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Former VISTA Members

Joel Nelson 

JoelCollaborative Adult Learner Support VISTA Joel Nelson is a graduate of WVU with a Master’s degree in Political Science. His main academic interests are in economic development and environmental policy. He hopes to someday work in the public sector or for a non-profit focusing on addressing poverty in developing countries or aiding in the development of sustainable environmental policy. He was born in Charleston, WV and enjoys the outdoors including hiking, camping, and kayaking. 

As a Collaborative Adult Learner Support VISTA, Joel will be working with West Virginia University’s Regents Bachelor of Arts program developing sustainable models to recruit veterans, adult learners and non-traditional students. He will also develop data collection and retention mechanisms to better understand and serve the RBA student needs. The RBA program offers a valuable foundational degree for veterans, adults and non-traditional students looking to advance or change careers. This degree is especially important in the state of West Virginia as our economy evolves and workers are displaced. You can learn more about the RBA program at

Matthew Spearly

MatthewWest Virginia University Honors College VISTA Matthew Spearly graduated with Presidential Honors from WVU in 2016 with bachelor’s degrees in international studies and criminology, along with a Spanish minor. His passion for all varieties of service motivates him; Matthew has served both domestically and abroad, namely with populations affected by physical and mental impairments, and, in other venues, with incarcerated individuals. Working to understand and alleviate poverty has been a fundamental and recurrent aspect of his diverse experiences. Matthew’s other interests include practicing and performing music, cooking, baking and reading.

As a VISTA Matthew is serving with the WVU Honors College as a Community Engagement Specialist. Here he is working expand and strengthen partnerships within the University, and between the Honors College, the local community and the state. Specifically, Matthew is addressing the issue of poverty in the area by ensuring that Honors College students especially first generation and Pell Grant eligible students are meaningfully engaged in service, with the desired outcomes of increasing graduation rates, securing more job placements, and providing service to the state. 

Jeremy Lambson

JeremyJeremy Lambson,WVU Extension Service VISTA, was born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah. He enjoys hiking, fishing, hunting, and playing sports. In 2012, his wife was given an opportunity to teach chemistry at West Virginia Wesleyan College, and they decided to move to Buckhannon, West Virginia. Jeremy saw this as an opportunity to finish his degree, which he received in the spring of 2016 as a Religious Studies Major.

Jeremy is passionate about a variety of social justice issues and is excited to be a part of the Americorps VISTA organization. During his year of service, Jeremy will be working on the Community Leadership Academy, which unites community members from elected officials to business owners and civic-minded residents, and provides community leaders with leadership skills that promote community growth. Upon completion, he plans on attending seminary where he will get the training necessary to become a pastor for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA).

Allison Eckman 

AllisonAllison Eckman is an AmeriCorps VISTA serving the College of Law’s Land Use and Sustainable Development Law Clinic and WVU’s Center for Big Ideas. In 2016, Allison graduated from West Virginia University with a BA in English, concentrating her studies in creative nonfiction. A passionate lover of the outdoors, Allison spends her free time exploring the beautiful state of West Virginia. Backpacking is Allison’s favorite hobby, and drinking coffee is a close second. She is from Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

The Land Use Clinic promotes conservation and sustainable development in West Virginia through legal services and land use planning. During her year as a VISTA, Allison will assist communities with the implementation of their Comprehensive Plans, or their roadmap for future land use. Allison will seek funding opportunities that will help communities in Southern WV thrive at a local level and will create volunteer-based projects that promote community engagement. Learn more about the Land Use Clinic at

Emily Sheperd

EmilyCampus Compact VISTA Emily Sheperd is originally from South Bend, Indiana. As a life-long resident of Indiana, Emily was anxious when her spouse came home with a new job opportunity in West Virginia. Two weeks later, they moved 500 miles away from home along with their four dogs and two cats to small town West Virginia. Armed with a bachelor’s in Child Psychology and a passion for serving others, Emily embarked on the VISTA journey with a goal of leaving a positive mark on her new community.

As the Campus Compact VISTA, Emily is working with institutions of higher education across the state of West Virginia to recruit college students to opportunities of civic engagement to improve community wellbeing and to encourage the students to use their time and education to serve their communities for life. 

Rikki Bower

Rikki CS&L VISTA Rikki Bower is resourceful, resilient, and refreshing! He served as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer at West Virginia University Center for Service and Learning. His placement concentrated on alleviating the risk of poverty by contributing to the Center for Service and Learning focus of connecting students to service. Rikki understands that it is through service that students gain valuable insight, build community, and form relationships with others.

Rikki enjoys working with students and being part a community that values service! During his free time, Rikki can be found in the kitchen, exploring the world, and taking in the moments! Rikki has a Bachelor of Science in Child Development, a minor in LGBT Studies, and a masters of arts in Social Work.

Zach Summerfield

ZachFOODLINK VISTA Zach Summerfield is a recent and proud West Virginia University graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in Geography with a history minor and a certificate in Geographic Information Science. During his time as an undergraduate Zach developed a passionate interest in the role geography and spatial relationships play in today’s society and into the state of food insecurity in the country and around the globe. He was born in Philadelphia, PA and raised in southern New Jersey before enrolling in WVU in 2012 and moving to Morgantown where he curently resides. After his year of service with AmeriCorps, Zach also plans on beginning graduate school at WVU for his master’s degree in Geography with a GIS focus. Zach loves reading, history, maps, his weiner dog Rocco, and all things Philadelphia sports.

