Peace Corps at 60: A new beginning after pandemic
Saint Michael's among nation's top volunteer-producing schools, offering a focused "Prep" sequence for those hoping to serve
WASHINGTON – On March 1, the Peace Corps celebrates 60 years since President John F. Kennedy established the agency in 1961. The anniversary of the Peace Corps commemorates international peace and friendship, volunteerism, and service.
In that time, Saint Michael’s College has supported projects around the world through its alumni who have chosen to serve. At last count, 209 alumni have volunteered with the Peace Corps, serving within a wide variety of specialties that most recently supported more than 60 host country partners. In the Peace Corps’ 2020 “Top Colleges” rankings, the college ranked No. 16 among small schools on the agency’s list of top 25 volunteer-producing colleges and universities.
“As the Peace Corps celebrates our 60th anniversary, I am reminded of how far we have come and what an unprecedented time we are in now. The past 60 years have truly prepared us for this historic moment. During a pandemic that has touched every corner of the globe, it’s clear that we are all in this together,” said Acting Peace Corps Director Carol Spahn. “As we look to the next 60 years, I know the Peace Corps will continue to be a community of people—all over the world—willing to do the hard work of promoting peace and friendship.”
This year doesn’t just mark an anniversary for the Peace Corps — it marks a new beginning, Spahn said, noting that when the agency evacuated its global posts in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it paused operations and brought home more than 6,000 Americans who were serving in more than 60 countries.
Peace Corps publicist Joshua Voda in New York said one such evacuee was Noah El-Naboulsi ’18, who volunteered as an environmental management adviser in Jamaica until his unexpected evacuation in the past year.
El-Naboulsi, featured two years ago in a Saint Michael’s report about graduates who became volunteers, said that his time at St. Mike’s “expanded my true belief that each person has the ability to positively impact the world through kindness and service to others.”
Acting Director Spahn said the agency is now recruiting and planning for a return to service, bringing an extraordinary opportunity for future volunteers to be the start of a new chapter for all of Peace Corps. “These new volunteers will be vital to the agency’s post-pandemic success as members of a new inaugural cohort,” said Spahn, who urged interested students to see more information on current openings and to learn more about how COVID-19 may impact service departure on the Peace Corps volunteer openings page.
Voda said re-establishing volunteers around the world in the wake of the pandemic is a huge undertaking. “Peace Corps service is challenging, and finding dynamic volunteers to help support our host country partners is central to its success,” he said, “which is why we want the Saint Michael’s student population to know about our current opportunities and introduce them to Vermont’s local Peace Corps Recruiter Randi Dermo.”
Meet new Vermont Peace Corps recruiter
Randi Dermo served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador from 2017 to 2019 in the Education sector. She worked closely with teachers at a K-12 public school to plan and facilitate English language instruction using research-supported teaching methodologies. Moreover, she managed an extracurricular course for students with a special interest in English and U.S. culture. Dermo earned a bachelor’s degree in Languages and Cultures (focusing on German and Spanish) from Bloomsburg University in 2014 and studied in both Germany and Spain as part of her undergraduate education. She then earned a Master of Science degree in Applied Linguistics from Georgetown University.
Dermo joined Peace Corps’ staff in May 2020. In her current role, she works to support interested individuals in order so that they may become strong volunteer applicants. She also develops and fosters strategic relationships with universities and community organizations in the Vermont area.
“St. Mike’s is a tremendously service-minded school, and I am very much looking forward to continuing the strong partnership between the Peace Corps and St. Mike’s,” Dermo said. “I am also eager to see some Saint Michael’s graduates be part of the earlier cohorts of Peace Corps volunteers to return to the field once conditions allow. “
Dan Evans, who teaches in the College’s TESOL program and is a founder and director of the Peace Corps Prep program at Saint Michael’s, says he enthusiastically supports collaboration with Dermo to work with students on Peace Corps opportunities this year and going forward.
The Peace Corps Prep program at Saint Michael’s College is a selection of course work and co-curricular projects that are designed to provide prospective Peace Corps volunteers (PCVs) with a solid background that will help prepare them for international service should they decide to become Peace Corps volunteers after graduation. Studies and experience in a foreign language, intercultural intelligence, and in a specific sector — such as education, business, health, and nutrition or the environment — are required in the program.
The Peace Corps in 2016 awarded a Certificate of Completion of the Peace Corps Prep program to Conor Floyd ’16, who was the first graduate of the Saint Michael’s Peace Corps Prep program that was instituted at the College in fall 2015. While most students would work on the program requirements over the course of 2-4 years of undergraduate study, Floyd entered the program having already met the requirements through his previous course work, as well as extensive experience living and working abroad. He had volunteered as a teacher in Uganda for more than 100 hours, spent a semester abroad in India and Nepal, and done research on English language learners among the local refugee community around Saint Michael’s – just one example of the rich experiences Saint Michael’s graduates have had with Peace Corps, including those who have completed the program.
Dan Evans provided the following list of 18 students who are graduates of the Saint Michael’s Peace Corps Prep Program since its inception:
2016: Connor Floyd; 2017: Sarah Amour, Carolyn Hart; 2018: Dana Scheffler, Danielle Albano, Elaine Roman, Hannah St. Don, Kelsey Pellton, Schyler Shewe; 2019: Chase La Plante; 2020: Michael De Angelo, Anita Curtain, Maria Loughren, Victoria Castillo, Risa Berman; anticipated Class of 2021 graduates: Monique Gordan, Riley Hulzhuter, Sarah Benson.
The theme for the 60th anniversary is “Peace Corps through the Decades: Sixty Years, Countless Stories” and will be commemorated during “Peace Corps Week,” which runs Feb. 28 to March 6. A number of virtual events take place during that week, and those interested can find out more by visiting the Peace Corps’ events page to register
The agency’s website, www.peacecorps.gov, will also feature returned Peace Corps volunteer (RPCV) photos from the past six decades, and RPCVs are encouraged to share their stories and images on social media using #repyourdecade. Visitors to the website can also read about the Peace Corps’ history and stories from service.
Contact Vermont Peace Corps recruiter Randi Dermo at email@example.com