Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet, U.S. Congressman Alan Lowenthal and Cal State Long Beach (CSULB) President Jane Conoley spoke to a packed auditorium inside the CSULB Student Union Friday about streamlining the Peace Corps application process as well as the announcement of two new Peace Corps Masters International programs at the university.
Dr. Paul Laris, Chair of the Geography Department greeted the crowd in a native Mali dialect, the same dialect he learned during his Peace Corps service on the African continent. Laris detailed the decade-long process it took to establish the new programs through the Peace Corps. He also described how the new linguistics course that will have students teach English as a second language and an environmentally-based geography degree will give graduate students the opportunity to earn their degree while completing their Peace Corps services.
“Next year we’ll be inviting students with a bachelors degree to come and join in this new program, which basically allows you to tie together your graduate school work and research and your teacher training with a Peace Corps experience of a couple of years,” Laris said.
With the new masters programs, CSULB joins over 80 other schools that partner with the Peace Corps to offer students this option. Laris said that research, graduate school and Peace Corps go very well together, and the organization’s Masters International program will give CSULB students both the opportunity to combine those things while also allowing them to travel abroad. He also noted that other departments on campus have expressed interest in getting involved and possibly starting their own Peace Corps-affiliated masters programs.
After the announcement, Lowenthal, Conoley and Hessler-Radelet (pictured left) made their way to the front of the stage where they all signed the agreement between the organization and the university, making the two new masters programs formally operational.
“It’s official,” Hessler-Radelet said after signing her name.
The director explained that not only is the new Masters International agreement good for Long Beach because its students will gain real life experience and help build a “globally competent and more employable work alumni base” but it’s also beneficial for the countries they’re dispatched to because they bring good academic training and dedication.
“I’m really excited about it because it’s going to bring in really talented people who are committed to making a difference in applied linguistics and geography and they’re going to have some classroom academic experience but then through Peace Corps they’re going to get some real life, on-the-ground experience as well,” Hessler-Radelet said of the Masters International agreement.
In July, the Peace Corps amended their recruitment, application and selection processes in an attempt to make for a simpler system to get volunteers into foreign countries in need. The application, which used to be 60 pages long and could take up to 8 hours to complete, has been whittled down to 10 pages and generally takes about an hour to finish.
Additionally, the Corps is allowing applicants to select specific countries, job assignments and language groups to create a more personalized process that will allow applicants to feel more comfortable during their service. The Corps is also allowing separate applicants to apply together, whether they be friends, significant others or married couples, LGBT or otherwise.
Hessler-Radelet said that the increase in options as well as added transparency—they let you know when you’ll find out if you’ve been accepted or not—has led to a 400% increase in applicants since the changes took place July 15.
“It really is about giving more control to our volunteers and making it more easy, simple and personalized than it was before, Hessler-Radelet said. “I think what people like is the opportunity to choose.”
However, she went on to note that despite the ability to choose your destination country, nearly half the applicants are still selecting the “send me where I’m needed” option.
CSULB has a rich history of producing volunteers—especially ones of Hispanic descent—for the Peace Corps with 777 alumni having completed stints abroad for the organization and 31 current workers. California is the top-producing state in the country, having put nearly 29,000 people into humanitarian service in other countries through the Corps and the Los Angeles area ranking third nationally with 296 volunteers currently in service.
While the partnership with CSULB is especially important as the Corps tries to export a diverse and accurate representation of the US, Hessler-Radelet said there isn’t a focus on any particular ethnicity for volunteers; they’ll take whoever is willing to serve.
“Peace Corps service is definitely not for everyone,” Hessler-Radelet said. “But those of you who are interested in stepping out of your comfort zone, and it’s a big step out of your comfort zone, working shoulder to shoulder with other people on their priorities, not yours, and being part of something greater than yourselves, then I hope you consider the Peace Corps. Because Peace Corps is for you.”