With the stroke of a pen, Cal State Northridge Provost Harry Hellenbrand and Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams cemented a partnership that allows CSUN students interested in doing community service overseas to do so while working on their master’s degrees at the university.
The CSUN Peace Corps Master’s International Program, which begins this fall, will combine Peace Corps service with a master’s degree program for students studying mathematics or secondary education. Participants in the program are expected to teach or be involved in education while abroad.
About 100 people gathered at the university Thursday, March 3 to celebrate the partnership and mark the 50 years of the Peace Corps’ existence. Many of those in attendance were Peace Corps alum and Northridge students who intend to be part of the Master’s International Program this fall.
“When I hear Peace Corps, I think two words. One word is peace and the other is volunteer,” Hellenbrand told the audience. “If you take those two words seriously we can transform the world and transform ourselves.”
Williams said he was “delighted” that his organization was partnering with “one of the largest and most diverse universities in the nation.”
“I hope more CSUN students see the Peace Corps as not just an opportunity to serve overseas, but also an opportunity to gain new skill sets and to prepare for a future job market,” he said. California State University, Northridge and its students have had a long relationship with the Peace Corps, with more than 450 alumni volunteering with the program since 1961, including 11 who are currently working overseas.
Under the parameters of the new partnership, students must first apply to CSUN’s graduate degree programs either in mathematics or secondary education. Once admitted, they can then apply to the Peace Corps International Master’s Program. Applicants will be required to submit a letter of recommendation addressing the student’s maturity, and the likelihood that he or she will complete the program. If they are accepted into the program, the students’ room and board, airfare, medical and dental insurance and other expenses will be covered by the Peace Corps. When their time of service is completed, the students also will receive a $7,425 stipend.
Mathematics professor Carol Shubin, coordinator of the program, said she expects the math graduate students will complete most of their academic work before going overseas. The secondary education students will obtain their teaching credentials first before heading abroad, and upon return to the United States are expected to continue their work as students.
Shubin said she felt that CSUN’s culturally rich student body—many of its students are the first in their families to go to college, their parents are immigrants or are immigrants themselves—would have a lot to contribute as Peace Corps volunteers.
Herman DeBose, chair of CSUN’s Department of Sociology and a onetime Peace Corps volunteer who later served as a Peace Corps director in Kenya, said his time with the Peace Corps taught him a lot about himself and what he was capable of accomplishing.
“It was one of the most difficult jobs I ever had,” he said. “But I can never look back without seeing how much I gained. The experience was life changing, and it’s an experience that I will cherish the rest of my life.”
Now at approximately 100 universities across the nation, the Master’s International Program was established in 1987 to produce Peace Corps volunteers with additional education and skills to serve overseas.
The Peace Corps traces its roots and mission to 1960, when then Sen. John F. Kennedy challenged students at the University of Michigan to serve their country in the cause of peace by living and working in developing countries. From that inspiration grew an agency of the federal government devoted to work, peace and friendship. Since that time, nearly 200,000 Peace Corps volunteers have served in 139 host countries to work on issues ranging from AIDS education to information technology and environmental preservation.
California State University, Northridge has more than 35,000 full- and part-time students and offers 66 bachelor’s and 53 master’s degrees as well as 28 teaching credential programs. Founded in 1958, CSUN is among the largest single-campus universities in the nation and the only four-year public university in the San Fernando Valley. The university serves as the intellectual, economic and cultural heart of the Valley and beyond.
—Carmen Ramos Chandler