December 6, 2005: Headlines: COS - Kazakhstan : Daily Iowan: Chris Mutel served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kazakhstan

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Kazakstan : Peace Corps Kazakhstan : The Peace Corps in Kazakstan: December 6, 2005: Headlines: COS - Kazakhstan : Daily Iowan: Chris Mutel served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kazakhstan

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Chris Mutel served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kazakhstan

Chris Mutel served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kazakhstan

As he finishes his master's degree in environmental engineering, he said the invaluable lessons he learned in Kazakhstan will influence into his work for the rest of his life. "It made me a lot more focused on the idea of finding appropriate solutions," he said. "I learned if you're trying to advocate sustainable practices and policies, they need to be appropriate to place."

Chris Mutel served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kazakhstan

The nature of 'stuff'

By: Jason Pulliam - The Daily Iowan

Issue date: 12/6/05 Section: Metro

As Chris Mutel prepares to take the airwaves in the dimly lit KRUI studio, the delicate strumming of an acoustic guitar on a Greg Brown track delivers the melodic lead into his talk show "Environment @ Iowa":

John Muir walked away into the mountains … a crust of bread in his pocket … we have no knowledge, and so we have stuff … and stuff with no knowledge … it just won't get you there...

A stroke of good fortune enabled the 28-year-old to tuck two loves into the opening seconds of his show: the music of an Iowa folk musician singing about a pioneering American naturalist.

The sustainability minded UI graduate student hopes the show will help people realize fulfillment can be discovered through more than just acquiring the material "stuff" Brown sings about.

"Being outdoors, for me, is like being in church," Mutel said. "You feel like the boundaries are gone."

His zeal for the world's sensory wonders was born out of routine interfaces with nature growing up in the countryside near Solon, where he and his family took daily walks through the woods.

Mutel credits his parents with instilling in him their passion for the outdoors.

"It was so wonderful," he said. "I think every time I go out to my parents' house, I feel this weight lifted."

He was 11 months old when his parents, Connie and Robert Mutel, took him on his first hiking trip in Glacier National Park in Montana, before he was even able to walk.

Between the daily walks in the woods and family vacations in the wilderness, Connie Mutel said, nature was an important influence on Chris and his brothers.

"I think for all of them, it's a deep part of their spirituality," she said.

Chris Mutel's lifelong interest in making a difference in the world weighed heavily upon his decision to join the Peace Corps when he graduated from the UI with a bachelor of science degree in geography in 2000.

His Peace Corps recruiter presented him with the opportunity to teach environmental education in central Asia but told him she would allow him some time to think about the assignment.

"I said to her, 'I don't need any time. What exactly is central Asia?' " he recalled with a smile.

Central Asia ended up being Kazakhstan, where Mutel spent the next three years and met his wife, Tonya. Upon landing in the former Soviet republic at 4 a.m. on the day of his arrival, he was struck by the intense cold and the power outage that had left his hotel without electricity and heat.

Mutel opted to greet the challenge as an opportunity.

"I just kept thinking, this is such a great beginning to this adventure," he said.

As he finishes his master's degree in environmental engineering, he said the invaluable lessons he learned in Kazakhstan will influence into his work for the rest of his life.

"It made me a lot more focused on the idea of finding appropriate solutions," he said. "I learned if you're trying to advocate sustainable practices and policies, they need to be appropriate to place."

Upon finishing up at the UI, he plans to enroll in a doctoral program. The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland, is his No. 1 choice.

Forrest Meggers, a UI alum and friend of Mutel, is working as a research assistant in Zurich. He feels Switzerland's natural beauty and environmental progressivism will be among the best things to greet Mutel if he decides to go there to further develop his talents.

"We are lucky to have people such as Chris with big brains capable of high achievement," Meggers said. "Combined with big hearts that drive him to help the whole, not the individual."

Regardless of what direction his career leads him, Mutel knows he'll be doing something he's passionate about.

"I feel like I'm living the life I dreamed about when I was younger," he said.

"And that's turning interesting intellectual ideas into policies and technologies that are making the world better."

E-mail DI reporter Jason Pulliam at:

When this story was posted in December 2005, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Story Source: Daily Iowan

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