figure out where we fit into the picture.”

Looking to the Future

Koelsch hopes to attend medical school after her volunteer position ends in 2025. She said, “My love of medicine has never left me, and now I have the time and will to study and apply. And hopefully, medical school will lead me to come back to Lesotho and serve in another capacity in the future.

Throughout her life and career, Koelsch realizes that no one must face anything alone. She credits her mentors and trustworthy people in her life for helping her become the person she is today.

“Having that realization has helped me in so many ways. It has helped me build so many relationships and create a professional network I can always lean on,” she said.

She encourages public health students to be unafraid of failure and to use their training to take on the world’s injustices. “Go out to a country and learn a new language and meet new people. I think that we have more power to change the world than we realize.”

For MPH students who are interested in learning more about the Peace Corps, Jenna would be happy to talk more about her experience and answer questions. Reach out to her at


February 26, 2024