peace_corp01.jpgBILL GAITHER/The Register-Mail

Kristin Wegner, standing far left, a Peace Corps recruiter-in-training, helps Knox students in Seymour Hall on Wednesday afternoon. Two of the students include, standing left to right, Creal Zearing, a sophomore studying environmental studies and Spanish, and Rosie Worthen, a freshman studying international relations and Spanish. The girls are among nearly 50 students who attended an informational meeting.

Knox first with Peace Corps

College chosen as initial site for preparatory program

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The Orpheum Theatre

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Knox College has a running history with the Peace Corps.

The school has had 159 graduates participate in Peace Corps since it began in 1960. There are currently seven Knox graduates serving in the program.

In June, Knox College signed a partnership agreement with the Peace Corps, making the college the first to offer a pilot program that will help junior and senior college students prepare for international service.

The Peace Corps Preparatory Program will also give students applying for the Peace Corps the college's stamp of approval, giving them a better shot at acceptance in the nationally competitive program. Only about two out of every five applicants become Peace Corps volunteers.

The Peace Corps chose Knox as its first location for the preparatory program, which it hopes to initiate at other colleges and universities throughout the nation, because of the school's commitment to service and global understanding.

"The mission of Knox to understand and improve our world is clearly aligned with the Peace Corps service mission," said Christine Torres, public affairs specialist with the Peace Corps Chicago Regional Office in June.

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BILL GAITHER/The Register-Mail

Katie O'Connor, a recruiter for Peace Corps, refers to a map of possible destinations for volunteers during an informational meeting Wednesday afternoon in Seymour Hall at Knox College.

This year will mark the second time Knox has offered students this type of preparatory program. Stephen Bailey, associate dean of students, said Knox offered a similar program beginning in 1993.

"The new program is different," Bailey said. He said the new program began with a visit President Roger Taylor made to the Peace Corps headquarters in Washington, D.C., two years ago where he suggested a new program.

After signing the formal agreement last June, Knox began to develop expectations and curriculum guidelines for students.

Students apply for the Peace Corps Preparatory Program during their sophomore year. The program requires students to take two years of a foreign language, four courses in international relations and three courses in education for students interested in work in English as a second language.

Additionally, students must participate in an off-campus study program, do volunteer work or an internship with a community service organization or a management or accounting internship, or complete a work experience program. Students are encouraged to do several of these enhancing activities, but at least one is required.

If students are successful the college will endorse them. Bailey said that endorsement will "weigh very much in the applicant's favor."

Knox faculty and administrators have formed a selection committee and are reviewing applications for sophomore students interested in the prep program. Current juniors and seniors won't be able to complete the two-year program, but Bailey said the college will still recommend quality applicants.

"The Peace Corps told us we are free to endorse (current) junior and senior students," Bailey said.

Knox College senior Rebecca Ganster has submitted her application to the Peace Corps. The integrated international studies and Spanish major said growing up in San Diego, where issues of foreign policy are a hot topic, motivated her to apply for an international program following graduation.

"I think of the world as a global community," Ganster said. "I want to be able to share my education and skills with another community, and then be able to bring back what I learn and use new skills to help further my own professional goals."

Ganster has studied abroad in Argentina and Spain and will travel to Costa Rica for work on her senior research project.

When Ganster approached Bailey about applying for the Peace Corps, she became involved in helping shape the preparatory program's curriculum. She now is helping to set up the program's Web site, which explains the program and requirements.

Two Peace Corps recruiters were on Knox's campus Wednesday to talk to current applicants and give other interested students more information about the program.

Recruiter Katie O'Conner told student the Peace Corps is looking for students who have skill sets that meet the needs of the 70 countries volunteers are sent to, particularly with backgrounds in education, community or business development, environment and health.

O'Conner said the Peace Corps offers a good opportunity for recent graduates to gain valuable, hands-on work experience.

"The volunteers serve a multi-faceted role," O'Conner said. "It's rare that a recent college graduate is going to have a chance to learn at all of these levels."

Knox College graduates Andy and Erin Crawford of Galesburg - he's a musician and 2000 graduate and Erin a Spanish teacher at Knoxville High School and 1998 graduate - returned to campus to tell students about their experiences in the Peace Corps.

The couple left for their two-year stint in Chicaman, Guatemala, in 2004. They completed many projects during their tenure in Latin America, including helping villagers with agricultural problems, teaching cooking classes and introducing stoves with chimneys to several homes. The Crawfords said their two years abroad were challenging, but worth the while.

"I definitely recommend the Peace Corps because it's the greatest experience of my life," Andy said. "I'd do it again in a second."


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