U starts new master’s program

Graduate students will be able to earn University of Minnesota credit and serve with the Peace Corps.

Ashley Bray

The University of Minnesota has introduced a new master’s program that combines study at the University with hands-on experience serving in the Peace Corps. The program, offered through Master’s International, will require students to spend two semesters studying at the University before spending 27 months abroad with the Peace Corps. The program will begin accepting applications this fall. Administrators at the University and Peace Corps officials are excited about the new partnership. It will offer students opportunities to gain field-based skills while providing the Peace Corps with specialized applicants for programs overseas that require people with a specific skill set, Peace Corps spokeswoman Christine Torres said. Enrollment in the program requires a degree in math, engineering or science, but the skill sets the Peace Corps will admit are tied to the specific needs of the locations in world to which the students will be dispatched. “The new civil engineering program will enable Peace Corps Masters International students to put their University of Minnesota education to work in communities worldwide and earn credit for their service abroad,” Eric Goldman, Peace Corps program manager for Masters International, told University administrators at a presentation about the new program last week. The program is highly competitive, as the Peace Corps doesn’t give just anyone a pass to serve abroad. Gaining access is a twofold process, Julian Marshall, a civil engineering professor, said. Students first have to be accepted to the graduate program. In addition to the math, engineering or science degree, students must have a minimum 3.0 grade point average. They must also indicate on their application that they would like to participate in the Peace Corps program. The Graduate School carefully reviews the applications, and if students are accepted, they must then apply separately to the Peace Corps, which has several different requirements, including a rigorous medical check. The vast majority of students who are accepted to the graduate program are also accepted to the Peace Corps, Marshall said. To aid the process, administrators such as Marshall write a letter of recommendation to the Peace Corps. “This is a really good deal for students who are interested in serving,” Marshall said. “It opens doors for students to a whole new set of opportunities.” Students who are accepted to the program will receive credits abroad by writing a report about technical and non-technical challenges they face and keeping in contact with a faculty member at the University during their time serving. They will still be enrolled as students while overseas. Although the program is expected to be popular, Marshall does not anticipate a high number of applicants to cause problems with acceptance. The program will be open to more students in the future, as the Peace Corps is expanding its programming overseas, which means there will be more programs available for college graduates and graduate students. That doesn’t mean the organization will relax requirements, Torres said, but it does mean more students can apply as more available positions and opportunities for students with varying types of degrees and interests will be able to serve. Students who are eligible can receive loans from the University for their time studying here, but typically, it is the students who finance their trips abroad. The Peace Corps pays the students based on the standard of living in their host country. It also provides basic health care during their service abroad, and up to 18 months of health care after the student returns to the United States, according to its website. The University has traditionally had a strong partnership with the Peace Corps. It has become one of the top large public universities for supplying Peace Corps volunteers according a 2009 Peace Corps report. “We invest a lot of time and focus on the University of Minnesota in particular,” Torres said. The Peace Corps has a campus-based recruiter at the Learning Abroad Center, as well as a Twin Cities-based recruiter who spends a lot of time on campus, Torres said. “These types of partnerships really strengthen the cooperation between the University and the Peace Corps, so we like to see as many as possible,” Torres said. The University currently offers one additional program that incorporates Peace Corps service through the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences. The CFANS program allows students to study forest ecology abroad. “This second program is going to be a really great addition,” Torres said. Administrators are equally excited about the opportunity to offer the new program. “We are really thrilled to have this program here.” Marshall said. “It’s a great resource with the potential to attract many students. That is very cool.”