One-third of the MDP class of 2020 are returned Peace Corps volunteers and Coverdell Fellows: Abdul Sigal, Robert Hartwell, Avery Julian Baker, and Jake Meyers (pictured above).
“As one of the largest Coverdell Fellowship programs in the country, the University of Arizona was a natural choice for me. It’s good to have folks who share common Peace Corps experiences and the potential support I would get from them,” said MDP student Abdul Sigal. Originally from Somalia and now a naturalized U.S. citizen from California, Abdul participated in the U.S. Peace Corps in Ghana from 2013 to 2017. “At UA, we can choose from a vast array of development-related courses available in different fields such as global health, geography, and public administration,” he added.
This perspective was echoed by the three other RPCVs (“returned Peace Corps volunteers”) enrolled in the UA School of Geography and Development as part of the Master’s of Development Practice (MDP) Class of 2020: Avery Julian Baker from Tennessee (Vanuatu, 2015-2017), Robert Hartwell from Massachusetts (Cameroon 2016-2017), and Jake Meyers from Pennsylvania (Benin, 2015-2017). All four were awardees of the competitive Coverdell Fellowship for RPCVs, joining two current Fellows from the MDP class of 2019 (pictured at right): Kelli Williams from Arizona (Peru, 2014-2016) and Joseph Stewart from Florida (Indonesia, 2012-2014).
“Both the MDP and PC are designed to help students and practitioners learn the challenges of development first hand,” stated Jake Meyers. “While in the PC, it becomes obvious how everything is connected. The MDP program is also rooted in a multidisciplinary approach that reflects the interconnectedness of different development issues. So it’s well suited for those who excelled in the PC and desire to understand the conceptual frameworks and skills needed for the practice of development.”
The Coverdell Fellowship covers most tuition and expenses at UA, while also providing Fellows with a built-in community of more than 50 RPCVs who have served around the world. “I'm thoroughly enjoying the insight that the Fellowship connection gives me into a new place and the instantaneous support system for my experience here in Tucson. At times it feels a bit like a Peace Corps, Arizona term of service; I embrace that, and I know it opens me to some opportunities I wouldn't have otherwise,” said Avery Julian Baker.
Another important component of the Coverdell Fellowship is community engagement and service activities within Tucson, a city that in some ways provides a microcosm of issues found worldwide, ranging from access to health care, to managing climate change, to combating entrenched poverty. In line with the Peace Corps ethos that returned volunteers should "bring their experience home," Coverdell Fellows undertake an Outreach Assistantship, organized through the UA Graduate College, for ten hours a week with a local organization. For their community placements, Abdul and Jake are working with the U.S. Department of Labor, while Avery is with a Pima County GED program called Las Artes. Speaking about his placement as a monitoring and evaluation specialist with the Girl Scouts of Southern Arizona, Robert Hartwell said “my time with Girl Scouts has provided me with valuable experience in the field, as well as with the opportunity to develop and build upon practical skills that I plan on utilizing as part of my career in the future.”
Beyond what the MDP offers to RPCVs, noted MDP Director Dr. Katherine Snyder, is what they also bring to the program: “Our Coverdell Fellows are a real asset for us, bringing a wealth of experiences and great ‘value-added’ perspectives in classroom discussions. They arrive having already engaged with real-world practical concerns, and through the MDP they gain further insights, knowledge, and skills.”
Georgia Ehlers, UA’s Director of Fellowships and Community Engagement, added that the MDP “appeals to many returning Peace Corps volunteers as a means of expanding their ‘boots on the ground’ experience with more formal study of development practice worldwide. The tight-knit Fellows community provides additional opportunities for collaborative service and professional development, as well as an opportunity to share the Peace Corps experience at home.”
--by Raymond Smith, MDP Assistant Director