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Peace Corps Edge for Undergrads

“Deaf Returned Peace Corps Volunteers with former Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams. The group photo, along with the original story written by the Gallaudet University Museum, can be found here: Photo courtesy of Doug Slaunwhite.

Gallaudet University and the Peace Corps have signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) to establish a program as part of the University’s undergraduate curriculum, a move that will foster interest among globally-minded students to play a role in fulfilling the Peace Corps’ mission to promote world peace and friendship, and give them skills that will make them more eligible as prospective volunteers.

The agreement advances the goals of the Peace Corps to more effectively serve host countries by sending trained men and women to provide needed technical expertise, as well as foster mutual understanding between the U.S. and the host countries. The Peace Corps Prep Program also advances the goals of the University by providing an opportunity for students to combine coursework with international outreach.

Dr. David Penna, professor and chair, Department of Government and Public Affairs, who played a key role in developing the program on the Gallaudet side, said the process started in the summer of 2016 when he and Dr. Robert Sanchez, chair of the Department of History, Philosophy, Religion, and Sociology, met with Allen Neece, deaf education specialist with the Peace Corps, who alerted them that the Peace Corps had issued a call for proposals to enter a partnership with a college or university.

“With the support of many programs on campus and President Cordano’s office, Dr. Sanchez and I developed curriculum options which satisfied Peace Corps requirements and submitted a proposal in December 2016,” said Penna.
At the same time, Penna and Sanchez led the proposal through a series of internal processes at Gallaudet, which culminated in approval by the Council on Undergraduate Education and the Gallaudet Faculty Senate in November 2017, and President Roberta J. Cordano’s signing the MOA. Penna also credited Neece, a four-year Returned Peace Corps Volunteer who served in Kenya and Zambia (2007-2010) and Peace Corps Response in Guyana (2011), as well as two years in Rwanda (2012-2013) as a volunteer with the international development charitable organization Voluntary Service Overseas, as “an important person in helping us develop this program. We found him an invaluable resource as this process has gone forward.”

Penna and Sanchez will serve as student advisors for the Gallaudet program. Penna will be Gallaudet’s contact person with the Peace Corps office. Penna said his interest in the program is an outgrowth of his service as a Peace Corps volunteer in Botswana in the 1980s. “I found it to be a wonderful experience, and I know that several of my former students have served in the Peace Corps and found it to be enriching,” he said. “It also serves Gallaudet’s mission to impact the global Deaf community.”

The Peace Corps Prep Program is not a major and does not offer new courses. Rather, those who complete the program receive a certificate, which enhances their eligibility in becoming Peace Corps volunteers.

“It is a way for students to combine required courses, major courses, and electives in a way that will make them marketable to the Peace Corps,” said Penna. This gives the students an advantage in the highly-competitive application process. However, it makes no guarantee that they will be accepted.

To be eligible for the program, students must be in good academic standing and maintain this status throughout their enrollment. Those who are chosen to enroll need to take at least three courses related to education, health, environment, agriculture, youth in development, or community economic development. They must also accumulate a minimum of 50 hours of experience in one of these areas, sharpen their skills in a non-English language, and demonstrate leadership and intercultural awareness through coursework and participate in activities outside the classroom. The University will encourage a diverse pool of students to apply for the program.

The agreement between Gallaudet and the Peace Corps is effective for five years and may be renewed by mutual agreement in the fall of 2022.
Gallaudet has a history of supporting the Peace Corps and its mission, and many of its alumni have been Peace Corps volunteers. In 2011, the Gallaudet University Museum opened an exhibition, “Making a Difference: Deaf Peace Corps Volunteers,” highlighting the work of Peace Corps volunteers who are deaf or hard of hearing. Thirty-four deaf volunteers who have served since 1967 (59 known deaf Peace Corps volunteers have served, as of 2011) contributed photographs, artifacts, stories, historic footage, and documents of their time in the Peace Corps. In early 2017, five deaf returned Peace Corps volunteers presented their unique perspectives and experiences as cultural ambassadors from the United States during the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, held at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. by the Smithsonian Institution’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage.

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