By JONATHON MYERS
Starting in the fall of 2017, the University of Mary Washington will be offering a program to students interested in joining the Peace Corps after graduation. In a newly acquired partnership with the Peace Corps, students will have the opportunity to prepare for a volunteer experience that would take place following their college years.
Designed to prepare students for Peace Corps service, the prep program integrates coursework with hands-on experience and professional development.
The Peace Corps operates within six different branches of work programs to aid people in need, utilizing people of all talents. These include community economic development, youth development, education, environment health and agriculture. In addition, volunteers can participate in secondary projects that they develop themselves using their own strengths and interests.
There are more than 50 countries that volunteers can apply to work in and locations vary from the Caribbean, to Latin America, to Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Africa, the Middle East and the Pacific Islands. It’s fair to say that students and potential volunteers would be preparing for a varied experience in a variety of differing locations.
The prep program facilitates the development of four core skills: training and experience, foreign language proficiency, intercultural competence and professional development and leadership. All of these core skills are critical to Peace Corps success.
As part of the application process, students must incorporate a list of courses they plan to take that will focus on each of the core skills. In addition, the program will aid in meeting the experiential learning requirement as well as some major and minor requirements.
During the 27-month experience, housing expenses are covered as volunteers are placed with host families. Two vacation days are earned for every month of work, giving volunteers 48 days to travel and explore over the course of their time there. Medical and dental are completely covered and volunteer safety is the organization’s primary concern.
Volunteer work for the Peace Corps counts as qualifying employment for the federal government’s Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. This means that volunteer work for the Peace Corps can potentially get your student loan debt waived entirely. This is often a bonus to students interested in serving.
The post service benefits can also be viewed as appealing. Volunteers are given $8,000 upon completion of their service. There are also graduate school programs that offer Peace Corps veterans reduced tuition, assistantships and stipends for those who are looking to continue with their education.
Future employers also like to see the skills one can learn in the Peace Corps when looking for new applicants. The Peace Corps even offers services for helping their volunteers find jobs after their time abroad is over.
“I believe it’s a wonderful program,” said sophomore art major Shane Schwasta. “It will open up opportunities for students planning to go that route and give new possibilities to students who are still deciding what it is that they want to do.”
For more information contact Kyle Danzey, the program’s campus coordinator.