HOUGHTON - For 32 graduate students at Michigan Technological University, campus looks a bit different than usual. That's because those students have left the Houghton campus as members of the Peace Corps Masters International Program.
For the ninth year in a row, Michigan Tech has earned the top spot for number of students currently serving as Peace Corps volunteers as part of the Peace Corps Masters International program. In addition to the 32 that were volunteering abroad, 34 members of the program were at Michigan Tech, bringing the total number of students currently involved in PCMI to 66.
"They typically come to Michigan Tech for two semesters and take a very full course load - they really cram a lot in there - and then they go and do their Peace Corps service," said Kari Henquinet, director of Michigan Tech's PCMI program.
After the program, the students generally come back for at least a semester to complete a master's thesis, Henquinet said.
The Peace Corps has partnerships with around 80 universities across the country. At Michigan Tech, the relationship started with the school of forestry in 1995, Henquinet said. Since then, more than 140 students have earned graduate degrees through the program and additional programs have been added. There are currently eight PCMI programs; applied natural resource economics, biological sciences, civil and environmental engineering, forest resources and environmental science, mechanical engineering, mitigation of geological natural hazards, rhetoric and technical communication and science education. Computer science and electrical and computer engineering programs are currently under development, but are planned to be running in the fall. After receiving their placements, the masters students partake in a wide variety of projects.
"A lot end up working in water and sanitation under the health sector of the Peace Corps but they have specific projects that need engineers. Sometimes they'll get a placement that's a little different but it's always something they can do," Henquinet said.
Some of the projects from past participants include teaching English or science and math, conservation of natural resources, sustainability, natural resource management and health education. Even while they are abroad, Henquinet said, the students can tap into a support network of staff, other students and program alumni. This, she said, may be a reason Michigan Tech consistently ranks as the number one university for PCMI students.
"The students have said the faculty are a great support for the students and I would agree," Henquinet said. "Many of the faculty go above and beyond to reach out to the students, give support and communicate with them."
Even while on campus the members of the PCMI program support each other with special events, monthly dinners, a softball team and even a house for PCMI students.
"All these things create a community so they're supported and feel ready," Henquinet said.
While they are using their skills to help others, the PCMI students are also preparing themselves for a career in an increasing global world.
"They're well-rounded; they have intercultural skills as well as technical skills. They come in great students and come out leaders in their fields, prepared for not only for careers in the U.S. but globally as well, and that's where thing are headed these days," Henquinet said. "It's a wonderful opportunity to build skill sets, learn a language and take on a professional project with all the frustrations and successes."