Mizzou Legacy Uses Hometown Opportunity to Pursue Global Dreams

Riley Cole is graduating with a degree in Environmental Sciences and will join the Peace Corps in September as a Climate-Smart Agriculture Promoter in Paraguay.

A student receives his diploma.
Riley Cole received his degree in Environmental Science from Dean Daubert at Commencement on May 11 in Mizzou Arena. Photo by Elizabeth Wyss.

Riley Cole grew up in Columbia with close connections to Mizzou. His mother was a journalism major at MU, his father a geography major, and his grandfather, Eldon Cole, was a Mizzou graduate and long-time extension specialist.

A student take a selfie on a hike.
Riley Cole explored New Zealand during his study abroad semester.

“I felt like going to Mizzou was an easy decision,” said Cole. “I was always kind of groomed to go to college, but I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. But I knew what I enjoyed, and that was the environment and being outside. I was a Cub Scout, I love being in nature, and it seemed like a lot of things were happening when I was in high school with people being excited about new technology and the promises that it might have in store for us as we move to a greener future.”

This passion led Cole to the environmental sciences degree program in CAFNR, where he had the opportunity to study abroad and spend the 2023 spring semester in New Zealand. Cole enjoyed the experience so much, he then was named to the International Education Committee, working to encourage other CAFNR students to make the leap into an international experience.

The International Education Committee comprises faculty members and students who work to promote and support study abroad opportunities to maximize CAFNR students’ international learning and experience opportunities.

During his time in New Zealand, Cole lived with international students from all over the world and received many new cultural experiences, from playing cricket with his Nepali roommate to observing the traditions of New Zealand’s indigenous people.

“It was a very formative experience for me,” Cole said. “I took a lot away from it. We’re kind of in this bubble in the United States, and if you’re able to go somewhere else and gain a new perspective, it allows you to reflect on yourself and your own experiences.”

A student poses for a selfie in front of mountains.

Cole’s international experience inspired him to apply for the Peace Corps, and he has now received an invitation to serve as a Climate-Smart Agriculture Promoter in Paraguay starting this September.

While in Paraguay, he will stay with a host family for the first three months to be immersed in the culture, language (a mix of Spanish and indigenous Guaraní) and begin training for his climate-smart education and promotion role. After his training, Cole will begin working with seventh through 12th graders to teach them sustainable agriculture practices, aiding communities in implementing those new practices, and helping them with financial literacy.

Part of Cole’s interest in joining the Peace Corps was teaching developing nations how to progress while minimizing their fossil fuel emissions.

“The goal is to give them tools and knowledge so they can make better, more sustainable decisions to get to where developed nations are,” said Cole.

Cole is not sure where his career will take him after his Peace Corps appointment ends in a few years, but his advice to younger students emphasizes flexibility and letting formative experiences change your path.

“Be the change you want to see,” Cole said. “There are so many opportunities out there and I hope that people can focus not just on making money after graduation, but on making the world a better place.”