As the Peace Corps celebrates 60 years, the Middlebury Institute is also celebrating a long history of deep connections with the program, which have contributed to a record number of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) attending MIIS this fall, as well as a renewal of the long partnership between the two organizations.
“The Institute is more than just a partner school to the Peace Corps—our missions and values are so closely aligned that we’re like family,” says MIIS Senior Director of Institutional Partnerships Jill Stoffers MACD ’00. Indeed, the Peace Corps’ own self-description—“a service opportunity for motivated changemakers to immerse themselves in a community abroad, working side by side with local leaders to tackle the most pressing challenges of our generation”—echoes the sort of language used to describe the Institute’s International Professional Service Semester.
Many RPCVs who pursue a graduate education after serving abroad do so through the Paul D. Coverdell Fellows (a.k.a. Peace Corp Fellows) program, which offers financial assistance for graduate school while requiring RPCVs to serve an internship in underserved American communities. This requirement reflects one of the Corps’ principal goals: to “strengthen Americans’ understanding about the world and its peoples.”
“I served in Ghana from June 2018 until March 2020 as a middle school mathematics teacher,” says current student Danielle “Dani” Ohemeng, a 2022 candidate for the joint MPA/MA in International Education Management. “Before attending MIIS, I knew I wanted a future in international education, but my Peace Corps experience allowed me to focus more on how. My time in the classroom in Ghana helped me to discover I wanted to create opportunities for students outside of the classroom with experiences from a self-made organization and external organizations.”
The Institute will highlight its deep connections with the Peace Corps during its upcoming Preview Days the week of October 25. One of the featured speakers will be RPCV Natalie Rambis MPA ’22. “My Peace Corps service gave me the opportunity to try my hand at evaluation reports, and I ended up loving the process. Learning about the MPA courses in evaluation and analytics solidified my decision to attend MIIS. I see Peace Corps values and objectives strongly reflected in my experience here, especially when it comes to promoting a better understanding of other cultures.”
Ties With Peace Corps Date Back Decades
The ties between the Institute and the Peace Corps go all the way back to the latter’s beginnings. The Congressional staff member who gave the Peace Corps program its name while drafting the legislation establishing it, Dr. Peter Grothe, went on to serve as the director of international student programs at MIIS for more than 30 years. Professor Emerita Jan Knippers Black was a member of the very first cohort of Peace Corps volunteers in 1961. And in 1983, Professor Emerita Beryl Levinger founded the Peace Corps Fellows program. For many years the Institute was one of the leading graduate school participants in the Peace Corps Masters International program—while this program was phased out by Peace Corps five years ago, the Institute still offers opportunities for students to integrate Peace Corps service into their graduate studies through the Options for Peace Corps Service program.
The commonalities between the Peace Corps and MIIS are clear to students, says Ohemeng. “With MIIS being a school focused on international issues while also having a mixed population of domestic and international students, every class provides an opportunity to obtain cultural awareness not only among students but between students and faculty, just like the Peace Corps value of cultural exchange between volunteers and people served.”
An executive order authorizing the creation of the Peace Corps was signed by President John F. Kennedy in March 1961, followed that September by legislation formally establishing the program. Directors of the Peace Corps have visited the Institute’s Monterey campus twice in the past decade: Director Aaron S. Williams was the spring Commencement speaker in May 2011, and Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet was the guest of honor at a special Peace Corps event on campus in September 2016. Earlier this month the Institute renewed a Memorandum of Agreement confirming its continued participation as a Fellows program partner school through the Peace Corps’ 65th anniversary in 2026.
The U.S. Department of State has awarded one current Middlebury Institute student and two recent graduates Critical Language Scholarships for the study of languages considered vital to national security and economic prosperity.
The Middlebury Institute offered the International Professional Service Semester (IPSS) practicum internship course as a summer course for the first time 2021. Six students from three degree programs (IEP, IPD, and MPA) are participating in the first summer cohort.