February 26 kicked off the annual tradition of Peace Corps Week, commemorating President Kennedy’s establishment of the Peace Corps on March 1, 1961. Peace Corps Week is celebrated around the world by current and Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, including more than 100 faculty, staff, and students at the Middlebury Institute.
There are many reasons why the Middlebury Institute draws so many Peace Corps Volunteers, including the international focus of the school and students. “In a classroom here, students are able to give examples from every corner of the planet and that is why I wanted to come to the Middlebury Institute,” reflects Chelsea Segal MPA ’19. “I am constantly impressed with my classmates and the work they have done before arriving here. I served in Panama for three years, and having that context to bring into my classes has ultimately allowed me to go deeper into the course material.”
“In the DPMI (the International Development and Social Change program) course I teach, we typically have around 35 students. I have 50 years of development experience, so that’s a lot for one person, but when I add up how much development experience is in the room, it could be 150!” says Distinguished Professor and Program Chair of the Development Practice and Policy degree programs Beryl Levinger, herself a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from Colombia. “So the class has three times the experience as the instructor. That’s a phenomenal ratio; where else are you going to see something like that besides the Middlebury Institute? Peace Corps is a significant contributor to that experience bank.”
Another draw for Peace Corps Volunteers to the Middlebury Institute is the opportunity to become Coverdell Fellows, a program founded by Levinger and Jodie Olson, newly appointed Peace Corps Director. Launched in 1983 to harness the skills, attitudes, and sensibilities that categorize Peace Corps Volunteers to address social problems in the U.S., the Coverdell Fellows program provides a great opportunity for returned Peace Corps Volunteers nationwide to continue their service to underserved communities, while also pursuing graduate studies at a reduced cost. All Fellows complete internships in underserved American communities, allowing them to bring home and expand upon the skills they learned as Volunteers. Marie McDonald, MAIEM ’19 continues her service and complements her studies in International Education Management in the local community. “This is my second semester working at an elementary school with Monterey County Reads and it is very similar to the service projects I was delivering in the Dominican Republic.”
Due to the complementary nature of the Institute’s curriculum and Peace Corps programs, some students decide to take advantage of a special program at the Institute which allows students to begin their studies, serve in the Peace Corps, and then return to campus to finish their degree. Kathryn Bailey MAIEP ‘21 will be departing for Togo this summer. “Peace Corps service midway through my program allows for the opportunity to take what I have learned so far about environmental policy and food security and put it into practice in West Africa and see how I need to further develop as a professional. That will allow me to truly make the most of my remaining time and studies at the Institute.”
Each year, Peace Corps week has a theme. This year’s theme is Highlighting Home. Peace Corps volunteers have left their familial homes, found homes across the globe, and settled into a new home here at the Middlebury Institute. “My goal was to make this the most Peace Corps-friendly campus in the country” says Levinger, who has taught at the Institute since 1992. Tyler Henry MPA ’18, whose Peace Corps service included time in Ukraine and Cameroon, reflects that “graduate school can be stressful and overwhelming at times. The community at the Middlebury Institute has supported me as I struggle with assignments, challenging readings, or even my re-integration into American society. I feel comfortable sharing my current trials and tribulations with fellow RPCVs as well as other students who might also be struggling with similar academic, career or personal issues. In essence, the Middlebury Institute—like Mbengwi, Cameroon and Zasullia, Ukraine—is a supportive community.”
Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet and Congressman Sam Farr joined Middlebury Institute students, faculty, staff and alumni at a September 19 breakfast celebrating the two institutions’ long history of shared values.
Marking the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey this June, the Institute community celebrates the commitment to its roots as a leader and innovator in international education.