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Thursday, May 15, 2014

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First Person: Venus Reyes Flourishes in 'Mizzou' Coverdell Fellows

The Paul D. Coverdell Fellows program has transformed my life. I am a second-year fellow at the University of Missouri’s Truman School of Public Affairs, and have received three critical things through my participation in this fellowship: First, financial support, entailing a full cancelation of all university tuition and fees, plus extra stipends for books and living expenses; second, a service-learning program model including weekly service with a local nonprofit that aligns with my professional interests and leverages the knowledge and skills I am gaining in the classroom; finally, a community of fellows, namely, nine other RPCV students who have provided deep personal and professional support as I have made my way through the program.

The fellowship made this Master of Public Affairs program feasible for me. It has also enriched nearly every element of my academic experience, deepening my learning, helping me connect to and serve the community, and providing a network of fellows to dialog with and enjoy.

But, let me back up. I am a returned Peace Corps Volunteer who was part of the youth development program in El Salvador from 2008–11. I lived in a small town in the rolling green hills of the country’s western coast, helping nonprofits collaborate with each other to increase capacity-building opportunities for youth in the rural sector. I also assisted youth leaders in gaining the skills they needed to serve and lift their communities. The theme of almost all my work was to help service providers become more targeted, efficient, and impactful as they fulfilled their daily missions.

When I returned to the United States from El Salvador, I knew that I wanted to continue the professional path that I had started, and I identified a Masters of Public Affairs as a key step forward. I was overwhelmed by the possibilities, and used the Peace Corps’ database of Coverdell Fellows partnerships to help narrow my list. I knew that if a program was interested in RPCVs, it would probably align well with me. The University of Missouri’s program is especially generous, paying fellows to study there, so I scheduled an appointment with their Truman School of Public Affairs and their Coverdell Fellows coordinator. As soon as we met, I knew it was a solid fit: The program helps students to develop both a concrete skill set as well as the theoretical framework I longed to learn. The fellows coordinator and other fellows at ‘Mizzou’— short for Miss(ouri) U—were deeply welcoming and supportive as well. I applied to the program the next week and was thrilled to be accepted. 

My service component has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my time here in Columbia [Missouri]. I volunteer for the American Red Cross, Heart of Missouri Chapter, focusing on their Restoring Family Links program with their line of international services. The program helps families broken apart by war, disaster, or refugee assignments find and reconnect with each other. It has been profoundly moving for me to play a small role in bringing brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers back together after years of traumatic separation. This experience has strengthened my desire to work closely with internationally oriented service providers.  

Now, two years deep into my academic experience, I am due to graduate this month. This has been one of the most challenging and rewarding times in my life, and I can only wish the same for other fellows.”


Katerina Barnes Braves Creepy Crawlies on the Way to Her MI Degree

No one told her about the spiders. Katerina Barnes, a Master’s International student currently serving in Senegal said, “I am afraid of spiders. During the rainy season, these large ‘camel spiders’ come out at night. My first encounter with these spiders was on a cool evening. My host family and I were sitting and talking when suddenly my host mother started mumbling and swatting at her shirt. Someone turned the light on her and then I saw it. I jumped up and screamed and ran toward my hut. Everyone asked, ‘What’s wrong?’ I just pointed and yelled. My host family laughed at me and said, ‘They don't bite!’ I was paranoid for several weeks.”

Besides contending with spiders, Barnes is also undertaking important field work as she works toward a master’s degree from SIT Graduate Institute and serves as an agroforestry extension Volunteer. She works with rural farmers to encourage them to incorporate planting tree species with their crops as a way to help improve soil conditions. “Some agroforestry technologies include live fencing, alley cropping, windbreaks, and home gardens,” Barnes explained.

Barnes arrived in September 2012 and completes her service in November 2014. She said, “In April of 2013, I began to work with farmers to grow thorny tree species in tree nurseries. The purpose is to grow these species to about three feet and plant them around the perimeter of their field. The thorny tree species will protect the field from animals that want to eat the crops and improve the soil condition. The work begins in April and ends between August and September.”

Depending on the time of year, her typical day consists of eating breakfast with her family, then going to the fields to weed crops. Lunch is a leisurely affair that includes a long rest period of lying under the trees and drinking tea. At times, Barnes goes to her work partner's home to check on her tree nurseries. She also sometimes has to leave her village to attend meetings and events in other parts of the country. Travel to other regions requires special effort as Barnes lives in a rural community—a village of 500 people—in the Kaolack region of Senegal, about two-and-a-half to three hours southwest of the capital Dakar by road.

Barnes has known since her undergraduate days that working in the international arena would be the best option for her. She said, “I chose my major my realizing that my interests were in international affairs and cultural studies. One day, I walked in the Office of International and Intercultural Affairs to speak with the director. As I waited to speak with her, on the dresser I saw a pamphlet on the major 'International Studies.' I looked through it and saw how my interests could be met with this degree. I was very excited to start picking my classes through this program.”

Her undergraduate institution, Virginia Wesleyan College, encouraged her to apply for graduate school and, in the course of her explorations, Barnes learned about the Master’s International program— and the program has helped shape her philosophy.

“My courses at SIT have prepared me for the Peace Corps,” she said. “I learned how collaborating with people in the developing world is very important. I feel that collaboration allows both parties to be on equal terms. The concept of ‘going abroad to help people’ is one that can be harmful to your relationships. The mentality of ‘going abroad to help people’ implies a superior-inferior relationship.”

