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#47 Peace Corps Preparatory Program Pioneered a New Concept of National Service

Jeff Dobbin 200 Things about Norwich, Norwich Firsts

Peace Corps PreparatoryIn the summer of 1986, Carol Todd returned to Norwich from a volunteerism conference with an idea for her husband, Norwich President Russell Todd. She had just heard Loret Miller Ruppe, the director of the Peace Corps, present the idea of an ROTC-like training program to recruit new volunteers for the Peace Corps. The timing was serendipitous.

President Todd had been searching for a way to bring a more expansive notion of volunteerism to Norwich’s tradition of national service. In the fall of 1987, a pilot Peace Corps Preparatory Program launched with the participation of a dozen students. The idea was that cadets could elect to undertake a Peace Corps training curriculum in lieu of the ROTC requirement during their junior and senior years. Any civilian could also add the program to his or her course load.

The curriculum included local community service, coursework on the economics and history of developing nations, and summer internships. Soon after the program launched, a student-loan-forgiveness program was added in exchange for a Peace Corps service commitment. With the Peace Corps seeking to double the size of its volunteer force and reduce turnover, the program sought to prepare educated volunteers who could provide leadership in needed areas like nursing and engineering.

Norwich took the initiative to fund and launch this program on its own, establishing a model that could be used to seed programs at other colleges and universities. The Peace Corps was thrilled by Norwich’s leadership; the director wrote to President Todd offering “congratulations on this bold and exciting innovation.”

In the wake of new ROTC requirements that made it difficult for cadets to participate, the Peace Corps Preparatory Program phased out around 2002. However, the dream of being a model for a national program was realized, as the Peace Corps now officially sponsors a preparatory curricula at nearly 50 partner schools.

The Norwich tradition of service to community and country also remains stronger than ever. In addition to our students who serve in the military before, during, and after their time at Norwich, the Center for Civic Engagement connects cadets and civilians alike with myriad opportunities to be of service to the Vermont community and the world beyond.

Information about the former Peace Corps Preparatory Program and its curriculum can be found in the Norwich University Archives, particularly in Media Relations, Academic Affairs, and International Student Office records. Visit http://academics.norwich.edu/cce/ to learn about the service opportunities currently available through the Center for Civic Engagement, including the new Civic Scholars program starting in Fall 2016, which will provide $12,000 scholarships to 15 new students in exchange for 500 hours of community service.