At the University of Rhode Island, the Peace Corps Prep Program works to prepare students to apply to the international Peace Corps.
According to the Peace Corps website, URI ranked No. 21 nationwide for medium colleges producing Peace Corps volunteers in 2017. URI’s chapter was established when an invite from the Peace Corps in Washington D.C. was received in January 2016.
Nancy Stricklin, assistant to the Provost for Global Strategies and Academic Partnerships said, “We follow [the Peace Corps] model, and the model was developed for students to be able to work on the requirements and incorporate them into their academic work over the course of their undergraduate curriculum.”
The program gives participating students the opportunity to see different aspects of what their life would be like if they decide to enter the United States Peace Corps once graduating. The University holds programs that allow them to meet with volunteers and engage with them about their work.
“The Peace Corp Prep Program, what it does is it exposes them to possibilities when they graduate,” Stricklin said. “It prepares them in terms of thinking about what kind of work they might want to do, what area of the world they might want to go. They meet with former Peace Corps volunteers who talk about their experience and what it was like.”
One of the program requirements is a language because volunteers will have to learn multiple different languages and dialects during their work. Students must reach at least an intermediate level in a language of their choosing.
Michael Rice, the program faculty advisor, said, “Once you’ve acquired one language beyond your native language, it’s much easier to add two, three, four and so forth. What happens is that the mind gets expanded in terms of being able to accept and deal in foreign languages, and it’s an easier road to learn multiple languages beyond just two.”
Students are required to focus on one of six possible areas of expertise. These include Education, Health, Environment, Agriculture, Youth in Development and Community Economic Development. In their chosen field, it is necessary to have 50 hours of volunteer or internship experience, this could include student teaching, working with the school’s EMT program or multiple other experiences.
“The students have to choose one of the sectors, and it usually goes along with their major,” Stricklin said. “They have to take some courses in that area, but they already are going to be doing that, because that’s their major. These are courses and experiences that are most often already incorporated into their academic plan.”
Rice explained that there are numerous ways students can acquire their volunteer hours or internship experience. URI offers many different options to its students, allowing them to gain academic credit at the same time.
“If a student went on my J-term course to the Philippines, they are jumping around in fish ponds, doing survey work on coral reefs and so forth,” Rice said.
Rice explained that he treats the Philippines trip like a mini Peace Corp experience, as students are fully immersed in the culture during their time.
“No fancy hotels, you’re living in the dorms at the fisheries research station,” Rice said. “They’re getting in the water, chasing fish around, dragging the nets, learning how to feed the various fish, monitoring fish populations on the coral reefs and looking at giant clams that are being farmed. They see all of the areas I saw when I was a Peace Corp volunteer.”
Another important factor in the program is leadership skills. This can be shown by being president of a club, membership in the student senate, starting a volunteer project and many other things.
“If you are assigned as a Peace Corp volunteer, you may be assigned to a remote area in the village; you may be learning your language in the village,” Rice said. “There will be absolutely nobody there to tell you what to do, and you’re going to have to develop your project with your clientele out there. If you don’t have these independent leadership skills, it’s going to be a very tough road in your Peace Corp assignment.”
Rice explained that the program has various goals for the students and the school. Every part is designed to give participants the most when applying into the national program. In addition, the program helps URI achieve its goal of being an international, global university.
“One of the missions of URI is to have our students graduate with some global competency, some awareness of themselves in the world. We want our students to graduate as engaged, global citizens,” Stricklin said.