Megan Gostola’s Journey from Peace Corps Volunteer to MBA

Megan Gostola ’13 knew from a young age what her path in life would be. “I had every intention of doing international development,” she says. Idealizing the Peace Corps and passionate about international travel, she wanted to be “that person in the middle of nowhere who helped people.”

She double majored in cultural anthropology and international studies at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, and followed her dreams by becoming a Peace Corps volunteer in Azerbaijan.

There, something happened that caused her reverse her course. “I happened to be in Azerbaijan, which is oil-rich,” she explains, “and BP is an operator there. I saw firsthand that what was really helping people were jobs and economic development and what the NGOs in the community were doing was, in fact, very ineffective.”

“I decided I wanted to pursue a career in energy,” she says. “When I made that decision, I decided the best place to pursue big oil was Houston. And Rice is a great university, situated in the oil community.”

The self-proclaimed nomad, who has traveled or lived in eight states as well as Bolivia, Poland, El Salvador, Georgia, Turkey, and several countries in Africa, believes that her international experience helps give her a cultural sensitivity and insight that’s ideal in the international business world.

“Maybe because I’ve traveled so much abroad or lived abroad,” she says, “I’m very aware of my surroundings.” The skill first developed out of concern for safety and then became a way to succeed. “You have to be very careful in social situations and you have to be able to interpret what certain behaviors might mean,” she explains. For example, when dining with local nationals, she might ask herself, “Does someone not have enough money to pay for a meal? What’s the signal going to be? Who is supposed to pay? Is there something religious going on? How direct is communication? With which hand should I eat?”

Gostola’s international experience and community development work in the Peace Corps also helped augment her studies and provide value to the MBA program. Her experiences and insights were validated in Professor Marc Epstein’s “Commercializing Technology in Developing Countries” in which she had the opportunity to travel to Liberia. And this spring, she missed graduation, opting instead to accompany Associate Professor Doug Schuler on his trip to Sierra Leone to create a sustainable business model for his solar autoclave.

For Gostola, what began as a desire to be that person out in the middle of nowhere helping people, actually continues: “It turned out to be that I was really good at it in the Peace Corps, as well as in a business context.”

Gostola is now applying her skills as an employee of OverMont Consulting, a boutique consulting firm in Houston, where she is working on intellectual property valuation for oil and gas technologies and other high-tech applications. She also plans to continue her efforts to build an export business in Africa.

— M. Yvonne Taylor