The Peace Corps Prep Program is designed to prepare undergraduate college students for international service.
Karen Mauldin-Curtis, Program Manager of WIU’s Peace Corps Fellows Program, said the prep program can accommodate any major although it aims to build students' foreign language skills and their abilities in one of the six service areas of the Peace Corps. Those include agriculture, environment, health, education, youth and development or community and economic development.
“This generation, millennials are interested in service and in leadership opportunities and they have very clear ideas about what they want to do and how they want to contribute,” Mauldin-Curtis said.
“We know that’s who's on our campus right now. So putting together an opportunity for them to have a pathway to service and leadership to international careers makes sense for us as a university.”
Western Illinois University is one of only 25 schools in the nation to participate.
“We think this is really an opportunity for Western to offer an additional opportunity to incoming students and it might be then a recruitment piece as well as a retention piece,” Mauldin-Curtis said. “It’s going to add value to a student’s experience while they’re here.”
Over the last 50 years, 354 Western graduates have served in the Peace Corps. But Rok Teasley, a Midwest recruiter for the Peace Corps, said those numbers have been dwindling recently. Only six Western grads applied last year, with three being accepted.
Teasley hoped the program will increase Western’s representation in the Peace Corps by helping WIU students gain a competitive edge.
“It is an overarching theme of Western Illinois and we don’t know how it happened, I think it’s based on [Western’s] curriculum and leadership but there is a passion here for international service,” Teasley said.
Brad Merryman, Manager for the Peace Corps Midwest Region, said the Peace Corps application process has become more competitive. But, the agency does not keep track of its acceptance rate. Merryman said he recruits students who have technical skills, a sense of adventure, and an interest in cultures.
“I think the core pitch and the core message haven’t changed back over the last 50 years,” Merryman said.
“The message of the Peace Corps is all about is making a difference -- making a difference in people’s lives and in the communities we serve overseas.”