A military school trains students for work in the Peace Corps

WHEN Evan Schumann accepted a four-year ROTC scholarship from the United States Air Force three years ago, he looked forward to a leadership position in missions overseas. Now, he says, he's anticipating a similar opportunity with the Peace Corps. That's an unusual statement for a cadet at Vermont's Norwich University - the nation's oldest military college, founded in 1819 - where the marching band plays daily at lunchtime formation and first-year cadets square their corners like rooks on a chessboard.

But Mr. Schumann has joined the country's first college training program for the Peace Corps.

Developed this summer at Norwich and modeled - somewhat ironically - after the Reserve Officers' Training Corps for the nation's armed services, the Peace Corps Preparatory Program is designed to prepare students for work with service agencies in third-world countries.

While the program is not affiliated with the Peace Corps and participants are not guaranteed acceptance in the corps after graduation, university officials claim the training will make them attractive candidates for such service organizations - especially given a military college's reputation for physically fit, discipline-oriented, and resourceful students with majors like biology and engineering.

The university-funded program operates very much like ROTC, with both classes for credit and laboratory work.

As students begin Peace Corps training in their junior year, says the Rev. Richard E. May, Norwich's chaplain and director of the program, they take classes on the world community and on understanding people in the third world. They also learn about community service through projects near the university.

After a summer of volunteer work in the Caribbean or Latin America, participating seniors learn firsthand about initiating and managing their own service projects.

Given a list of community needs identified by surrounding neighborhoods, the students choose one need, develop a program to meet it, and train volunteers from the community to continue the program after the students have graduated.

According to Mr. May, ``The Peace Corps says it has people with lots of gifts that they don't know how to give. So we're giving our students an exposure to that kind of opportunity here before they go overseas.''

Such training may seem very different from ROTC's ``leadership laboratory,'' where military trainees learn small-unit tactics or simulate shipboard activities, but May says there are parallels between the two.

Lab work in both programs requires students to lead others in the kinds of experiences they will have overseas, he says. ``The leadership qualities are a bit different, but many of them are very transferable.''

Norwich's Peace Corps program also parallels ROTC in its use of financial incentives, offering to forgive up to $5,000 in university loans after students complete two years of service overseas.

According to Col. John R. Sweeney, who heads Air Force ROTC at Norwich, the university's military representatives are not concerned that the Peace Corps program's attractive loan policy will lure away potential recruits. He says the two programs are different enough that the armed services wouldn't ``convince somebody to become a military officer if they wanted to go help people in a third-world country.''

The new program was developed and approved by Norwich trustees only this past summer, and many of the school's cadets had already signed ROTC contracts by the time the Peace Corps option was offered.

Schumann opted for the Peace Corps program after his four-year ROTC scholarship was ended because of Air Force cutbacks. Third-year cadet Julianna Klejnot was convinced by two years of ROTC that the military was not for her.

Although the program was intended to draw the majority of its participants from Norwich's civilian students, most of those who showed interest this fall came from the school's military cadet corps.

The Peace Corps program was the brainchild of Norwich president W. Russell Todd, who was looking for a way to integrate the university's military corps with its civilian campus.

``I was looking for a program [for our civilian students] which would parallel what we do in the cadet corps in providing service to the nation through the military,'' General Todd explains.

His wife heard Peace Corps director Loret Miller Ruppe discuss training for college students at a conference, and Todd says he knew the proposal was what he had been looking for. And, he claims, training programs for the Peace Corps and the military are not at all incongruous.

``The whole purpose of armed forces is to build the strength of a nation to the point that nobody will ever challenge you to go to war,'' Todd says. ``And the purpose of the Peace Corps is to build friends among other nations and develop them so they'll never become enemies. And those things are totally compatible.''

Although the fledgling program has fewer than a dozen students this fall, Todd says he hopes eventually to see about 100 students involved in it. He says he would like to see other colleges adopt Peace Corps programs of their own. For Miss Klejnot the reason for joining the program is simple: ``I've learned here that the military means service, but with it comes a buildup of arms and troops.

``The Peace Corps starts and ends with peace.''

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to A military school trains students for work in the Peace Corps
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today