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Students, faculty and staff in the Peace Corps Fellows Program (PCF) in Community Development — which is managed through the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs at Western Illinois University — as well as Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCV), pose with WIU's mascot, Colonel Rock III ("Rocky"), and the "Peace Car" in front of Sherman Hall.
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Award-Winning Peace Corps Fellows Program at WIU Expands Academic Partnerships with Master's Degree Options in Liberal Arts & Sciences and Community Development

November 30, 2016

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MACOMB, IL — Since it began more than two decades ago, Western Illinois University's Peace Corps Fellows Program in Community Development has received national recognition, has been supported with hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant awards on both the national and state levels, has served more than 130 rural communities in Illinois and graduated 129 Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) with their master's degrees. The program, which is housed in the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs (IIRA) at WIU, was established in 1994 with just three master's degree programs for RPCVs to pursue.

Over the years the PCF Program has continued to grow its partnerships with advanced-degree programs. RCPVs enrolled at Western have been able to earn master's degrees in business administration; economics; political science (with a public administration emphasis); recreation, park and tourism administration (RPTA); geography (with a regional planning emphasis); health sciences; sociology; or educational and interdisciplinary studies (EIS).

According to PCF Program Manager Karen Mauldin-Curtis, recently, the PCF Program has added two new degree options, including a master of liberal arts and sciences degree (MLAS) and a master of arts (M.A.) degree in community and economic development (CED).

"The MLAS is a multidisciplinary degree that stresses critical thinking, comparative analysis and connections across disciplines, rather than specialization in a fairly small content area. The LAS program is designed especially for students seeking a master's degree as an occupational qualification and for those who wish to have a more in-depth inquiry into the liberal arts and sciences," she explained. "The M.A. in CED degree at Western provides current and aspiring professionals with the latest tools and skills in community development, economic development and marketing and data analysis. The degree is delivered in a hybrid format, with course content delivered primarily online with occasional face-to-face meetings. The program provides practical, applied knowledge and skills with a focus on content that can be readily applied in multiple communities," Mauldin-Curtis noted. "It's also important for RPCVs to know we offer an application fee waiver for those who apply to any of our partnering programs."

After each Fellow completes his or her coursework and a required assistantship, he/she then serves in an 11-month internship position in an underserved rural community in Illinois.

"The addition of these two graduate degrees will enhance our ability to recruit great graduate students to WIU. In addition, the interdisciplinary nature of these programs will expand the breadth of skills students acquire before they head out into their internship positions," added IIRA Director Chris Merrett.

Mauldin-Curtis said she and personnel in the PCF program work closely with academic partners at WIU to ensure rigorous academic preparation and meaningful service and professional development opportunities for the program's master's degree-seeking students.

"We monitor student's progress throughout their two years in our program and provide the necessary resources to support students' academic and applied work. Our students' successful graduation and employment rates are indicators of our ability to meet our goals," she added.

In addition to celebrating 22 years at Western, the IIRA-based program recently renewed its memorandum of agreement (MOA) with the Peace Corps for the Coverdell Peace Corps Fellows Program in Community Development.

"We're also proud to celebrate our third year of Peace Corps Prep at WIU, which offers current undergraduate students the opportunity to enhance their academic experience with an emphasis on community development and service and develop relevant skills for Peace Corps service and/or careers in international service and community development. We're pleased, too, to have support for a campus recruiter through a strategic partnership agreement with Peace Corps," Merrett added. "We're committed to preparing students for global citizenship and leadership—we're going strong and delighted to be adding programs and opportunities for current and prospective students."

For more information about WIU's Peace Corps Fellows Program in Community Development, contact Mauldin-Curtis at (800) 526-9943 or (309) 298-2706 or via email at, or visit

Posted By: Teresa Koltzenburg (
Office of University Communications & Marketing