Bringing it back home
By Kristen Bunner
Bowling Green State University is attracting a new set set of graduate students who have skills in adapting to other cultures, developing and managing projects, dealing with language barriers and leveraging limited resources. These assets to classrooms across BGSU are Returned Peace Corps Volunteers who have opted to pursue the government's Paul D. Coverdell Fellows Program. Coverdell offers lifetime eligibility for financial assistance toward education through partnerships with over 70 schools throughout the country, including BGSU.
The University's Fellows program is expanding this fall with the addition of five new programs to the roster, which began over five years ago with the Master of Arts in Cross-Cultural and International Education (MACIE).
The new master's degree offerings are in business administration, Spanish, public administration, food and nutrition, and American culture studies (which is also available in conjunction with graduate certificates or as a doctorate).
Steve Hagerman, 27, of Berkley, Mich., was accepted as the first Fellow this fall, in the Master of Business Administration (MBA) program. Hagerman, who served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Puerto Armuelles, Panama, from 2010 to 2012, said he was attracted to BGSU for its outstanding scholarship package and the intensive, one-year MBA program.
The hallmark of the Coverdell Program is that Fellows are required to complete internships in underserved American communities, allowing them to bring home, and expand upon, the skills they learned as volunteers. Hagerman said he's looking forward to the internship opportunity as a chance to be productive and make an impact.
"Another attraction of doing the Fellows program at BGSU was in some way a continuance of the Peace Corps experience, as the summer internship will involve working with an underserved community here in the area," he said.
As a community economic/youth development volunteer in Panama, Hagerman worked as a counselor in an urban public high school, focusing on teaching life skills and sexual health education. He also integrated leadership development into athletic activities and English education.
Reflecting on his Peace Corps experience, he said, "I never looked at it as serving but more as just doing my part as a citizen of the world, and I feel from the experience I benefitted just as much as any of the people I had a positive influence/effect on."
Hagerman believes that returned volunteers bring great flexibility to graduate-level programs and can draw on unique experiences to share with their fellow students.
"I think the skill of being resourceful no matter what the situation is something I will take with me," he noted, recalling a particular Spanish motto he embraced throughout his service: Menos recursos, mas creativo (fewer resources more creative). Returned volunteers have a "different way of looking at things," he said, "and possibly, through your experience, different solutions you can offer."
The MBA program, offered by the College of Business, offers Fellows the option to extend an extra semester and add a deeper level of specialization in the area of finance or accounting. Students with an accounting specialization would be eligible to take the exam for the certified public accounting license. MBA Fellows may also take advantage of short-term study abroad options.
Adding an MBA to a returned volunteer's toolkit can prove to be a valuable decision and the "perfect bridge" to a prosperous career back in the U.S., said David Chatfield, director of Graduate and Executive Programs in Business. In terms of job opportunities for an MBA graduate, "the doors are open," he remarked.
There is high interest in BGSU's Spanish graduate program, and some potential Peace Corps applicants are even envisioning the program as an option upon their return from service, since it is currently the only offering through Coverdell Fellows in the Spanish language sector.
"We've gotten more inquiries than I can even count at this point," said Dr. Amy Robinson, Spanish program graduate coordinator and associate professor in the Department of Romance and Classical Studies. The three Fellows degree opportunities consist of a Master of Arts in Spanish, a Master of Arts in Teaching in Spanish Education for licensed teachers with experience, and a dual Master of Arts in Spanish and a complementary major (French, German and history). Opting for the dual-degree track increases the program length by a year.
These programs were deemed an especially good fit as Fellows options because returned volunteers bring to them international experience and an immersion not just in a country that speaks Spanish but also with unique cultural groups.
"To have gone through that (Peace Corps), and to have emerged as somebody who knows how to provide services as much as you have learned how to learn from the community - I think that's extremely valuable," noted Robinson. Also, "their ability to diversify the international perspective will be enriching in every way," she added.
BGSU's Spanish program is one of a very few in the United States with an integral, long-term study abroad component. "The character of our program is that living and studying abroad is so important to your formation as somebody who understands the Spanish language, culture, literature, history, and so on," Robinson said. Fellows, however, may choose to opt out of study abroad based on their past significant international experience.
The internship's local placement options take advantage of the large and vibrant Spanish-speaking population in Ohio. For an assistantship on campus, students generally teach their own section of introductory Spanish. The program culminates in a capstone research project or thesis in literature, cultural studies or linguistics. Fellows also have the opportunity to interact and practice Spanish with undergraduate students in El Club de Español and the living-learning community La Comunidad.
