North Georgia College & State University is now the fourth college in the nation to provide a Peace Corps Prep Program, a suggested curriculum that prepares students for work in international development.
Starting in the fall, students can select from a list of coursework and community service projects that will offer students a competitive edge when applying to be a Peace Corps volunteer following graduation. Completion of the curriculum does not guarantee acceptance into the Peace Corps, but organizers say it will improve students' chances and also provide skills that could translate to other international programs.
"The ultimate goal is to get students very aware of what's happening in developing countries, both the economic issues and the social issues, and also to gain the skills that would help them be accepted by the Peace Corps," said David Leavitt, Atlanta-based spokesman for the Peace Corps.
The partnership, which was formalized at a Thursday signing ceremony, is the first of its kind in the Peace Corps' six-state Southeast Region.
The outlined coursework is suggested and not a formalized minor. Students are advised to complete two years of language instruction, as well as classes in international development such as conflict resolution and specific disciplines such as education or business.
The program also includes a volunteer component, which Acting Vice President for Academic Affairs Patricia Donat said will complement the college's already-existing local and international service network.
"Sending a team of students who might, for example, provide English instruction or who might be involved in public health outreach and educational services ... would be ways that we might be able to partner to provide study abroad experiences for our students as well as help them get the volunteer and international experiences they need to be competitive to apply to be a Peace Corps volunteer."
Nearly 30 of the college's alumni have served in the Peace Corps, with three serving now. Peace Corps Regional Manager Ken Ayers said the college offers strong candidates that feed high-need areas in the organization.
"All three of those individuals (serving now) are with programs that we consider scarce skills, target skills. ... They're ones that we try very, very hard to find - teacher trainers, and that's what two of those people are, agriculture's another one."
The partnership is in line with the college's broader commitment to internationalization, part of its overall strategic plan.
"We try to do a lot of service learning and that kind of formalizes service and gives it some intellectual strength," said college President David Potter.
"So this curriculum idea makes a lot of sense for helping students build a set of intellectual skills and a background of knowledge that would really serve them well if they chose this kind of service."