Special Graduate Degree Program Offers Internships in the Peace Corps
By Erin Cushing
Mason’s Public and International Affairs (PIA) Program offers students a variety of ways to combine classroom learning with real-world experience.
A prime example is the Master’s International (MI) program, which is an option for students working on either the Master of Public Administration (MPA) or the MA in Political Science degree.
The Master’s International program reflects a partnership between Mason and the Peace Corps. Students in the program complete a two-year term of Peace Corps service as part of an internship course, and upon successful completion, are awarded six credits.
Prospective students apply to the Peace Corps and to their chosen program simultaneously; the rigorous Peace Corps application process requires that students complete 18 credits before the time of service. These classes lay the groundwork for the work students will do abroad, as well as for the careers they will pursue when they return.
Two graduate students in the MPA program have returned from their two years of service: Kristin Ware who was stationed in Uganda and Stefanie Fabrico who was stationed in Guatemala.
Working as a nongovernmental organization (NGO) developmental volunteer in Uganda, Ware says she drew heavily on her Mason course work to help with various projects.
“The [MPA] courses provide a solid foundation from which one can extrapolate pertinent information not only to execute projects more effectively and efficiently in Peace Corps, but also to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the context of organizational factors and managerial styles of organizations and communities,” she says.
While in Uganda, Ware created a forum for nine Ugandan NGOs to help these organizations learn from each other and exchange ideas. She also helped create and run empowerment camps for women and young men, focusing on sexual health education, general health education, and economic opportunities. Finally, she established a rabbit husbandry program in her region to help create more food security.
“I was able to put into practice course content and gain a thorough knowledge of the interworking of the organizational structure in my community quickly, therefore allowing me to execute projects more efficiently,” she says.
Working at the grassroots level was a challenge, she says, but her work in the MPA program prepared her well for her assignments.
During her time in Guatemala, Fabrico helped secure funding for and build a high school in the remote mountain village of Todos Santos using recycled, sustainable materials. The project was a challenge, she says, requiring a great amount of support and cooperation from local governments, third-party fundraisers, builders, and the villagers themselves.
Additionally, Fabrico identified several infrastructural challenges that Todos Santos was facing. These included waste disposal, contaminated water, and a lack of women’s health education and rights. Her construction project incorporated solutions to some of these problems.
For example, the insulation for the high school was created out of plastic bottles stuffed with plastic trash, which helped to eliminate the amount of waste contaminating the local water supply.
“I feel strongly that my impact would not have been as great as a municipal development advisor in Guatemala had I not participated in the MPA Master’s International program at Mason,” says Fabrico.
“Throughout my service, I was able to apply the knowledge I gained at Mason about policy, budgeting, third-party governance and international management at a high level when assessing the problems the local government was facing,” she says.
Since returning to the United States, Fabrico and Ware, who will graduate in May, have resumed taking classes and are considering their next career moves.
Students who incorporate Peace Corps service into their master’s degree program are eligible to receive special hiring consideration for positions in the federal government for up to a year after their term of service.
This article originally appeared on the university’s News site.
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