The Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies will offer a new fellowship for returning Peace Corps volunteers that will allow them to continue serving their communities while pursuing their educations.
In a Sept. 16 press release, FES announced its burgeoning partnership with the Peace Corps — a service organization that sends American college graduates to underprivileged countries — through the national Paul D. Coverdell Fellows Program, set to become available to FES students entering in the fall of 2016. Returning Peace Corps volunteers who qualify for the fellowship will receive $5,000 a year, plus additional funding to complete internships in underserved American communities. The goal of the program, according to Danielle Dailey, director of enrollment management at FES, is to attract more Peace Corps returnees to Yale.
“We wanted to feel like we could support students who have done a lot service-wise,” she said.
Though the program will be new to FES, it is not new to Yale; Coverdell has been funding students at Yale’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs since 2007 and the School of Public Health since 2009. But administrators felt that the real-world experience of returning volunteers often made them ideal candidates for FES as well.
According to Dailey, one of the major areas of the Peace Corps is natural resources, so many former volunteers have years of experience in environmental education, agriculture and forestry. Bringing these students to FES, she said, is a “natural fit.”
To continue their real-world experience, fellows will also work in underprivileged American communities. Erin Kelly FES ’17, a former Peace Corps volunteer who is not affiliated with the Coverdell program, said this service-driven component will attract even more Peace Corps volunteers to Yale.
“A lot of people in the Peace Corps want to keep doing [volunteer work] anyway,” Kelly said. “It’s just nice to have it built into your graduate program.”
Several students interviewed noted that Peace Corps volunteers may lack a clear path after their return, adding that the Fellows Program could solve that problem. Helen Tuggle ’17 said the fellowship could provide such volunteers with a sense of direction.
“I knew a graduate student at another school who did the Peace Corps, [and] it was challenging to come back after two years away,” said Sam Geldin FES ’17. “A program like this would definitely help.”
Theresa Wilson SOM ’15, who was a Coverdell Fellow at the Jackson Institute, added that the fellows program would also cushion some of the financial burden of returning to school after two years abroad.
Cristin Siebert, director of student affairs and admissions at the Jackson Institute, said the fellows program will benefit New Haven as well, as many Coverdell Fellows choose to complete their service internships in the surrounding area.
Still, despite these benefits, bringing the fellowship program to FES was not easy. According to Dailey, the application for the program’s installation required the pooling of many resources over several years’ time. The graduate school had to demonstrate its commitment to the volunteers, showing what sort of financial and programmatic support they would provide and detailing how their goals match with the program’s goals.
Administrators expressed excitement at the prospect of bringing a new crop of service-oriented students to Yale and New Haven.
“These are people who are interested in engaging in communities,” Siebert said. “They want to improve lives, whether it be through climate and sustainability issues or food security issues or human rights issues or economic development issues. [These are] people who are out there to be in public service.”
The Coverdell Fellows Program was founded in 1985 at Teachers College, Columbia University.