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Preparation for Peace Corps Begins in Camden
CAMDEN — A group of ambitious students at Rutgers–Camden will soon embark on a mission to make global change. But before they spread their wings in different parts of the world, these Scarlet Raptors are making their mark in Camden first.
“It is exciting to think of the potential ways in which we can work towards implementing sustainable positive change,” says Patricia Sergeson, a graduate student at Rutgers–Camden.
Sergeson is one of 12 students currently enrolled in the International Public Service and Development (IPSD) concentration, one of three master of public administration (MPA) degree tracks offered by Rutgers–Camden.
The IPSD concentration combines graduate-level studies in public policy and administration with coursework on community service, international development policy and administration, and nonprofit management.
The students serve a year-long internship in North Camden during their first year in the program before serving in the U.S. Peace Corps for two years or an alternative international assignment for one year.
This year, the Peace Corps is commemorating 50 years of promoting peace and friendship around the world and it has sustained a partnership with Rutgers–Camden for almost half that time. More than 120 Rutgers students have worked on Peace Corps placements since the program launched at Rutgers–Camden in 1987.
This year, 12 Rutgers–Camden students are interning in Camden at agencies like the Camden Prosecutor’s Office, the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, Respond, Inc., the Salvation Army, and Save Our Waterfront to prepare for their Peace Corps service.
“The students’ work in an urban environment like Camden prepares them for what they will be doing overseas in the Peace Corps,” says Eduardo Gomez, an assistant professor of public policy and administration at Rutgers–Camden and faculty coordinator of the program. “It prepares them for both domestic and international work and exposes them to rigorous activity and real world experience. All of the students display an eagerness to help engage the city of Camden in these civic projects,” he says.
Sergeson, whose work with Respond, Inc. includes researching the community’s need for adult education classes, says the internship has been an amazing growing and learning experience.
“The IPSD students work hard to learn about the community so the work we do in our internships contributes to poignant, lasting changes,” says Sergeson, a Collingswood resident. “It is our hope that through our projects, we can aid Camden’s amazing residents and leaders to meet goals of innovation and progress within the community.”
Kate Scurria, an IPSD student currently serving in the Peace Corps in Uganda, says the Rutgers–Camden internship program was the best preparation she could receive before beginning her Peace Corps assignment.
Prior to her Peace Corps deployment, Scurria worked in the Crime Prevention Department at the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office. There, she helped build a program that encouraged Camden residents to take ownership of their street and their neighborhood and help deter crime by becoming a visible presence in their community.
Scurria, a Camden resident, says her work in Camden prepared her for the Peace Corps because she was able to create relationships, build a sense of trust, navigate the needs of Camden residents, assess the strengths and weaknesses in the community, and help design a sustainable, long-term program.
"During my internship, we hosted a number of community clean-ups, a neighborhood barbeque, and a kids' movie night in Northgate Park in hopes of bringing residents out of their homes and into the streets," Scurria says. "Our idea was that this would encourage community integration and neighborhood solidarity and create a momentum in which residents wanted to personally invest in their environment.”
In addition to Uganda, Rutgers–Camden students are currently serving in the Peace Corps in Niger, Moldova, Macedonia, and Guatemala. In previous years, the students have served in the Ukraine, Guatemala, and India.
Students who have opted to not go into the Peace Corps have lent their service to Cuba, Cambodia, Brazil, and Haiti.
The Peace Corps traces its roots and mission to 1960, when John F. Kennedy challenged students at the University of Michigan to serve their country by living and working in developing countries. A federal government agency devoted to world peace and friendship grew from that vision.
According to the Peace Corps, its volunteers have helped people build better lives for themselves within the past 50 years. Their work around the globe represents a legacy of service that has become a significant part of America’s history.
Media Contact: Ed Moorhouse