Karina Casarez Oct. 1, 2019 – For many, joining the Peace Corps conjures up romantic notions of traveling the world and helping to improve the lives of those less fortunate. But being admitted into the highly-regarded institution is actually an extremely rigorous process, with recruiters looking for specific skills, abilities and experiences.

With 11 students who have qualified since CSU Channel Islands (CSUCI) opened its doors, CSUCI was recognized last year by the Peace Corps as one of the top volunteer-producing, minority-serving institutions.

In order to encourage and prepare even more students, especially underrepresented minorities, to join the well-known international program, CSUCI is partnering with the Peace Corps to launch the new Peace Corps Prep at CSUCI program.

CSUCI alumna Karina Casarez is currently a Peace Corps volunteer teaching English to fifth through ninth graders at a high school in Myanmar. Now in her second year as a Corps volunteer, Casarez says confidence during the interview process is crucial.

“The Peace Corps application process can be very overwhelming and it’s easy to feel like one’s past experiences aren’t good enough,” Casarez said.

According to CSUCI Political Science Professor Andrea Grove, Ph.D., the program’s purpose is three-fold.

“We want to educate students about the work of the Peace Corps, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds who may not even know that joining the Corps is an option for them,” explained Grove. “We also want to prepare those students so they have the best chance possible of being accepted into the program and, if they are accepted, they are ready to make the most out of the experience.”

The new program will be housed in the Global Studies program and coordinated by both Grove and CSUCI Political Science and Global Studies Lecturer Christopher Scholl, Ph.D. It complements the Center for Community Engagement’s Peace Corps liaison program.

Peace Corps Prep at CSUCI will include a significant outreach and recruiting component through the University’s Educational Opportunity Program which works with economically disadvantaged students, as well as the Retention, Outreach, and Inclusive Student Services and Veteran’s Affairs programs.

To complete the program, students are required to take three CSUCI courses relating to the Peace Corps work sector they are interested in. These areas include education, health, environment, agriculture, youth in development, and community economic development.

“Given our general education requirements, most students will likely have taken several of the required courses prior to graduation,” Grove explained. “This makes participation in the program feasible for all students regardless of their major.”

Students are also required to complete a minimum of 50 hours of volunteer or work experience in that same work sector. For instance, a student interested in going into education could count hours spent volunteering at CSUCI’s annual Science Carnival or in a formal tutoring capacity.

“Confidence during the application process is key to persuading Peace Corps that you’re up for the challenge,” said Casarez, a 2016 graduate who majored in psychology and minored in political science. “I think the new prep program will help provide the confidence to those interested in applying.”

“The truth is, nothing can prepare you for what lies ahead, but confidence during service is just as important and useful as during the application period,” added Casarez. “Because Peace Corps is full of unknowns and possible challenges, it’s key for volunteers to approach their service with the confidence to try new things, open-mindedness to perceive new cultures, and excitement to experience all that’s laid ahead of you. I think confidence is sure to come after having prepared yourself through this program, becoming familiar with what service expects of you, and being sure in your decision to want to volunteer.” 

A kick-off event for the Peace Corps Prep at CSUCI program will be held on Oct. 16 at 6 p.m. on campus in Ojai Hall. More information about the program can be found at https://globalstudies.csuci.edu/peace-corps/ .

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