DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY NEWSLETTER
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
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.