UB’s Peace Corps Prep participants make the most of our world

College of Public & International Affairs graduates take a deeper dive into international service opportunities

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"It's not easy being a Peace Corps Volunteer," says Alphea John '14 who is currently serving in Peace Corps China. "Finding my inner peace is essential."

UB students are jumpstarting their careers in international service and gaining an edge in the highly competitive selection process for admittance to the Peace Corps, thanks to the University of Bridgeport’s Peace Corps Prep (UBPCP) Program. Established in 2014 and the first of its kind in New England, UBPCP has enrolled 36 students since its inception, with 20 currently in the program and 16 graduated. Upon graduation, participants are granted special consideration for acceptance into the Peace Corps with a Certificate of Completion, an impressive professional credential, issued by the Peace Corps. The Certificate also opens the door to highly rewarding service opportunities, both domestic and international.

Among UBPCP participants and CPIA graduates, three students have been invited to join the Peace Corps and others have gone on to elite graduate schools or other domestic opportunities.

  • Bryn Hagley ’15 currently serves in Peace Corps Senegal, in the Kaffrine region.
  • Fernando Gonzalez ’17 begins Peace Corps Morocco in September.
  • Simon Arias ’16 was invited to join Peace Corps Ukraine but opted to pursue an M.A. in International Relations and Economics with a special focus on Conflict Management at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C.
  • Alphea John ’14 currently serves in Peace Corps China.
  • Virginia Orman ’16 currently serves in Americorps VISTA, a renown domestic public service program.
  • Flor Montero ’13 served in Peace Corps Nicaragua.
See Bryn Hagley’s Full Profile Here >

For Hagley, who marks the end of his two-year service in Senegal in March, two concepts from UBPCP made an immense difference in his ability to succeed as a community health volunteer. “Prep taught me to not only appreciate the culture in which you live but to understand your audience,” he said. Working and living in rural Africa under the name Lamean Thaim, Hagley adapts his message to suit his audience. “While a fellow volunteer living in the city can do projects involving reading and writing, a large chunk of my work is done with illiterate people, so visual and oral presentations are vital for getting my messages across.”

For other UBPCP participants, like Gonzalez, the dream of working abroad was further cemented through the program. “I met returned Peace Corps volunteers who spoke about their experiences,” Gonzalez shared. “Their words clarified and further inspired my ambition to apply.”

As a leader in international development, the Peace Corps seeks motivated Americans of diverse backgrounds, well trained with specialized education and skills to immerse themselves in some of the most remote corners of the world to tackle urgent challenges and turn them into collective accomplishments.

About the University of Bridgeport’s Peace Corps Prep Program

UBPCP offers two options as a path to the Peace Corps—a Core Certificate or a Sector-Specific Certificate. Both routes require proficiency in a foreign language, intercultural competence courses, and 100 hours of community service in youth in development, community economic development, or health. The program is run on campus, and required courses are offered by UB faculty members. Classes taken may also satisfy General Education or major requirements, or be electives. It is recommended that students apply as early as possible, optimally their second semester freshmen year, when they have established a GPA of 3.0 or above.

The College of Public and International Affairs (CPIA) was fortunate to gain this partnership program with the Peace Corps thanks to UB Peace Corps Prep Campus Coordinator Professor Steve Hess, a former Peace Corps volunteer in China, and Caitlin Colon, a UB Peace Corps Point of Contact liaison who served in the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone.

After completing service, returned Peace Corps Volunteers participate in “third goal” activities for the remainder of their lives. The Peace Corps values the input and participation of returned volunteers, who are the organization’s best spokespersons. Professor Hess agrees that the sharing of one’s experience with fellow Americans leads to a better understanding of the world outside our borders. “Activities include educating those who might be interested in joining the Peace Corps,” said Hess. “The Peace Corps seeks out returned volunteers in the faculty and staff of higher education institutions to support many of its outreach efforts.”

Peace Corps volunteer opportunities are highly coveted. In 2014, over 17,000 applications were received for fewer than 4,000 available positions. The Peace Corps is actively working to recruit a stronger, more highly skilled applicant pool to meet the diverse needs of the countries served. “At UB, this program is generating cohorts of global-minded, service-oriented students,” said Colon.

More UBPCP and Peace Corps Testimonials

Participating in UBPCP was a valuable experience for Arias, whose aspiration in life is to work in the political arena towards diplomacy and conflict negotiation. “What I liked most was learning different ways to communicate and connect with others cross-culturally. Many conflicts arise due to miscommunication. We, as emerging leaders, can contribute to the world in a positive manner by communicating effectively.”

Alphea John ’14 currently serves in Peace Corps China but graduated UB just when UBPCP was launching. She shares her story below.

Hess and Colon reflect on the transformative impact of their respective Peace Corps experiences below:

My Peace Corps service in China was nothing less than a life-changing experience. By adapting to a new culture, way of life and occupation in isolation from my familiar social settings, I was able to grow as a person and develop a new confidence to take on new challenges and adapt to unfamiliar circumstances.” – Steve Hess

“Only three weeks after graduating from my undergraduate program, I left for the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone, West Africa. Not having a good idea of what I committed myself to, I was excited, anxious, optimistic, ambitious and ready to completely immerse myself into a new culture and way of life. Now, almost four years after returning to the U.S., the moments that have made the most impact on my daily life are a handful of special moments with the Sierra Leonean children. While I may have been able to teach them to read and write a few sentences, these bright-eyed, positive and grateful children with no shoes and tin cans for toys encourage me every day to find the positive aspects of every situation and to be consistently grateful.” – Caitlin Colon 

 

UB Peace Corps Point of Contact representative Brandon LaFavor talks about the excitement of watching students come to UB and carve out a path for themselves within the program. He is particularly struck by the “incredible story” Fernando Gonzalez has to tell. Gonzalez, who comes from a Spanish-speaking household but completed his primary education in an English speaking school system, flourished with his studies of world languages and has pursued both Japanese and Arabic in route to his IPED degree. He completed a study abroad in Jordan and has been awarded an extremely competitive Critical Language Scholarship to study Arabic this year.

“Fernando will have just enough time to relax a little after graduation before starting Peace Corps Morocco in the fall,” noted LaFavor, who looks forward to many more UBPCP graduates making a hands-on and lasting impact on our world.

About the Peace Corps

The Peace Corps was created by President John F. Kennedy in 1961 to advance an improved understanding between Americans and people of other countries. Since its inception, more than 215,000 Americans have served in 139 countries.

Learn more about the Peace Corps here >

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