Peace corps prep

The Peace Corps Prep Program is an extension of JMU and the Peace Corps' partnership. JMU produced multiple students who went on to serve in the Peace Corps last year, who are pictured above. 

A new opportunity for students to grow, travel and become well-versed in many cultures has just arrived to JMU. The Peace Corps Prep Program launched Thursday and offers a pathway for students to venture outside their close community and learn how to serve in a global environment.

Applications to the program are available now, with an expected deadline of March 15. The Peace Corps has partnered with 114 universities across the U.S. to create engagement opportunities with the program. 

The JMU community isn’t unfamiliar with the Peace Corps; it will only be expanding the connection through this program. Since the founding of the Peace Corps in 1961, there have been roughly 530 JMU alumni to serve for the organization. 

“JMU has been very strongly supporting in the pool of Peace Corps volunteers,” Vesna Hart, director of international cooperation and lead coordinator of the Peace Corps Prep Program, said. “Peace Corps Prep is a program that prepares potential volunteers in the best way for the 27-month-long commitment and JMU has been a very strong supplier of volunteers.”

Each student who participates will receive a Peace Corps Prep Certificate after completing the required work. The specialized curriculum entails volunteer or work experience and professional and leadership development. It’s tailored toward the sector of the students’ choosing such as agriculture, education, health, economic development or youth development.

The certificate will provide a description of what they’ve accomplished and the sector of the Peace Corps they worked with, giving them an advantage when applying to the Peace Corps or entering the workforce. 

“I believe that this is an important program that provides Peace Corps prep in itself,” Hart said. “The requirements that the students have to complete helps them, no matter what walk of life or professional future the student will have, because it does provide the intercultural competencies that is necessary in today’s interconnected global world.”

Intercultural competencies coursework can be completed in any study-abroad location where a Peace Corps office has been. Each student has the chance to practice the interview they’ll have with the Peace Corps if they decide to apply after college. 

“I think it’s important for anyone walking into another culture, in this case students who haven’t necessarily had experience interacting with that culture, to have some teaching about that culture and the kinds of sensitivities that you need to have,” ’96 JMU alumna and former Peace Corps Volunteer Erica Cavanagh said. “I hope that they gain the ability to surrender enough of their own culture to form close and trusting relationships with people from host cultures. Those relationships are what is gonna be the most valuable.”

Cavanagh served in Benin from 1997-99, working with women and children’s nutrition and health. She’s now a professor at JMU in the creative writing program. There have been eight non-fiction pieces that Cavanagh has published about her experiences in the Peace Corps, and she plans on eventually turning them into a book. 

“My studies at JMU, just reading a lot and looking at a lot of art, made me hungry to see more and see beyond the Western sense of a human life,” Cavanagh said. “It gave me an opportunity to see what it was like to live in a developing nation.”

Those working with the program aren’t alone in raising awareness for the newest presence of the Peace Corps on campus. James Stearman, student ambassador for the Peace Corps and a senior communication studies major, said he helps market the program with his fellow ambassadors and encourages students to get involved with international service. 

“I think this will definitely have a positive impact because rather than only having ambassadors, such as myself, this will be engaging and interactive because it will be its own program,” Stearman said. “I think it will give people a better understanding of international service and specifically the Peace Corps.”

According to Stearman, working with the Peace Corps has had many positive outcomes, and he said he’s developed professionally. He’s improved public speaking and can more easily connect with others in a professional context. Although not all young people know exactly what the Peace Corps is and how it operates, there are hopes that this program will lead to more applicants and a wider understanding of the organization. 

“Even for people who don’t apply to the Peace Corps after this, I think it will give them a better, well-rounded understanding of international ethics, competence and communications,” Stearman said. “The program itself will really be able to help prepare students to make a lasting difference in the world. I think everyone could benefit from it and I really think it will enhance everyone’s experience.”

Contact Bridget Murphy at murph2br@dukes.jmu.edu. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.