Marine biology graduate enters Peace Corps as Environmental Action Advisor

As a high school student, Taylor McCoy visited the Catalina Island Marine Institute (CIMI) on Santa Catalina Island off the coast of California and fell in love with marine biology. 

“From snorkeling and touch tanks to learning about phytoplankton and bioluminescence, it was my heaven on earth,” said McCoy, who graduated from Barry University in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in marine biology. 

McCoy’s class trip to CIMI not only sparked her passion for marine biology and the environment but also a desire to pursue a career in the field.

“The moment I became interested in the marine environment, I never looked back,” McCoy said.  “Since then, it has only ever been about knowing everything there is to know about marine ecosystems, the organisms that work together to create them and what I can do to contribute to their conservation.”

McCoy, who was born and raised in Chandler, Ariz., said she was attracted to Barry because of its marine biology undergraduate program and the small size of its classes.

“The fact that Barry offered both a degree in the field of marine biology and an atmosphere that would make me the most successful, I was convinced Barry was exactly the place for me to finish my undergraduate career,” said McCoy, who completed her first two years of college at Cottey College, an independent, liberal arts and sciences women’s college in Nevada, Mo.

In addition to her love of marine biology and the environment, McCoy developed another passion at a young age – serving others. In 10th grade, McCoy visited Los Angeles’ Skid Row during a service trip with her church to feed the homeless and felt scared, she said, because of the stigmas that are often associated with being homeless. A chance encounter with a homeless man, however, forever changed her perception of the homeless community when she learned that he had worked as a professor before losing his job and his home, which eventually led to him living on the streets.

“I then understood that the same unfortunate circumstances could befall me or the people I knew and loved, and that was a terrifying realization,” McCoy said. “I decided that volunteering to help others was not only one of my passions, but it was now my obligation.” 

During her time as an undergraduate at Barry, McCoy continued to make service a priority as the president and moral officer of Barry’s chapter of Habitat for Humanity and as a volunteer with Gratigny Elementary School’s Big Brothers Big Sisters program.

In February 2013, McCoy was presented with the opportunity to fuse her passions for the environment and service when she was invited to serve as a Peace Corps Environmental Action Advisor in the Republic of Benin in West Africa. As an Environmental Action Advisor, McCoy’s duties include increasing climate resiliency through reforestation; reducing deforestation by providing technical support to the nongovernmental organization, women’s groups and student clubs in the village; implementing tree-planting programs; introducing improved mud stoves to the local community to reduce the amount of wood used as fuel; increasing food security through the practice of sustainable gardening production; and engaging youth in natural resources protection through environmental awareness by implementing environmental education programs in the schools and in the community. 

McCoy, who began pre-service training in Benin in June 2013, lived with a host family for her first three months of service in order to learn the country’s language and culture. 

“Coming to Benin, a country that is based around French and roughly 30 different local languages, and not being able to speak or understand a single thing was very difficult,” McCoy said. “Despite the language barrier, it was the differences in culture that were by far the most challenging but also the most enlightening … Chances are that every day, you are going to end up saying or doing something that is considered a faux pas in the culture, so all you can do is sit back and make it a learning experience.” 

Following the pre-service training, McCoy was sworn into service and assigned to a village in southeast Benin, where she will live and work for two years with the local people. Despite the challenges she has experienced during her assignment, the opportunity to help others, learn about others and learn about herself is what ultimately keeps her motivated, she said.      

“I have already succeeded and failed at many things while in Benin,” McCoy said. “There are days when I cry, because I don’t think I am making a difference, and then there are days when I feel like my smallest accomplishments could move mountains. I am discovering that just being present in people’s lives can be one of the most powerful acts of giving, and little by little, I am finding a new layer to the vastness that makes up the world around me and what lies within myself.” 

Since President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps in 1961, more than 215,000 Americans have served as Peace Corps volunteers in 139 countries across the world. Today, there are 127 volunteers serving in Benin, where more than 1,930 Peace Corps volunteers have historically served. 

For more information about Barry’s undergraduate biology program, visit http://www.barry.edu/biology/marine-biology/

For more information about the Peace Corps and its volunteers, visit http://www.peacecorps.gov

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