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Psychology Department Inspires a Career of Service

By Megan Chamberlain, American Red Cross Division Disaster Director,

based in Chicago, Illinois, with responsibility for Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, Idaho and Montana.

When the utter devastation of a disaster such as a hurricane

or a tornado levels homes and scatters cherished memories to

the wind, many people ask themselves this question, “What

can I do to help?” But for the last 15 years at the American Red

Cross, I have never had to ask myself that. I know that when

the unthinkable happens, I will respond bearing the symbol

of this humanitarian organization and ultimately help rebuild

lives. Honestly, this is something I had never planned to do, but

looking back, I can see that my time at the University of South

Dakota not only helped me to find a meaningful career path, but

also inspired me to make a positive impact on my community

and country.

In the fall of 1997, I arrived in Vermillion with the intention

of studying psychology. I had always wanted to help others, and

it seemed that field would provide me the avenue to do so. While

I loved my courses and professors, I struggled to combine my

talents, interests and passions into a potential career. But after

enrolling in Dr. Jerry Jacobs’ disaster response course, my vision

for a career in the non-profit arena and emergency management

became clearer and clearer with each class. I remember Dr. Jacobs

telling us when he was a member of the American National

Red Cross Aviation Incident Response Team, and I was in awe.

Someday I wanted to be able to respond to large disasters, too. His

volunteerism inspired me and eventually led me to an internship

with the location Red Cross. As I experienced a mission-driven

workplace, it became clear that the American Red Cross was so

much bigger than a symbol. It was, at its core, Americans helping

Americans in their darkest hour and the principles and mission of

this organization became part of who I was.

As I progressed through the Psychology Department, I was

introduced to the Department Chair, Dr. Randy Quevillon.

Like Dr. Jacobs, he was also a Red Cross volunteer and served on

multiple airline crash responses and helped to shape my career

interests and spirit of volunteerism.

Halfway through my internship, the Emergency Services

Director position at the Sioux Falls chapter was vacated, and I was

asked to serve as the interim director. Even though I still had five

months left in my senior year, I accepted the position on a part-

time basis and my Red Cross career officially began.

Nearly 14 years later, I have served as an employee with the

American Red Cross in multiple disaster roles across 17 states.

I have responded to disasters like 9-11, Hurricane Katrina, and

Superstorm Sandy. In my current role, as Division Disaster

Director, I support the Red Cross disaster teams in five states.

And while I have met countless public officials and gained so

much experience, there was still one goal I was yet to achieve.

Dr. Jacobs and Dr. Quevillon’s volunteerism had always

encouraged me and I still wanted to be part of a highly specialized

response team like they were. While we no longer have the

Aviation Incident Response Team, I feel I was able to reach this

goal earlier this year. Recently, I was appointed as a Division

Response Management Team Director. In this role, I head a

team of elite disaster workers that are prepared to deploy to lead

a response anywhere they are needed in our 13-state division or

around the country. While it isn’t the exact role that Dr. Jacobs and

Dr. Quevillon had, I still think they would be proud.

I don’t know if you can truly reflect on your past and find,

interlaced like threads in a tapestry, the path that led you to where

you are today. But if my past was laid out before me, I know that

the University of South Dakota, its professors and values have

many prominent places on my timeline and have helped me to

become not only who I am now, but who I will be someday.

Megan Chamberlain, psychology department alumna, with Ted Phillips,

President and C.E.O. of the Chicago Bears, in Washington, Ill., after a series

of deadly tornadoes moved through the state in November 2013. Chamberlain

briefed the Chicago Bears leadership and players before the team assisted the

Red Cross with feeding and bulk distribution for the affected community.