The University of West Florida is joining with schools around the country to help give students a head start at being accepted in the Peace Corps.
“The university has actually been involved with the Peace Corps for many, many years,” said Dr. Karen Smith, assistant director of international programs at the University of West Florida. She says the Peace Corps is involved in the university’s International Education Week each November and in their Study Abroad Fairs in the fall and spring.
“They also have been active in coming onto campus as part of working with our career services to help students to understand the types of opportunities that the Peace Corps provides."
The new course is called Peace Corps Prep. It’s is a certificate program, which teaches students sector-specific skills, foreign language proficiency, intercultural competence and leadership. While having a Peace Corps Prep certificate does not guarantee acceptance into the Peace Corps, enrolling in the program will help students be more competitive. Dr. Smith says there are six specific areas of focus for students.
“And so the courses that they take are designed to help build a competency in one of those six areas. And (they) would be education, health, agriculture, youth development, community economics and working with English as a second language. And so the students take developmental courses that help them to translate theory and efforts into a context in which a culture can absorb. But then they are also developing skill sets that would help them to create a special project when they are abroad in the Peace Corps.”
Students in the program would take several courses specific to their chosen focus area. They would also do work out in the field that aligned with that choice.
“For example, if a student was selecting education, which is probably one of the most common areas, then the students could volunteer at a disadvantaged school where there are greater needs both from an academic stand point, but also socio-economic needs. For example our national office has a volunteer program with (C.A.) Weis Elementary School in Pensacola. So that’s an opportunity where students can works and understand the different kinds of services that are provided to at-risk students. Because they’ll find that those same types risks and needs are in developmental countries as well.”
All of this work is planned in coordination with the Peace Corps, along with the other schools across the country running the program.
“The Peace Corps Prep programs, there are 10 in the state of Florida, now we’re the tenth university, and about 135 in the country. So each of those universities partner with the Peace Corps, with existing curriculum that they have on campus and faculty sponsors, and we work together to develop a curriculum selection option for students and then those are approved by the Peace Corps as meeting all of the requirements for each of the sector areas.”
Dr. Smith says the program not only provides a base that students can use to build a career in the Peace Corps, but it also can determine if joining the corps is the right decision for them.
“The Peace Corps may sound like a really wonderful idea, but it may not be the best fit for all students. So going through a developmental program, understanding the competencies that need to be gained, plus the orientation and the mentoring that occurs as a part of this program, students will be (able) to understand if this is a good fit for them. They’ll also have a guided understanding of the program and the services that would be expected on entrance.”
The university is currently building the portals students will need to apply for this program on line. They hope to formally launch during UWF’s International Week in November. Classes will begin in January of 2021.