Giving students the option of serving abroad while working toward a graduate degree at home, the University of Maryland School of Social Work (SSW) has entered into a new partnership with the Peace Corps.
The partnership is part of the Peace Corps' Master's International (MI) program, in which its volunteers combine their stints overseas with master's degree programs at U.S. universities. The University of Maryland campus in Baltimore becomes one of only two universities in the nation to offer MI participants a degree in social work.
"The Peace Corps welcomes the University of Maryland School of Social Work to the Master's International program," said Peace Corps director Aaron S. Williams, MBA. "This program will help create a new generation of social workers prepared to bring the Peace Corps experience back to classrooms in the United States."
Participants must apply separately to the Peace Corps and to the SSW, where they are expected to specialize in families and children to prepare for work on youth development. Participants typically finish one year of graduate school in the United States before spending 27 months as a Peace Corps volunteer. Upon returning to their campuses, they earn academic credit for their experiences as volunteers and go on to complete their degrees.
SSW Dean Richard P. Barth, PhD, MSW, said the new partnership provides the "opportunity to bring talented and committed individuals into our social work program, to help them to become aware of a range of strategies related to youth development, and to learn how those strategies play out during their years in the Peace Corps."
Jody Olsen, PhD, MSW '72, led the proposal to bring the MI program to the School after joining the faculty as a visiting professor last winter. Previously she was acting director of the Peace Corps and before that, the agency's deputy director. In 1966, she went to Tunisia as a Peace Corps volunteer.
"The new partnership adds to an already popular program at the School that confirms returning volunteers' entry into the U.S. market," said Olsen, whose appointment is intended to help expand the School's international ties.
She referred to the Peace Corps USA Fellows program, which has attracted more than a dozen students who are pursuing graduate studies that can lead to full-time social services jobs in Maryland. Another international opportunity at the SSW involves field placements in India.
The School's first MI volunteer is Cristen Cravath, a first-year student who got a taste of international volunteerism in South Africa while enrolled at James Madison University. As part of undergraduate studies in health sciences, she taught dental care to children being treated at HIV/AIDS clinics. "They were so welcoming," she recalled, "and so poor." She also overcame language and cultural gaps to become acquainted with a woman in her own age group. Each was able "to learn from each other and gain a new perspective," she said.
Cravath has been nominated for the Peace Corps after successfully completing the first steps in the application process. If all goes as planned, she would be posted abroad next summer. Olsen said future applicants are advised to first gain acceptance to the SSW and then apply soon afterward to the Peace Corps.
Olsen recently traveled to Ann Arbor, Mich., where the University of Michigan this fall also announced an MI program in social work. Olsen was there to help mark the 50th anniversary of a speech given by then-Senator John F. Kennedy. At 2 a.m., on Oct. 14, 1960, he challenged more than 5,000 waiting students to serve their country for the cause of peace.
The remarks led to establishment of the Peace Corps and turned out to be a lasting call to go abroad for what Kennedy called "a greater purpose."
The Peace Corps' MI program, which began in 1987, has expanded to more than 80 academic institutions in various disciplines.
By adding this program to its offerings, the University of Maryland School of Social Work further strengthens its recruitment of young people who are committed to public service. Once the home of the VISTA training program, the School also has been the first school of social work in the nation to develop a Public Allies program. Also in this suite of offerings is the Peace Corps USA Fellows program, which offers scholarships to returned Peace Corp volunteers and engages them in community building.
Both the Peace Corps USA Fellows and the Public Allies programs are overseen by the School's Social Work Community Outreach Service (SWCOS).