Peace Corps volunteers work in 60 countries at the forefront of some of the world’s greatest challenges. New alumna Emily Dalton is now prepared to embark on her own global service journey and has the paper to prove it.

The Center for International Research, Education, and Development launched the Peace Corps Prep program during the fall 2020 semester. The certificate program is for undergraduate students who want to gain skills useful for international development careers and who are considering joining the Peace Corps after graduation. The certificate helps verify student training and knowledge in one of six subject areas corresponding to the six Peace Corps work sectors.

Dalton is the first at Virginia Tech to receive the certificate. As a dual environmental policy and planning and Spanish major, she had already obtained many of the course credits and leadership experiences necessary for certification at the time of her application. The program requires completion of technical courses and hands-on experiences as well as courses in foreign languages and intercultural competence. The final certification tasks involving professional and leadership development help students prepare for job interviews, be it for Peace Corps or another employer.

“My involvement with the Peace Corps Prep program gave me the opportunity to meet some more amazing faculty members here at Virginia Tech and learn more about the Peace Corps in general,” Dalton said. “I've been telling all of my friends about it because I think it’s a great chance to explore the opportunity of the Peace Corps.”

The technical sectors from which students can earn a certificate — education, health, environment, agriculture, youth in development, and community economic development — match the disciplines one can enter as a Peace Corps volunteer. CIRED, part of Outreach and International Affairs, works with faculty members in each of the six sectors as sources of advice and guidance for Peace Corps Prep students.

Ryan Stewart, associate professor in the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences, leads the program’s agriculture sector, the discipline in which Dalton earned her certificate. A past Peace Corps volunteer himself, Stewart said that while the coursework for the program is important, gaining the required hands-on experience is particularly helpful.

“When entering Peace Corps, people often have many of their expectations placed on the technical aspects of the program, such as providing information and assistance to farmers,”  Stewart said. “However, it is important to keep in mind that Peace Corps has other missions that focus on cultural exchange. So, my advice to students is to really try and take advantage of this rare opportunity to become immersed in a different culture, and get to know the locals and their customs with as few preconceptions as possible. At the same time, it’s important to find ways to bring this information and pieces of this experience to friends and loved ones back in the U.S.”

While completing self-reflective courses on cultural awareness is one pathway to fulfill the certificate’s cultural competence component, it can also be fulfilled through immersive global experiences, such as studying or teaching abroad.

Since the 1960s, Virginia Tech has produced more than 700 Peace Corps volunteers who participate in a range of global initiatives, including increasing food security, fighting HIV/AIDS, protecting the environment, and improving access to technology.

Dalton is no stranger to learning about and serving local and global communities. She served as president of the Virginia Tech Union, one of the university’s largest student-run event planning boards. She also has extensive experience volunteering abroad in Kenya and Nepal. One of her inspirations for pursuing the Peace Corps, she said, is her mom.

“My mom went to Romania with the Peace Corps from 1995 to 1997, working in small-business development in Sibiu, Transylvania,” Dalton said. “I grew up hearing stories about her time there and all of the friends she made and wonderful experiences she had. Because of all of this, the Peace Corps has always been something that I have wanted to do at some point in my life. Travel is a key value of mine, and I appreciate the level of immersion you get with the Peace Corps.” 

Dalton plans to wait one year to apply to the Peace Corps and will be beginning a new job as a crew member on an organic farm in the fall. 

“With a little planning, most of the requirements for Peace Corps Prep can fit within a student’s normal plan of study,” said Larry Vaughan, director of program development at CIRED and manager of the Peace Corps Prep program. “I encourage anybody aspiring to Peace Corps or other international work to go to Virginia Tech’s Peace Corps Prep application page and explore the course catalog. Many of the courses required for certification will contribute to a student’s major, and simply to their personal knowledge and perspective of the world, including courses that have already been completed.”

Written by Sara Hendery

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