Master of Public Administration
The Master of Public Administration (MPA) program is an especially good match for returned volunteers because there is capacity to make change in northwest Ohio, according to Dr. Russell Mills, an assistant professor of political science. The MPA is an applied degree with large components of hands-on service-learning experience and networking in the community that oftentimes lead to jobs. Fellows can be integrated into the networks the department has already established with local agencies, both during their required internships and as alumni.
"Returning Fellows want to take what they've learned in the field and apply it to public sector organizations or nonprofits back home in the States, and with our program, that's the type of skills you would get in nonprofit and public management," Mills said.
MPA students can specialize in politics and public policy, international development, environmental management and sustainability, or leadership and management. One of the hallmarks of the program is how flexible it is, including the capstone option as an alternative to the master's thesis, where the Fellow completes an applied project in the community that can also count toward the internship requirement. Another draw for Fellows is a very active MPA student association, which organizes professional development events as well as workshops on applying for public jobs and grant writing.
"Our students tend to get involved quite a bit," noted Mills. "We're a pretty tight-knit community because we have a relatively small program."
Master of Food and Nutrition
Dr. Dawn Anderson, graduate coordinator for the School of Family and Consumer Sciences, is excited about the growing interest from returned volunteers for enrollment in the Master of Food and Nutrition (MFN) program, currently the only one in the country affiliated with Coverdell Fellows. Many volunteers gain exposure to nutrition and see how important it is throughout their service, which makes the MFN a natural follow-up for continuing to build that knowledge, she said.
The four key components of the MFN program include core courses in food and nutrition, the cognate or minor (which can be tailored to a student's professional development goals and unique skills), the research phase and the final thesis or project. Additionally, most students opt to make a dietetic internship part of their fellowship, bringing them one step closer to examination and graduation as a registered dietician, accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education of Nutrition and Dietetics of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Through the dietetic internship, Fellows complete nine-11 months of fieldwork, which may include taking part in community service opportunities.
"I think the Fellows are going to add a lot more depth to the discussions in classes and are going to contribute quite a lot to bringing different points of view to the table and broadening the perspectives of their fellow students," Anderson said.
Master of American cultural studies
Seeing this same high potential in Fellows is Dr. Susana Peña, director of the School of Cultural and Critical Studies and associate professor in the Department of Ethnic Studies.
Peña noted that Fellows tend to already have a multi-faceted way of thinking about issues of race and gender, for example, which is something often discussed in classes in the degree/certificate options through the American culture studies program (ACS).
"In my experience, they're also often thinking critically about these issues," Peña added. Fellows come from a background in the Peace Corps where they have already been working on these issues in concrete ways, not just talking about them. As Peña looks ahead to the expansion of the Coverdell offerings at BGSU, "I think being able to have a cohort of returned volunteers in a variety of really diverse programs is going to be an asset," she predicted.
Fellows in the ACS program can pursue a master's or four-year doctoral degree. An added bonus, geared toward doctoral candidates, is the ability to achieve a Ph.D. in ACS simultaneously with a graduate certificate in ethnic studies, public history or women's studies. Another draw of the program is the potential continuation of Coverdell funding as a doctoral candidate after completing the graduate program in ACS as a Fellow.
Peña said the addition of ACS to the offerings seemed to fill a gap in the overall Coverdell program. She classified the ACS curriculum as transnational and highly interdisciplinary and added that it is rare, if not unique, within the current options.
"On the one hand, our ACS program is interdisciplinary because it draws on faculty at BGSU who are based in different departments and programs, and it's also interdisciplinary in the sense that our classes really deal with different approaches and fields. For students who are looking for that kind of coursework, this is a program that would be ideal for them."
In the less-structured graduate program, students can formulate their own course of study tailored to their interests through consultation with the department. The doctoral program has two primary concentrations that students chose between: critical studies in film, media and culture; or ethnicity, gender and social identities.
ACS students are offered teaching or research assistantships and can take advantage of the local community partnerships already established by the program when formulating their internship. Fellows can take leadership in helping to organize and present at the annual Ray Browne Conference on Cultural and Critical Studies (formerly Battleground States), a significant regional event, as well as participate in the Culture Club and research clusters and events through the Institute for the Study of Culture and Society.
The expanded Coverdell Fellows partnership signals a stronger dedication to a different kind of educational experience at BGSU, said MACIE co-founder Dr. Margaret Zoller Booth, associate dean of the Graduate College and Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, who was instrumental in forming the partnership between the MACIE program and the Coverdell Fellows Program and for seeing how other graduate programs at BGSU could fit into and further that community.
Returned volunteers appreciate the solidarity and community they can find with other returned volunteers, and BGSU has now taken another step in expanding that community.