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Peace Corps Prep certificate program available at UW-Eau Claire

| Judy Berthiaume

UW-Eau Claire is partnering with the Peace Corps to offer a certificate program that will help ensure that Blugolds can graduate with the skills they need to become Peace Corps volunteers or to pursue a career in international development.

“Students who participate in the program will have an edge when applying for the Peace Corps,” said Colleen Marchwick, interim lead of the Center for International Education at UW-Eau Claire. “This is important since applications to the Peace Corps are at a 22-year high, making it a very competitive application process.”

Currently, 100 percent of applicants who earn the Peace Corps Prep certificates are accepted into the Peace Corps program, compared to a 20 percent acceptance rate for the general public, Marchwick said of the information she received from a Peace Corps recruiter.

The UW-Eau Claire-Peace Corps Prep Program is the only program of its kind in Wisconsin or Minnesota, and one of fewer than 50 programs nationwide.

Students interested in learning more about the Peace Corps Prep Program at UW-Eau Claire are invited to an open house from 3-5 p.m. March 16 in Room 2420 of Centennial Hall.

Information will be available at the session about program requirements and the application process. The program will help Blugolds to build knowledge and skills in areas like health, education, youth development and the environment, as well as foreign language proficiency, intercultural understanding and leadership skills.

Participating universities offer curricular and extracurricular opportunities that help students meet the skill areas identified by the Peace Corps.

“UW-Eau Claire was fortunate that we already have the course work and extracurricular experiences that the program requires,” Marchwick said. “We were a natural fit for the program. It will enhance already existing efforts on our campus in global education and service-learning.”

Service in the Peace Corps is a hands-on leadership experience that offers volunteers the opportunity to travel to the farthest corners of the world and work on sustainable development projects in agriculture, community economic development, education, environment, health and youth development.

Volunteers return home as global citizens with cross-cultural, leadership, language, teaching and community development skills that position them well for advanced education and professional opportunities in a 21st-century job market, according to Peace Corps leaders.

UW-Eau Claire’s strong institutional commitment to international engagement and service-learning already encourages students to think globally, Marchwick said.

“We have higher than average participation in study abroad, and a rich history of international education and global engagement,” Marchwick said. “We offer an impressive array of study abroad and intercultural immersion programs, and numerous campus curricular offerings in global learning areas. We also offer majors in international studies and languages. All of these initiatives have natural synergies with the Peace Corps Prep program. “

UW-Eau Claire’s growing languages program is an asset because language ability is a huge part of being a successful Peace Corps volunteer, Marchwick said.

While the university’s study abroad and other initiatives that support student engagement around the world are a plus, the Peace Corps representatives also were impressed with the university’s emphasis on domestic immersion programs that encourage students to interact with various U.S. cultural groups, Marchwick said.

UW-Eau Claire also requires all graduating students to complete 30-hours of service-learning, yet another way the university encourages its students to interact with the world around them.

“Many of our graduates are looking to engage the world and contribute to its betterment when they graduate,” Marchwick said. “This prep program provides a path for those students interested in combining their education with international development and global service. The Peace Corps Prep certificate will help Blugolds stand out from others applying to the Peace Corps.”

The Peace Corps Prep program aligns well with the liberal arts mission of UW-Eau Claire, and particularly its interdisciplinary degree in liberal studies, said Dr. David Jones, director of UW-Eau Claire’s liberal studies program who will oversee the Peace Corps Prep program on campus.

Through the liberal studies program, Blugolds develop a comprehensive major involving three themes supporting a coherent program of study. Recent examples include Asian studies, international studies with an emphasis in Eastern Europe, Hmong studies and Middle East studies with an emphasis on illustration and representation.

“The Peace Corps Prep option fits perfectly with what we already have in place,” Jones said. “This will be one more way for our students to think strategically about and plan for their future.”

Interested students must apply to the Peace Corps Prep program. Those accepted will receive specific advising as they complete the UW-Eau Claire courses that will be required of the certificate program, Jones said.

Hopefully, Marchwick said, the new partnership will mean many more Blugolds will have the chance to be part of the Peace Corps or other international programs.

The goal is to enroll five-10 students in the program during each of the first three years, and then increase enrollment to 10-20 students per year once the program is fully established.

Marchwick knows firsthand how life-changing it can be to be a Peace Corps volunteer. She served as a volunteer with the organization from 1993-95 in Morocco.

“Being a Peace Corps volunteer has defined my life in so many ways,” Marchwick said. “I view the Peace Corps as my entry-level international job. For me, it helped me fund my graduate degree and led to my career in international education. For many of my friends, it led to international careers with the U.S. State Department, public health department or international development organizations.”

Blugolds who complete the program will earn a certificate from the Peace Corps; at this time it’s not a formal academic certificate from UW-Eau Claire.

For details about the program, students are encouraged to attend the March 16 open house, call the liberal studies office at 715-836-2025 or email Dr. David Jones at jonesm@uwec.edu.

Photo caption: Heather Phelps (in blue shirt), a 2012 criminal justice graduate, working as a Peace Corps youth development volunteer in the Philippines.