Zach served as a VISTA on the WV FOODLINK research project building capacity among community food security advocates and agencies throughout West Virginia through the development of the WV FOODLINK GIS database, advocacy toolkit, interactive mapping tools and social media accounts. Zach’s service with FOODLINK was also focused on community outreach and relationship building among organizations whose aim is to combat hunger. The aim of the FOODLINK project is to educate and unite stakeholders, as well as highlight the extent and severity of food insecurity in the Mountain State through the development of resources such as maps, reports, the database and interactive mapping tools. Zach, as well as the members of the FOODLINK team feel improving food access and addressing the overall issue of food insecurity is paramount because every person has the right to a sustainable, nutritious diet and ultimately the pursuit of a healthy and happy life. For more info on the WV FOODLINK Project check out

Marissa Pulice

Marissa Student Success VISTA Marissa Pulice is originally from Fairmont, WV. She completed an undergrad degree at West Virginia Wesleyan and graduated Summa Cum Laude with majors in English, Gender Studies, and Philosophy. After that Marissa moved to Athens, Ohio, and completed a master’s in literary history with a concentration in the presence of disability in 20th century American literature. She then took a position as the VISTA with the student success pod. Her pod’s focus is on making college accessible to students who are low-income or the first in their family to attend, or apply for, higher education opportunities.

Marissa served with the Mountaineer Success Academy, the McNair scholars program, the Girl Scouts of Black Diamond Council, Energy Express, and Upward Bound to create various service opportunities that merge service with college/career readiness lessons. 

Nia Waters

Nia My Brother’s Keeper VISTA Nia Waters is from Baltimore, MD. She is the middle child and the only girl of three children. Her parents both graduated from West Virginia University and she is a recent graduate of West Virginia University with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Child Development and Family Studies, Early Childhood Development and Infant/Toddler Education certification. She is currently an AmeriCorps VISTA focusing on the My Brother’s Keeper Initiative. This initiative focuses primarily on mentoring young African American and minority males in the community. These efforts are carried out through the Successful MALE Initiative. MALE is an acronym that stands for Men Achieving through Leadership and Engagement. The primary focus of this program is to provide a support system academically, socially, professionally, culturally, and personal in order to encourage their growth and development as well rounded individuals.

Nia’s role as a VISTA was to develop sustainable recruiting measures for African American and minority males on campus and involved in the community. It was also her role to create programs and service opportunities that encourage their continued participation in this program and in the community. 

Chelsey Franklin

Chelsey Ladies First VISTA Chelsey Franklin was the Ladies First AmeriCorps VISTA serving at the Center for Service and Learning. Chelsey is proud alumni of West Virginia. In her undergrad, Chelsey received a bachelor’s degree Psychology, with a minor in Women and Gender Studies. Chelsey is very creative, innovative and has a strong passion for art. She tries to incorporate her creativity in all that she does, even when doing service. Service has always been a major aspect of her life. Chelsey believes that service is a lifestyle, and should be done with a great intent to make a difference. Chelsey plans to continue her service and learning as she pursue her masters in Social Work.

Chelsey served with the Ladies First Pod, which focuses on education, gender issues, and service-learning. One of her goals as a VISTA was to build capacity through collective impact; by working collaboratively with female WVU students, faculty, and community partners that serve women to develop campus resources. She partnered with Council for Women Concern and the American Association Women University (AAUW) on campus. She worked on various projects that cultivated the awareness of women issues, including the Start Smart Negotiation Workshop, an initiative to develop awareness on issues surrounding the gender wage gap. 

Erin Greenleaf

Erin STEM VISTA Erin Greenleaf completed her undergraduate degree at WVU in Animal & Nutritional Science. She is currently finishing a Master’s Degree in Animal Physiology. Erin is a volunteer foster and trainer with Hearts of Gold Service dogs. She loves to read, watch movies with her husband, and work on the farm.

The STEM POD aimed to recruit students to come to WVU and pursue degrees in any of the STEM fields or in an agriculture-related field. The target audience is low-income, first generation students. Erin spread the message to these students that there are resources out there for them to utilize to be able to not only attend college but to be successful while they are here. Erin worked with the WVUteach program, collegiate 4-H, WVU Upward Bound, WVU Animal Science Farm and various student organizations in the Davis College to help spread this message. An additional focus was working on recruitment, getting more volunteer opportunities, and recognizing the great service already being done by these students. 

Brian Ricketts

Brian Veterans/Adult Learners VISTA Brian Ricketts was an AmeriCorps VISTA working as a part of the VISTA Collaborative with the WVU Center for Service and Learning. His VISTA placement focused on increasing awareness of poverty issues and promoting higher education among veterans. Brian received his B.S. in Recreation, Parks, and Tourism from Virginia Commonwealth University and moved to Tucson, Arizona in 2007 to supervise an outdoor program for Miraval Resort and to work as a guide instructing mountain biking, hiking, and backpacking. After two years of guiding, Brian moved back to the east coast to take the position of Coordinator of Adventure Pursuits at Towson University in Towson, MD.

Having met his wife in 2012, Brian has since moved multiple times and worked in both the outdoor and photography fields. In addition to his work as a VISTA, Brian is a member of the Morgantown Bike Board and is working to start his own business in commercial photography. Brian currently resides in Morgantown with his wife Sarah.

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