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College adds new program to prepare students for Peace Corps

Barry McNamara
In this file photo, Craig Vivian is shown working with Katie Walker '18 on her Peace Corps application. Walker is now serving her Peace Corps commitment on the Comoro Islands.
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MONMOUTH, Ill. – A new program takes Monmouth College’s commitment to developing global citizens to another level.

The College’s Peace Corps Prep program will officially begin this fall after a soft launch at the end of the spring semester attracted 25 students.

“The College has made several steps toward producing graduates who are prepared to be citizens of the world,” said Craig Vivian, a professor in the educational studies department. “This program is a natural extension of that. It makes sense as a next piece.”

The Peace Corps certification program isn’t officially an academic minor, but Vivian said it will have a similar feel, with students building four core competencies from six options: community economic development, youth in development, education, environment, health and agriculture.

“It’s unique for everybody,” said Vivian, who added that language and service components are also part of the program. “It looks like a minor, but it’s something students can do within their majors.”

Monmouth students drove the creation of the program.

“I did this because of the interest we get from students every year,” said Vivian. “I thought, ‘Let’s make this formal.’”

Most recently, Vivian assisted May graduate Katie Walker in the Peace Corps application process. Walker is in the midst of a two-year Peace Corps commitment on the Comoro Islands off the southeast coast of Africa.

“I envisioned this program while I was working with Katie,” said Vivian. “That was the pilot program, and Katie was the guinea pig.”

In addition to Vivian, faculty members Megan Hinrichsen of anthropology and Michael Nelson of political science are helping to coordinate the program, along with Wackerle Career and Leadership Development Director Marnie Dugan.

“Joining the Peace Corps is an opportunity for students to change their worldview and also to enhance their skills to become a better citizen, no matter where they’re at,” said Vivian, who served in Kiribati (formerly the Gilbert Islands) in the Pacific. “When my wife (faculty member Jessica Vivian) and I were in the Peace Corps, we were told, ‘You’re really barefoot diplomats.’ There are many ways to be a diplomat. You can take more of the high road and work at the government level, but there’s also the grassroots level, and that’s what service in the Peace Corps provides.”

Certification in Monmouth’s program does not guarantee that students will be accepted in the competitive application process, but it will greatly increase their chances.

“The certificate we are offering is recognized by the Peace Corps,” said Vivian. “It indicates that the student has been prepared to be a fully functional member of the Peace Corps. Their application will get booted right up to the front of the line.”

Vivian expects about a half-dozen students to enroll in the program at the outset.

“Early on, we’d like to have two students a year from each class in the program,” he said. “I think, over time, we can get that number up to 10-15 students.”

Founded in 1961, the Peace Corps is a volunteer program run by the U.S. government. Its mission of promoting world peace includes three main goals: to help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women; to help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served; and to help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.