One of New Mexico State University’s goals in the Vision 2020 plan is diversity and internationalization, and NMSU faculty are working to achieve that mission by growing its Peace Corps graduate programs.
With support from the provost, Mick O’Neill, agronomy professor at the Agricultural Science Center at Farmington, Sue Forster-Cox, public health associate professor and John Mexal, plant and environmental sciences Emeritus professor, coordinated an event on campus, April 16, to inform faculty and staff about the Peace Corps Paul D. Coverdell Fellows and Master’s International programs.
“We would like to spread this wonderful program across campus,” Forster-Cox said. “We would love to institutionalize it. It would bring in high-quality students across the university. They are exposed to internationalization, which is one of the core goals of NMSU. It’s a win-win.”
The daylong event included presentations from Georgia Ehlers, the coordinator of the Coverdell Fellows program at the University of Arizona, and Blair Orr, forest economics professor and former director of the Master’s International program at Michigan Technological University.
The presenters spoke to deans, associate deans and department heads from colleges across the university about the programs during three separate sessions. Peace Corps representatives from the regional office and the national headquarters also were available to answer questions.
“I have been working with Sue and John for a long time, and we’ve seen there is a mixed understanding of what these two Peace Corps programs are,” O’Neill said. “We thought it was a good time to get a broader picture across campus of the two programs.”
The Paul D. Coverdell Fellows program works with more than 50 U.S. collaborating universities that offer financial assistance to returned Peace Corps volunteers. Fellows can pursue a master’s or doctorate, while completing a professional internship in a local community using their skills honed abroad.
The Master’s International program combines graduate studies at more than 80 U.S. universities with volunteer service abroad. Students volunteer with Peace Corps and then return to the university to complete their degrees.
The Peace Corps Coverdell Fellows graduate programs at NMSU began in 2003 in the College of Health and Social Services after Forster-Cox and a colleague, who both had spent time in Central and South America, approached the dean of the college and then applied to Peace Corps. The Fellows programs expanded to the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences in 2009. Forster-Cox, O’Neill and Mexal submitted an application to Peace Corps for the Master’s International program in both health and social services and agricultural, consumer and environmental sciences in 2010, which was accepted in September of that year.
“We figured being on the border we were going to have lot Spanish-speaking volunteers, but we were inundated with people from Africa because of the arid situations,” Forster-Cox said. “We’ve had a lot more folks from Africa than we’ve ever thought, and it’s been a delight as well as some from Central and South America. It’s truly an international infusion to the university.”
“Their enthusiasm and focus make them excellent graduate students,” O’Neill said.
It is estimated that NMSU has 24-36 faculty and staff members that are returned Peace Corps volunteers. Currently, NMSU has three Fellows and six Master’s International students.
For O’Neill, Peace Corps experiences have affected more than just his career, which includes 25 years working across Africa in Ghana, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Kenya and Rwanda, as well as in India.
“I met my wife and started a family in Niger,” he said. “She also had been a Peace Corps volunteer, so I didn’t have to explain to her the attributes to this kind of lifestyle.”