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College joins select group of Peace Corps Prep sites

07.15.15
By: Mark Tarnacki
Christine Colley and friends

Christina Colley, a 2010 Saint Michael’s graduate and native of Brookline, MA, is serving as an education volunteer in Grenada. Credit: courtesy of Peace Corps

The Peace Corps and Saint Michael’s College today announced a new partnership that will offer students a unique combination of undergraduate coursework and community service that prepares them for a career in international development.

Saint Michael’s College students will be able to apply to the new Peace Corps Prep program for enrollment beginning spring semester of the 2015-2016 academic year. Saint Michael’s College recently ranked No. 20 among top volunteer-producing colleges and universities across the country, with nine alumni currently volunteering worldwide. Since the agency’s founding in 1961, 183 Saint Michael’s alumni have served in the Peace Corps.

The Peace Corps has Peace Corps Prep program partnerships with more than 25 leading academic institutions nationwide -- so Saint Michael’s is still among just a select group of schools in the U.S. providing this opportunity. Established in 2007, the program aims to support schools’ efforts to provide substantive, globally focused experiences for their students. Those who successfully complete the program make competitive Peace Corps applicants.

“Saint Michael’s College is pleased to be one of a few colleges and universities selected to participate in the Peace Corps Prep Program,” said Saint Michael’s President John J. Neuhauser.  “This will enable the college to continue and strengthen our strong history of national service.  This new initiative will continue the long-standing connection of the college and the Peace Corps which began when Bernard Boutin, the twelfth president of Saint Michael’s, was involved in the creation of the Peace Corps in the 1960s.  We at the college are proud that this tradition of service of our graduates will now grow even stronger.”

Students in Saint Michael’s College’s Peace Corps Prep program will build hands-on experience and leadership skills while completing courses focused on intercultural competence and foreign language. Upon completion of the program, which will be housed in the Applied Linguistics Department and directed by Peace Corps veteran and Professor Dan Evans (who served in South Korea, 1972-73), students will receive a signed certificate of completion from the Peace Corps.

Evans said that while completion of the new program does not guarantee acceptance into the Peace Corps, he believes that completing it will give applicants a well-directed step up at a time when the acceptance rate among Peace Corps applicants -- based on what he has personally heard and observed, though not an official Peace Corps statistic -- is approximately one in four.

He said Saint Michael’s already has offered a Peace Corps Master’s International Program since 2000 -- but that is a program designed for graduate students already accepted into the Peace Corps. Established in 1987, Master’s International is offered at more than 90 U.S. academic institutions and designed to equip Peace Corps volunteers with the education and skills to serve successfully abroad while helping students earn their advanced degree by allowing academic credit for their service. Master’s International prospects apply both to graduate school and the Peace Corps, and after completing campus coursework, travel to a country of service to start training, then service. The Master’s International degree program at Saint Michael’s and other sites also requires completion of a thesis-like culminating project, developed under the direction of faculty.

By contrast, the new Peace Corps Prep Program is designed for undergraduates and carries neither a thesis requirement nor any commitment to apply for Peace Corps service by students, Evans said. Students in the program will:

1. Select a “work sector” to focus upon, from the following categories: education; health and nutrition; environment; and business entrepreneurship/community economic development.

2. Build foreign-language skills.

3. Complete courses or activities promoting “Global Awareness/International Understanding.”

4. Complete courses and activities promoting “Professional and Leadership Development.”

Saint Michael’s Academic Dean Jeffrey Ayres, who recently led development of a new major in International Relations at the college, points out that Saint Michael’s College has offered specialized English language programs every year since 1954, when a group of Hungarian freedom fighters arrived on campus to study English. Since then, thousands of students have attended English-language programs from over 40 different countries, establishing a strong and longstanding international reputation for the college worldwide. In fall 2015, Saint Michael’s College is expecting nearly 200 international students to study in its undergraduate, graduate, or English-language programs.

Beyond that, Ayres and Evans said, Saint Michael’s already offers well-established volunteer service programs both overseas and abroad through Campus Ministry’s MOVE office, and in the local community through the Saint Michael’s Fire and Rescue squads. This prevailing campus culture of service, further advanced by the Edmundite Center for Peace and Justice, provides a strong supplement to courses already in place that would be ideal preparation for Peace Corps, they feel.

Ayres and Evans have identified 63 existing courses from 14 academic major areas that fit the program parameters: Anthropology/Sociology, Applied Linguistics; Biology/Biochemistry; Business Administration and Accounting; Economics; Education; Environmental Studies and Sciences; French; Global Studies; History; Media Studies, Journalism and Digital Arts; Political Science and International Relations; Religious Studies; and Spanish.

Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet said that students today have a passion for service and  “are interested in not just imagining a better world, but rolling up their sleeves and doing something about it.”

 “Through the Peace Corps Prep program, Saint Michael’s College students can develop skills specifically targeted to Peace Corps service and careers in the international development and service communities,” she said

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