The Peace Corps, since its inception under President John F. Kennedy, has engaged young people in efforts to make the world a better place through international assistance. Now, a new wave of university Peace Corp partner programs is promoting academic access and opening the door for more young people to participate in poverty relief efforts.
Through the Peace Corps, college-aged volunteers are given the opportunity to live abroad in developing countries for two-year rotations. While deployed, they develop their skills with local languages and provide assistance to their host communities. While the aid they provide may take different forms, from education to health support, their goal is always to improve the living conditions of poverty-stricken people.
The history of cooperation between the Peace Corps and universities already spans decades. For 30 years, the Master’s International Program, an initiative of the Corps, offered students a chance to take part in 96 graduate programs across the country and finish their degrees while serving in the Peace Corps abroad. Though the program officially ended in 2016, the Peace Corps has created more university outreach programs.
Replacing the venerable Master’s International Program is another academic access opportunity, the Paul D. Coverdell Fellows Program. Like its predecessor, the Coverdell Fellows Program will focus on graduate students, offering financial assistance to returning Peace Corps volunteers as they pursue degrees focused on providing assistance to struggling communities.
Graduate students in the program are required to embark on internships focused on using their Corps experience to help underserved American communities. To date, the program has already given over 5,000 returning Corps volunteers financial assistance while they serve their communities.
More exciting developments in the Peace Corps’ battery of university partner programs are initiatives focused on undergraduate students. Started in 2007, the Peace Corps Prep Program provides university students with the skills they need to obtain Peace Corps positions and make the most of their volunteer opportunities if they are able to serve overseas.
Training is focused on four areas in a certificate program: sector-specific skills, foreign language proficiency, intercultural competence and professional savvy and leadership. Students enrolled in Peace Corps Prep also receive assistance applying for Peace Corps roles.
Finally, the Campus Ambassador Program allows students to help Corps recruiters raise awareness about poverty around the world and efforts to provide relief. Students working as campus ambassadors gain valuable community engagement experience while helping the Corps educate others about volunteer opportunities around the world.
These partnerships between the Peace Corps and universities are examples of smart, forward-thinking policy. Globally-focused academic access programs in the U.S. are essential to tackling the problem of poverty abroad. Investing in education now can help produce the next generation of leaders focused on world poverty reduction.
– Will Sweger