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WIU Peace Corps Fellows Program Among Top Ten in National Ranking
March 18, 2009
MACOMB, IL -- Of the more than 50 schools that participate in the Peace Corps' unique Fellows/USA graduate program, Western Illinois University recently ranked ninth in the nation on this year's list of top colleges and universities partnering with the Peace Corps.
According to Casey Lowman, from the Peace Corps Chicago Regional Office, WIU has become one of the most robust graduate programs in the country, with 12 returning Peace Corps volunteer Fellows/USA students currently enrolled. The program is housed at WIU as a unit in the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs and is managed by Karen Mauldin-Curtis, who served as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic.
"Most of the schools in the top 10 are longstanding Fellows/USA program schools," Mauldin-Curtis said. "Teachers College/Columbia is the flagship program -- focusing exclusively on preparing returned Peace Corps volunteers for teaching careers in urban schools -- and Johns Hopkins was the first school in the program to focus on health and nursing. Our program at Western was the first to move into the field of community development, and out of the 50-plus programs now, more than 20 of them are in the field of community development. While this has increased the competition for the recruitment and retention of qualified students, we've continued to work hard to meet our enrollment goals," she added.
"Fellows/USA is reserved exclusively for Peace Corps volunteers who have satisfactorily completed their service abroad and allows them the lifetime opportunity to attend top graduate programs with the benefit of financial assistance," Lowman explained. "The program integrates graduate school with community service, requiring each Fellow to undertake an internship related to his or her degree that helps meet the needs of underserved American communities. In the process, the volunteer fulfills the Peace Corps' third goal -- to bring that volunteer's international experience back home to share."
According to Mauldin-Curtis, Western's program is one of the few schools in the Fellows/USA network that ties the community-based internship to national service through the AmeriCorps program.
"We were an AmeriCorps 'national-direct' program from 1997–2003, then became an AmeriCorps 'state' program in 2003. We remain a state program through funding from the Serve Illinois Commission on Volunteerism and Community Service," Mauldin-Curtis said. "This is a unique opportunity to bring international service experience back 'home.'"
Although WIU is among the smaller schools highlighted in the Fellows/USA program's top 10 ranking, Mauldin-Curtis noted that Western's Peace Corps Fellows program sustains "good programmatic health."
"While our program is relatively small, we have excellent support from the administration on campus and the academic departments with whom we partner. This enables us to attract and retain top students from across the country. We're in a position to not only offer an outstanding financial package and strong academic preparation, but also to provide the individual attention and relevant professional-development opportunities during the student's time in our program. Larger schools can boast greater enrollment numbers but can't necessarily provide the level of support -- financial and in-kind -- that we can. Over the years, we've been recognized by Fellows/USA and AmeriCorps as an innovative and sustainable program, and we're proud of that," she said.
Celebrating its 15th anniversary in 2009, WIU's Peace Corps Fellows program partners with various academic programs offered at Western, including geography, business and economics. Mauldin-Curtis noted the program has expanded to include partnerships with the departments of political science; recreation, park and tourism administration; and health sciences at WIU.
"Our program Peace Corps Fellows/USA program in the spring of 1994, and we accepted the first class of students to campus in Fall 1994. There were four students that first year, four the second year, seven the following year and it's kept growing. In addition, we continue to explore options for expansion into other academic fields in order to continually enhance what we offer students and how we serve communities," she said.
Mauldin-Curtis added that the program will be celebrating its 15th anniversary throughout the remainder of Spring 2009 and will continue to celebrate the program, its benefits to students and its community contributions in Fall 2009 as well.
For more information, contact Mauldin-Curtis at (309) 298-2706 or
K-Mauldin-Curtis@wiu.edu. Visit WIU's Peace Corps Fellows program online at peacecorpsfellows-wiu.org. Visit WIU's Peace Corps Fellows on Facebook at facebook.com/pages/Macomb-IL/Peace-Corps-Fellows-IIRA-Western-Illinois-University-WIU/37465663143.