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Inside Springfield College’s strong connection to the Peace Corps

Irene Rotondo

Springfield College most famously stands for its core values of the Humanics Philosophy– the education of the whole person, including spirit, mind and body, for leadership in service to others. 

It only fits that the College could work in tandem with another organization that holds a similar philosophy: the Peace Corps.

Established in March of 1961, the Peace Corps has a history of working together with Springfield College. In 1963, the College began a partnership with the Peace Corps to enroll individuals in a 10-week-long summer program, training them for work in South American countries such as Venezuela and Ecuador.

Participants had to complete their on-campus studies in physical education, sports and community recreation before they embarked on their service trip. They also endured intensive language training on the native language of the country they were to serve; most of the time, they learned Spanish. 

The men and women were well-versed by the end of their training in world affairs, including the relationships the United States had with other countries. 

The most essential part of their relationship was Sargent Shriver. Shriver, the brother-in-law of President John F. Kennedy, founded the Peace Corps and served as the first director of their mission. 

Shriver oversaw the training happening at Springfield, and was so pleased with how the school had operated that after becoming director for the Office of Economic Opportunity (an organization responsible for administering the majority of the War on Poverty programs during President Lyndon B. Johnson’s tenure), he connected with the College to create and conduct the first Job Corps program. 

The Job Corps, an organization still active today, offers free educational and vocational training to men and women aged 16-to-24.

Not only did some of the first Peace Corps training programs take place at Springfield College, but the school has continued its relationship with the organization over the years. In the fall of 2015, Springfield announced its partnership in their School of Social Work with the Peace Corps to bring the Paul D. Coverdell Fellows Program to the school. 

The Coverdell Fellows Program was created in 1985 at Columbia University and has since partnered with over 90 different universities and colleges, though there is no other School of Social Work in New England that offers the Fellowship. The mission of the program is to provide graduate school scholarships to returned Peace Corps volunteers. The program fellows are to work as interns in local, underserved communities, while they complete their academic studies, and receive a stipend along with their tuition credits being waived each year.

Those who graduate from the Coverdell Fellowship receive their Masters in Social Work from Springfield College. By the time they have completed the program, they will have amassed 1,050 hours of service that have furthered the mission of the Peace Corps and Springfield College.

Dr. Karen Clark-Hoey, Professor of Social Work at Springfield College, was the individual who initially brought the Coverdell Fellowship to Springfield. After beginning the initiative in the fall of 2014, with multiple attempts to bring the program to the College and advocating for its benefit, Clark-Hoey finally saw the program approved by the Peace Corps in the spring of 2015.

Clark-Hoey then began her case of obtaining an MOU, the Memorandum of Understanding between the Peace Corps and Springfield College. Though a time-consuming process, the MOU was finalized in June of 2015. Clark-Hoey was ecstatic that all of her hard work had paid off.

“We were really happy, but we were also really eager to offer the fellowship to an incoming student,” said Clark-Hoey.

“Unfortunately, having passed the point of our admissions cycle for the fall of 2015, we felt we needed to wait until the next recruitment cycle. On a whim, I thought, ‘Well, wouldn’t it be great if we’ve already accepted someone into the program, who did serve in the Peace Corps, and who met the eligibility criteria for the Coverdell Fellowship Program?’

“So I went and I looked, and very fortuitly, we had accepted someone, and she was Lauren Bishop, and she served in Peace Corps in Bulgaria, which was also very fortuitous because I had served in the neighboring country to Bulgaria, Romania. And our service was about 15 years apart, but still very very similar, because of just how slow change has been in those countries in the years following 50 years of communism.”

Clark-Hoey feels that Bishop’s candidacy for the program was simply “meant to be.” It was completely up to fate that someone who had served in the Peace Corps actually applied to the Fellowship, and Clark-Hoey acted as Bishop’s advisor in the program. Clark-Hoey personally called Bishop that summer and told her the program had been approved, and that Bishop was the one Peace Corps applicant.

During her time in Bulgaria, Bishop primarily worked with social workers and a psychologist in a small orphanage with Roma, a minority ethnicity in Bulgaria. 

After her service, Bishop took some time to decide what career she wanted to pursue and what she was really passionate about. During her search for potential graduate schools, Bishop stumbled upon Springfield College and the Coverdell Fellows.

 “I had applied to Springfield on a whim, because investing in community is really important to me, and they were one of the only programs that had a satellite campus in Worcester,” said Bishop.

“I had known about the Coverdell, and looked into the program a little bit, and looked into different schools that had the partnership… there wasn’t anything else local that had social work, and it was just by chance that it worked out well,” added Bishop.

Bishop graduated from the Coverdell Fellows in 2018, but still remembers her time with both Coverdell and the Peace Corps fondly.

“It’s a really incredible program…. This incredible network of people that have the same values, and I think it’s a really beautiful thing that it’s lasted that long,” said Bishop. “It’s really a value-based organization that I think has a lot of integrity.”

Bishop now employs all of the skills she learned throughout her affiliation with the Peace Corps to continue her social work as a substance abuse therapist, working with patients in acute mental health crises. The life skills Bishop attained cannot be put into words, but they helped shape her into the gratuitous social worker she is today.

Photo: Lauren Bishop

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