More than 6,000 people currently serve as members of the Peace Corps, a U.S.-based volunteer organization that sends individuals to developing countries to serve people and communities in need. Popular among postgraduates, the organization was established in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy in an effort to promote world peace while providing the young people who serve in the organization with a global perspective.
Hiram College senior Jessica Bessner wants to be part of the Peace Corps’ legacy.
“The Peace Corps offers opportunities to work abroad in disciplines focusing on youth development, agriculture and education. I want to use my passions of education, food security and human rights to learn and teach others, while living and being involved with a new community abroad,” Bessner said.
A religious studies and sociology double major, Bessner is taking strides to become competitive candidate for the Corps by participating in Hiram College’s Peace Corps Preparatory Program and interning as an on-campus ambassador for the organization.
“Completion of this ambitious program does not guarantee placement in the Peace Corps, but makes you a stronger candidate in the very competitive field where only 10 percent of the applicants are accepted into a position,” Bessner explained.
One of only a few institutions in Ohio to have a Peace Corps Preparatory Program (PCP), Hiram College began offering it in fall 2014 in order to help students become stronger candidates for the Corps. Students who successfully complete the program receive official recognition by the Peace Corps and can also get an international studies minor with the completion of select coursework.
Hiram’s PCP requires students to take four years of a single foreign language and coursework focused in economics, management, modern history, sociology, political science or interdisciplinary fields related to contemporary global issues. Students are also required to complete at least one hands-on co-curricular experience such as a study abroad trip, a service project or an internship.
“A Peace Corps volunteer is responsible for leading his or her own project and optional secondary project. I have experience leading my own volunteer projects here at Hiram, which will show that I have the skills of coordinating volunteers, community networking and problem solving,” Bessner said.
As part of her Peace Corps campus ambassador internship, she is doing just that. Bessner began the internship in August, and since then, she has worked closely with Peace Corps recruiters to educate her fellow students on the life-changing opportunities that the organization offers. Bessner said that when she found out she was selected for the internship she was grateful and “excited to be able to learn more about the Peace Corps and tell others about it.”
Bessner will begin her application this coming spring, and she plans to join the Peace Corps in 2017. She is hoping the Peace Corps will place her in Nepal, and because food security is one of her passions, she would like to be assigned to work on an agriculture project. As part of her preparation for serving in the Peace Corps, Bessner has spoken to individuals who have served.
“Some people find service in the Peace Corps to be a life-changing event, others have found their significant others, and most have realized their life’s vocation,” she said.
As far as what she hopes to get out of the experience?
“Time and work experience to help me discern my vocation,” Bessner said. “I’d like to be either a social worker for migrant workers, agricultural workers and human trafficking victims, or a community organizer for urban communities. I’d also like to have the opportunity to learn more about my host country and teach others from the U.S. about it.”
With nearly 220,000 volunteers serving 140 countries since its establishment, the Peace Corps will undoubtedly provide Bessner with an opportunity to be part of a broad and enduring legacy; but more importantly, it will allow her to leave a lasting legacy of her own.