Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Michigan Tech Peace Corps Master's International Volunteers make a difference -- one step at a time

Peace Corps Volunteer Callie Bertsch with school children in a Muslim village in Bulgaria. (Photo courtesy Michigan Technological University)

By Jennifer Donovan, Michigan Tech Director of Public Relations

HOUGHTON -- When graduate students Kristina Denison, Callie Bertsch and Michelle Cisz left the wooded hills of the Michigan Technological University campus to serve as Peace Corps volunteers, they headed to countries that couldn’t be more diverse: Zambia, Bulgaria and Paraguay. But the lessons they learned in Michigan Tech’s Peace Corps Master’s International (PCMI) program were remarkably similar.

"I was going to Africa to change the world," says Denison, who spent three years in Zambia, a landlocked little country in southern Africa, between Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. "I learned that you have to count the small steps, to be satisfied with planting a seed."

Bertsch expected to bring "some great innovation" to the village of Gurmen in Bulgaria. But she soon realized she was having her greatest impact in a more subjective arena: people's attitudes. "We’re so glad you came to live with us because you’re not at all like we thought Americans were," the Bulgarian villagers kept telling her.

Halfway around the world, in the small South American country of Paraguay, Cisz was busy readjusting her expectations too. "I had big goals, but I had to take small steps," she says. "It was a very humbling experience."

All three women are working toward their Master of Science in Forest Ecology and Management in Tech’s School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science. They wanted to travel, to serve and to learn by doing -- the Michigan Tech way -- so they joined a program that lets graduate students combine course work with volunteer service overseas in the Peace Corps. With eight PCMI programs in four different colleges and schools, Michigan Tech has more active Peace Corps volunteers than any other university in the nation. ... Read the rest of this article and see a slide show with more photos on the Michigan Tech News.

Michigan Tech tops Nation in numbers of Peace Corps Master's International Volunteers for sixth year in a row

Michigan Technological University once again has more Peace Corps Master’s International (PCMI) graduate students actively serving as Peace Corps volunteers than any other college or university in the nation. Michigan Tech has 32 PCMI students currently on Peace Corps assignments. There are also a number of students on campus fulfilling the academic portions of their master’s degrees.

The national Peace Corps headquarters in Washington, D.C., announced recently that Michigan Tech has earned the top spot for the sixth consecutive year. Tulane University placed second, and the University of Washington was third.

As of this year, the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Peace Corps, 185 Michigan Tech alumni have served as volunteers, more than half of all the volunteers from Michigan. PCMI graduate students have served all over the world, including Armenia, Belize, Bulgaria, Fiji, Gabon, Kenya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Nepal, Paraguay and Zambia, to name a just few.

The Peace Corps partners with more than 80 colleges and universities across the nation to enable graduate students to earn a master’s degree while serving in the Peace Corps. PCMI students begin their graduate studies on campus, serve overseas with the Peace Corps for two years, doing volunteer work on projects related to their graduate studies. Then they return to school to complete their graduate work. ...

Click here to read the rest of this article on the Michigan Tech News.

Prof. Blair Orr named White House Champion of Change

Professor Blair Orr, director of Michigan Tech’s Peace Corps Master’s International programs, was featured on the White House website as a White House Champion of Change in a story highlighting Peace Corps volunteers through the years. Orr served in the Peace Corps as a Forestry Volunteer in Lesotho from 1978 to 1981. In 1982 and 1983, Blair worked for Lutheran World Relief on forestry in refugee camps in Somalia.

In 1995, he worked with Ed Frayer to establish the Loret Miller Ruppe Peace Corps Master’s International Program in Forestry at Michigan Technological University. Loret Miller Ruppe raised her family in Houghton, Michigan, and was the longest serving director of the Peace Corps.

Click here for a video clip of Blair Orr on the White House Web site.

(Photo of Blair Orr courtesy Michigan Tech University)

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