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Peace Corps paves way for better world, better Tucson

pc_fair_2017_map

The map for this year's Peace Corps Fair. Current Fellows contributed pictures from their host countries to make the map as a part of the theme "Make the World Your Home."

University of Arizona graduate students are not only leaving their mark in Tucson, but all around the globe. Through the Peace Corps and the Coverdell Fellows program at the UA, students are making the world a better place through sustainability, education, healthcare and outreach.

Volunteers in the Peace Corps serve two years in an underdeveloped country.

The fellowship allows graduate students that served in the Peace Corps to continue their education at the UA and their volunteer work in the Tucson community.  

Coverdell Fellows are graduate students who have served in the U.S. Peace Corps and receive the fellowship to do work in the community or with an outreach unit from the university to benefit an underserved community, according to Georgia Ehlers, director of the Office of Fellowships and Community Engagement for the Graduate College.

Returned Peace Corps volunteer Lauren Jaeger is now a graduate student studying public health and the program coordinator for the Coverdell Fellows Program.  

Jaeger served in Eastern Europe in the Republic of Moldova from 2015 to 2017 as a teacher’s trainer for English Education as a Second Language and also did work to help curb human trafficking, she said.

“The support and language training we received in Peace Corps was top-notch and better than anything else you can get, so by the time I actually got to the community, I was fluent in the language, which made communicating and working with people so much easier,” Jaeger said.

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Jaeger said she learned things in the Peace Corps she doesn’t think she would have had the opportunity to learn in two years, had she stayed in the United States.

“For example, I got to teach in a classroom, and I got to practice grant-writing and working with [non-governmental organizations],” Jaeger said. “I can now put together lesson plans, do curriculum building and conduct research in a foreign language. Coming back and being able to put all those skills down on a resume is pretty fantastic.”

Another returned volunteer, Elizabeth Capaci, who is now a public health graduate student and the outreach assistant for the Fellowship Program, did her service in the Republic of Benin in West Africa. She worked as a health volunteer in HIV work and health education alongside the social work center and health center in her community.

“I did it right after undergrad, so I had an idea that I wanted to do international work or work in international health, and I think the Peace Corps was a good way to test that out,” Capaci said. “You have an idea of what you think that field is going to be like, but then, with Peace Corps, it gives you a hands-on experience.”

Capaci said her service has given her a wider understanding and appreciation for other cultures and other things done in the U.S. that affect other countries.

Like Jaeger and Capaci, Brennen O’Donnell is a returned volunteer in the Coverdell Fellows Program. He is also studying for his graduate degree in public administration.

He served as an Environmental Education Volunteer in Mexico, working with a program called Escuelas Sostenibles, or Sustainable Schools, which helped schools be more environmentally conscious and develop sustainable projects and infrastructure.

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“The school I worked at had a culinary department, so we wanted to set up an organic garden so that the culinary students would have fresh produce to use in their culinary activities, and then, once they were done, they could return the scraps to the soil [to] create a sustainable cycle where they use the nutrients, they use it sustainably and responsibly, and they return that to the Earth. And they go from there,” O’Donnell said.

For the volunteer service he does for the fellowship, O’Donnell works with the Arizona Master Naturalist Association.

“It’s sort of like Peace Corps, because they are a trained group of volunteers, but it’s people who have certain expertise as naturalists with environmental education,” O’Donnell said.

O’Donnell presented his work at a poster session held by Peace Corps Coverdell Fellows program on Friday.  

The event, called the Peace Corps Outreach and Research Showcase, focused on the academic and community outreach work the fellows do in Southern Arizona.

“What they are doing with the poster session is bringing that experience that they gained in the U.S. Peace Corps back here to our campus and our community,” Ehlers said. “This is really student engagement in a really fundamental way that integrated academics, life experience and community-based needs.”

Fifty UA students that served worldwide across 35 nations for the Peace Corps presented posters, including Jaeger and Capaci. 

Capaci’s presentation focused on her volunteer work in Tucson. She works with the Arizona AIDS Education and Training Center program.

“I presented a poster on HIV continuity here in Sonora and Arizona that I did with the Arizona Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics where, along with the Arizona Department of Health Services and Border Health, [I] coordinated a binational symposium for HIV cure across the border in Sonora,” Capaci said.

Capaci said the group toured health facilities that treat HIV patients in Mexico .

“We saw what happens after people are deported from the U.S., [people] who are released from ICE custody and are living with HIV, who can’t get cured on the other side,” Capaci said.

Undergraduate student Monica Kothe, a UA undergrad and Peace Corps Campus Ambassador, also wants to change the world by joining the Peace Corps in West Africa.

“You do go out and help other people in underserved communities, and it’s also personal development for yourself, and it’s also growing and learning how to deal with different situations and gaining different perspectives and learning about different cultures,” Kothe said.

UA students interested in joining the Peace Corps can sign up for the Peace Corps Prep Program, which includes some classes and volunteer service hour requirements that allows students to get a certificate, making them a stronger applicant when they apply for the Peace Corps.

For more information about the Collider Fellows Program or the Peace Corps check out its website


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