'U' announces new Peace Corps grad program

By Nicole Aber, Daily News Editor
Published October 14, 2010

As part of its celebration marking the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps, the University announced that three schools will begin a program next year offering master’s students credit for partaking in the Peace Corps during their graduate studies.

The program, called Master’s International, allows masters students in the Schools of Social Work, Natural Resources and Environment and Education, to go into the Peace Corps while getting their master’s degrees, Alex Pompe, the University’s Peace Corps campus coordinator, said in an interview last night.

After applying and being accepted to both the Peace Corps and the University program of their choice, participating students would complete one year of graduate school, serve overseas for the required 27 months and then return to campus to finish their degree in either one semester or one year, depending on the specific program.

Master’s International programs already exist at about 50 to 70 other schools. But the University's School of Social Work is the first school of its kind to participate in this Peace Corps program, according to Pompe. He added that the University's School of Education program “is also fairly unique.”

“Michigan is not only breaking ground on its own end, but it’s also moving forward in a unique way (with) the Peace Corps’s partnership with universities as well,” Pompe said.

The Master's International program allows students to do service work abroad that is more directly related to their areas of study than regular Peace Corps volunteers, said Bill Nolting, assistant director of the Education Abroad Office at the University’s International Center.

The three schools decided to take part in the program in order to attract students with “a strong international interest,” Nolting said in an interview last night.

However, the University’s partnership with the Peace Corps to educate graduate students is not entirely new.

Currently, the University has Fellows/USA programs in both the School of Natural Resources and Environment and the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. Fellows/USA is a program which allows returning Peace Corps volunteers to apply to a participating master’s program in hopes of receiving a fellowship thanks to their service overseas, according to Pompe.

Students who get into the program at the School of Natural Resources and Environment are awarded with a full scholarship, while those who are accepted into the Public Policy program are given a $10,000 award, Pompe said.

There are currently 10 students in the Fellows/USA program at each of the University’s participating schools, according to Pompe.

Students who are accepted into the Master’s International program are also given monetary incentives, according to Nolting.

“Certainly that’s one of the aspects of the program and the fellows program as well, that the schools make a commitment to offer every conceivable type of financial support,” Nolting said.

Pompe said it was Nolting who first reached out to the Peace Corps’s Washington D.C. headquarters to discuss the possibility of the joint program.

“They decided to use the momentum of this 50th (anniversary) as well as Peace Corps’s new vision of strengthening the partnership with universities to create these three new programs,” Pompe said.

As a result of the new program, he said the Peace Corps office on campus will now be recruiting not only University undergraduates to join after they graduate, but it will also be reaching out to students from across the country who are interested in going to graduate school at one of the three schools.

“We’re drawing now on the strengths of those three schools within a national academic focus,” Pompe said. “So anyone looking at a School of Social Work will immediately see that Michigan is on the top. They’ll see that this program exists as well.”

The University’s Peace Corps office hopes to extend the Master’s International program to graduate programs at other schools within the University as well, said Pompe, who served in the Peace Corps in Namibia from 2006 to 2008 and is also a master’s student in the University's School of Information.

“As Sargent Shriver originally said, Peace Corps would be working hand-in-hand with universities, and we’re hoping to build toward that original goal, and Peace Corps’s committed to that as well,” he said.