By Owen Covington, Elon University
In developing countries ranging from Paraguay and Ukraine to the Ivory Coast and Papua New Guinea, the U.S. dispatches a veritable “army” of servant leaders every year to promote economic and social development. They’re known collectively as the Peace Corps, and many of these volunteers get their start at Sullivan Foundation partner school Elon University.
In fact, Elon has been repeatedly recognized as one of the country’s top producers of Peace Corps volunteers. Elon ranked No. 25 in the U.S. for the number of Peace Corps volunteers it produced in 2019, with 16 Elon alumni volunteering in countries around the world.
The Spring 2020 semester saw an additional 16 students complete Elon’s Peace Corps Prep Program, which prepares students for international service through mentoring, coursework and field experiences. Students develop four competencies—training and experience in a specific work sector; foreign language proficiency; intercultural competency; and professional leadership and development skills. The program expanded in 2019 to cover all six Peace Corps service areas: Agriculture, Community Economic Development, Education, Environment, Health and Youth in Development.
A volunteer program run by the federal government, the Peace Corps enables participants to go abroad for at least two years to serve in a variety of roles in government, education and service. Elon’s prep program, headed by Assistant Professor of English Jennifer Eidum, helps prepare students for volunteering in the Peace Corps or working in a variety of other service opportunities.
“The values of the Peace Corps Prep program feel especially important at the current moment, emphasizing intercultural competence, serving one’s community, and being a citizen of the world,” Eidum says. “We are especially proud of our recent graduates who are finding myriad pathways to service in the uncertainty of a global pandemic.”
‘An Incredible Experience’
Chloe Hultman is one of them. She completed many of the requirements for certification while studying in Cape Town, South Africa through the Service-Learning Project experiential learning course. She completed 120 service hours while in South Africa, including interning at the local nongovernment organization Call2Care. Within the organization, she worked with a local orphanage, a youth empowerment program and an after-school program. “We fostered leadership and development of the children we worked with,” Hultman says. “For example, I helped design the curriculum for the after-school program to be intellectually, physically and emotionally engaging and enriching. … This was an incredible experience that I will never forget!”
Hultman is considering applying for the Peace Corps in several years. Following graduation, she planned to work in San Diego with Father Joe’s Villages, a nonprofit dedicated to providing housing and supportive services to individuals experiencing homelessness.
Elon senior Laura Braley said her work in the Peace Corps Prep Program made it possible for her to apply to the organization with confidence. It’s a path she had not considered entering her senior year, but one she headed down after realizing she wanted to “go somewhere interesting and do something meaningful” after she graduated.
Braley hopes to begin teaching English and life skills to primary school students in Lesotho, Africa, with the Peace Corps in September. “Elon’s Peace Corps Prep Program introduced me to coursework that I have a passion for,” Braley says.
Not all who pursue certification have their sights set on entering the Peace Corps. Lallo Yadeta, also a senior at Elon, completed the program and will spend the next year as an Elon Service-Year Graduate Fellow working with Alamance Achieves to improve educational outcomes for local students. “The Peace Corps Prep Program has allowed me to create an Elon experience that was cohesive to my passions and goals,” Yadeta says. “It encouraged me to take courses that followed a common, but not restrictive, theme, ultimately making me a better candidate for many of the positions I am looking to pursue in the future. The program also allowed me to connect with many mentors in the field of international service and fellow students with like-minded interests, exposing me to incredible opportunities and advice.”
Kathryn Noon, meanwhile, completed the program at the close of her junior year, and is confident that service will be a component of her future endeavors. “I felt like the program established a strong foundation to guide my classes and internship experiences,” Noon said. “That being said, I also found that each of the criteria included components I was passionate about—engaging with my community, global health courses, [and] challenging myself professionally.”
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