TACOMA — University of Washington has long been known as one of the top sources of Peace Corps volunteers each year in the U.S. With a new program launching in fall of 2014, UW Tacoma will do its part to contribute to that record of globally-engaged students.
The Peace Corps Prep Program is a partnership between UW Tacoma and the Peace Corps. The new program will advise students on coursework, internships or volunteer experience, and foreign language study that will make them more competitive Peace Corps applicants. UW Tacoma independently designs its program based on Peace Corps criteria. Students who complete the program will receive a signed certificate of completion from the Peace Corps.
The Peace Corps Prep Program will be collaboratively administered through UW Tacoma’s Student Engagement and International Programs offices. Tracey Norris, study-abroad advisor, says, “We’re so excited to have this new program. It really taps into an ethos of community and global-engagement that has been a hallmark of UW Tacoma for its entire history.”
Organizing the new program has been a labor of love for Michelle Harper-Kowalczyk, associate director of student development, who is about to leave her UW Tacoma position to volunteer for the Peace Corps herself. “I can’t think of anything I’d rather do as I leave this wonderful campus community than give students a chance to have the same life-changing experience” of joining the Peace Corps, she said.
UW Tacoma has a number of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs – Peace Corps lingo for its alumni) in the faculty and staff ranks. Rus Higley, an environmental science instructor, was in Namibia, Africa, from 1994-96. “Living in Namibia was amazing, from working with the local people, to traveling to over 15 countries, to seeing all the amazing animal life. But most incredible was my connection with my students. I think they taught me more than I taught them,” said Higley.
Julie Buffington, program administrator in the Office of Undergraduate Education, said of her Peace Corps experience, “You learn to be flexible, creative, and to develop self-confidence in your ability to function in a different culture with a different language. You develop a global perspective and learn to appreciate the strengths of people around the world.”
Jim Gawel, environmental science associate professor, emphasizes the life-changing nature of the experience. “You can read all about the challenges faced by poorer countries, but until you immerse yourself, it’s easy to ignore. Beware, though—once you have worked in a country embedded in the culture and speaking the language, you won’t want to travel any other way!”
The program will be officially launched via a signing ceremony on April 28, 2014. Peace Corps leaders will join Vice Chancellor JW Harrington in signing the official memorandum of understanding that memorializes the partnership. UW Tacoma students, faculty, staff and friends are invited to attend the ceremony, which will start at 12:30 p.m. in the Tacoma Room (otherwise known as Room 320 of the Garretson, Woodruff & Pratt Building).