PULLMAN, Wash. — Not many American college students ever meet Hillary Clinton, Czech Republic President Vaclav Havel or help develop a nature education program in a recently democratized nation. For Annette L. Clothier, an environmental science graduate student at Washington State University who recently returned from a two-year Peace Corps assignment, these were just a few of the highlights.
Clothier met Clinton and Havel at a Fourth of July address Clinton gave two years ago in the Czech Republic. She also played a role in the formation of a nature education program, geared toward elementary school students, that included an outdoor nature school, environmental nature trail, amphitheater, garden, orchard and play area.
Clothier is one of 708 WSU students and alumni who have volunteered in the Peace Corps during its 36-year history, placing the university 30th among all colleges and universities producing Corps volunteers. There are currently 38 WSU students and alumni in the Peace Corps.
Sally M. Burkhart, the coordinator of WSU’s Master’s International Program and International Programs project associate, said the cooperative Peace Corps’s master’s degree program, known as the Master’s International (MI) Program, may account for much of the current student interest in the Peace Corps.
The MI Program, started in 1991, allows students to earn master’s degrees by combining course work and Peace Corps volunteer service. Students in the MI Program spend a year at WSU taking graduate courses and making preliminary plans for their master’s thesis. They serve two years on Peace Corps assignment, then return to WSU to complete their thesis and graduation requirements.
One of the primary benefits of the program is that returning students contribute greatly to the internationalization of WSU’s departments at both the graduate and undergraduate level, Burkhart said. “By doing so, they also help to fulfill one of the main goals of the Peace Corps itself, which is bringing the world back home,” she said.
Most faculty enthusiastically support the program because it draws a diverse array of excellent and motivated students to WSU, including many minorities and women, Burkhart said.
The MI Program was the reason Clothier chose WSU. “It was perfect,” she said. “I always wanted to go into the Peace Corps, but I also wanted to get my master’s degree.”
Clothier’s experience in the Peace Corps had a dramatic effect on her, she said. “Before I went, I was shy and not very confident. Now I feel like I can do anything I want to do, and that it’s possible to accomplish all my dreams,” she said.
Both Clothier and Burkhart said they think Peace Corps volunteer experience puts students 10 steps ahead in the job market, particularly the international arena. Burkhart said, “Not only do you get the experience of working in a foreign country, you also have the opportunity to make a vast network of international connections and get your foot in the door of a very competitive job market.”
Clothier said, “It’s not always easy. You really have to have a vision. But for those who can make it through the program, it will affect their whole life.” Two years is a small price to pay for the life experiences and benefits you gain, she said.
A Peace Corps recruiter will be available to answer questions about the Peace Corps and the Master’s International Program at the Career Expo of the Palouse on Oct. 2 at Beasley Coliseum. For more information, please call Career Services at 335-2546.