Barnes has come across a saying by Lao Tzu painted in a classroom in a school in Senegal that better exemplifies her approach to development work. She quotes from it, “Go to the people. Live with them. Learn from them. Love them. Start with what they know. Build with what they have. But with the best leaders, when the work is done, the task accomplished, the people will say 'We have done this ourselves.’”

Barnes looks forward to receiving her master’s degree in spring 2015. As she works toward this important milestone, she keeps her eyes on the prize of learning to be one of “the best leaders” and, at times, she is able to forget about the spiders. 


Peace Corps Partners with Six New Colleges and Universities to Prepare Students for International Service

This spring semester, the Peace Corps established new partnerships with six universities and colleges accepted into the Peace Corps Prep program. The collaboration offers students a unique combination of undergraduate coursework and community service that prepares them for work in international development. 
Students at Arcadia University, Georgia Gwinnett College, Hiram College, Ursinus College, University of Washington-Tacoma, and Wilmington College can apply to their school’s new Peace Corps Prep program for enrollment beginning in fall 2014. 
“We are thrilled to partner with each of these schools to expand the Peace Corps Prep program,” acting Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet said. “This program is a wonderful example of our growing efforts to foster stronger collaboration with colleges and universities nationwide to prepare civic-minded students for international service.”
Each school independently designs its program based on specified criteria that reflect the Peace Corps’ grassroots, integrated approach. A typical Peace Corps Prep program consists of two years of coursework with a focus on international development, internship or volunteer experience related to the Peace Corps’ project areas, and foreign language study.
The Peace Corps’ new partners join a number of other institutions across the country with Peace Corps Prep programs, including Elon University, Knox College, Pittsburg State University, Shawnee State University, University of Missouri, University of Montana, University of North Georgia, and Wittenberg University. Schools are selected for the program based on their demonstrated interest in promoting international learning and service opportunities to their students. 
The Peace Corps Prep program was established in 2007 at Knox College with the purpose of offering targeted educational and skill-building opportunities to undergraduate students interested in serving with the Peace Corps. Students who successfully complete the program gain knowledge and experience that make them more competitive Peace Corps applicants. All Peace Corps Prep graduates receive a signed certificate of completion from the Peace Corps. 
School officials interested in participating in the Peace Corps Prep program can email for more information. 


Top-Producing MI and Fellows Schools Announced

Last week, the Peace Corps announced which Master’s International and Coverdell Fellows schools produced the most students in their respective programs. The number of students reported is based on Master’s International students in the field as of September 30, 2013, and Coverdell Fellows enrolled at their universities as of September 2013 (fall semester).

Leading the list for Master’s International schools is Michigan Technological University with 32 students. Following are No. 2 Monterey Institute of International Studies, 25 students; No. 3 Tulane University, 24 students; No. 4 University of Denver, 22 students; No. 5 University of South Florida, 21 students; No. 6 University of Washington, 20 students; No. 7 George Mason University, 15 students; No. 8 University of Montana, 15 students; No. 9 Illinois State University, 13 students; No. 10 American University, Indiana University and SIT Graduate Institute with 12 students each.

At the top of the list for Coverdell Fellows schools is University of Denver with 69 fellows. Ranked No. 2 and 3 are University of Arizona, with 63 fellows, and Brandeis University, with 53 fellows, respectively. Ranked No. 4 is Johns Hopkins University with 46 fellows and ranked No. 5 is Teachers College, Columbia University with 35 fellows. In a tie for sixth place, both Duke University and The New School have 29 fellows. University of Michigan comes in at No. 8 with 25 fellows. American University places at No. 9 with 21 fellows, and Monterey Institute of International Studies completes the top-10 rankings with 20 fellows.

“We would like to congratulate our top-10 Coverdell Fellows and Master’s International schools for their achievements,” said Debra Timmons, acting director for the Peace Corps’ Office of University and Domestic Partnerships. She added, “In fact, we are proud of all of our programs, large and small, that work each year to recruit and shepherd students in the competitive world of graduate studies.” 

For more information on top schools, read the press release. 


Last Call for Exemplary Master's Theses

Did you do a top-notch job on your Master’s International thesis or capstone project? Ask your faculty advisor to submit your thesis for inclusion in the Peace Corps’ Anthology of Master's International Degree Projects and Theses. Submitted theses will be posted on the Peace Corps website. To submit a thesis, have your faculty advisor send a PDF file with an abstract to by June 30. Theses submitted by June 30 will be posted September 2014. Theses submitted after June 30 will be posted in 2015.


The UDP Team

Ellen Alderton, Point of contact for: AK, ID, MT, OR, WA

Alicia Barrera, Point of contact for: CT, MA, ME, NH, NJ, NY, PA, RI, VT

Gregory Kennedy, Point of contact for: AZ, IA, IL, IN, KY, MI, MN, MO, ND, OH, SD, Southern CA, WI

Andres Lahiguera, Point of contact for: AL, AR, CO, FL, GA, KS, LA, MS, NE, NM, OK, PR, SC, TN, TX, UT, WY

Debra Timmons, Point of contact for: DC, DE, HI, MD, NC, Northern CA, NV, VA, WV


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