New Peace Corps Prep Program gives students a head start for Peace Corps

Thursday, September 7, 2017 - 7:06pm

When LSA sophomore Leah Weinstein entered college last year, like many, she didn’t know exactly what she wanted to do after graduation. She knew she wanted to work abroad in some capacity, but it wasn’t until later in the year that the Peace Corps became a real option in her mind.

“I always knew what it was but I met a few people who had done or were going to do it and it just kind of became more prevalent to me as an option,” Weinstein said. “I’m interested in human rights and women’s health and so I would love to work abroad teaching English or in a community center or something like that, and the Peace Corps allows you to (do that).”

Weinstein is certainly not the only University of Michigan student to express interest in the program. Since former President John F. Kennedy announced the idea for the Peace Corps on the steps of the Michigan Union in 1960, over 2,500 University students have participated. Starting this year, the University’s International Center is launching a program to involve even more University students in the Peace Corps.

“The Peace Corps Prep program will provide students with a foundation for Peace Corps service and other international opportunities by offering courses and activities in four core areas: language, intercultural competence, leadership and work sector,” according to a University press release from the International Center.

According to Kelly Nelson, senior program manager for Global Engagement and Education Abroad, the Peace Corps Prep Program is an initiative to give students a competitive edge when applying to the Peace Corps.

“Through the Peace Corps Prep program, we hope to help guide students who have interest in global service, such as the Peace Corps, to activities inside and outside of the classroom that will help to prepare them for these experiences,” Nelson wrote in an email interview.

International Center Director Judith Pennywell said in the press release the program, which is already in place at many universities around the country, will create more structure for students who are interested in the Peace Corps.

"The program's role is to create a structured pathway for students by combining specific U-M courses and co-curricular experiences to build competencies Peace Corps has identified to be valuable," Pennywell wrote.

All students with sophomore standing or above are eligible to apply, and once accepted, students will take classes within the four areas — language, intercultural competence, leadership and work sector — to earn a Peace Corps-endorsed certificate.

“As part of the program, students will complete two semesters of language courses, take three intercultural competence courses, three work sector-related courses, one leadership activity, and complete 50 hours of field experience in a Peace Corps work sector,” the press release stated.

Though the program is tailored toward the Peace Corps, Nelson emphasized it teaches valuable skills for many careers and opportunities.

“Fulfilling the curricular and co-curricular requirements of the Peace Corps Prep Program is excellent preparation for numerous post-grad opportunities,” Nelson wrote. “I would also add that this program is especially valuable for students who are interested in the Peace Corps, but aren't really sure how to go about preparing for it. The ‘road map’ nature of this program takes some of the guesswork out of it and will hopefully make the Peace Corps an option for even more students at the University of Michigan.”

The International Center hopes many students will benefit from program in its inaugural year.

“Our goal is to attract a diverse, committed cadre of students who are passionate about global service,” Nelson wrote. “Because this will be our first year administering the program, we're also looking forward to continuing to reflect on the program.”

The program is holding information sessions Sept. 15 and 18, but it’s already attracting students. Weinstein, who is a Peace Corps Ambassador on campus this semester, said she would definitely consider participating.

“It seems interesting,” she said. “Anything that sets you up to be more successful in your application is helpful.”