Many Americans with a heart for service and adventure are drawn to the Peace Corps. Yet often, they worry about what their years of Peace Corps service will mean for their career and their hireability when they return.
It can be tough to take two years out of your life to devote to service in a foreign country, even if you are gaining valuable hands-on experience in sustainable development.
If you’re deciding between Peace Corps and a career move like graduate school, there is an exciting way to combine both of these experiences into one rich and ultimately career-focused experience.
Not sure how this could work? Here’s a powerful story about how one woman did both.
Like hundreds of American graduate students over the past 30 years, Danielle Salisbury combined Peace Corps service with a master’s degree. She first took Bard College’s integrated first-year of graduate courses before entering the Peace Corps, then used the multi-year international experience as a stepping stone for research and her master’s capstone.
“Combining Peace Corps with a Masters is really the best way to go,” according to Dr. Eban Goodstein, director of Graduate Programs in Sustainability at Bard. “Not only do students bring greater expertise to their service, but they also get much more out of it. Peace Corps-inspired thesis projects really benefit the country in which students serve. They create powerful foundations for subsequent careers in sustainable development.”
Danielle’s master’s thesis assessed whether citizens value the environmental programming in the Mexican reserve where she worked. “I developed a meaningful thesis project that will benefit not only my community, but the biosphere reserve to which it belongs,” Danielle reports. “I could not have done this without the Peace Corps. It was the perfect complement to my master’s degree.”
In her final year of service, Danielle was in touch with her Master’s Project advisor, developing a thesis project. She then returned from the Peace Corps and stepped back into Bard’s graduate program. She graduated last spring with her Master of Science degree in Environmental Policy, winning a highly competitive job as an Energy and Environment Educator for Cornell Extension.
Another Bard graduate student, Sonia Slavinsky interned in Ghana, working remotely with her thesis advisor on her capstone. She leveraged those experiences to find work in-country after completing her MS, and is now employed with an organic certification company in the UK. Maya Whalen-Kipp has started her two-year service in Fiji, after completing the first year MS course work last spring.
Until last year, the Peace Corps had a formal program called Master’s International that supported students to integrate Peace Corps service into a number of graduate degrees around the country. Sadly, Master’s International has closed its doors. In announcing the program closure, the Peace Corps said the decision to shutter MI was a difficult one as the agency shifted priorities.
But the option to combine Peace Corps service with master’s education lives on at Bard. “This is too good an opportunity for our students to let it go,” said Dr. Goodstein.
In fact, Bard offers generous scholarship support for both RPCVs and for students combining the Peace Corps with their master’s study. These Paul D. Coverdell Fellowships at Bard reflect the value we place on the experience and commitment of our returned and future PCV’s.
If you’re trying to decide between Peace Corps and a master’s degree, think about combining the two experiences for real career success. Bard College helps volunteers and students get the best possible mix of academic training, further real world experience, and career development to build meaningful lifetime work.