November 9, 2007

The Peace Corps and WEF: Growing a Legacy of Public Service

By Diana Gomez

Recently, the Water Environmental Federation held their 80th Annual Technical Exhibition and Conference at the San Diego Convention Center. This year marks a special milestone for WEFTEC. Since 1928 The Water Federation has been providing access to the world’s best science, engineering and technical practices to protect the environment.

Staying true to its roots as an educational forum, WEFTEC.07 Technical program of 119 technical sessions and 29 specialty workshops offered boundless educational menus in every aspect of water quality practice and in one of the best continuing education opportunities available in the field today.

WEF’s has a history of collaborating with Peace Corps which provides exceptional opportunities for Water professionals in many fields —from infrastructure and pipeline to water treatment and distribution— to bring sustainable water and sanitation systems to areas of the world that need the most.

This year’s conference brought Peace Corp leadership from around the world to San Diego which gave us the opportunity to explore the Peace Corps and the Hispanic community.

The Peace Corps Partnership with Mexico

Educational levels in Mexico have improved substantially in recent decades, and education continues to remain one of the government’s highest priorities. Education is mandatory from ages six through 18. Educational funding now represents 27 percent of the budget. The educational system also is being decentralized from federal to state authority to improve accountability.

U.S. relations with Mexico have a direct impact on the lives and livelihoods of millions of Americans—whether the issue is trade and economic reform, drug control, migration, or the promotion of democracy. The U.S. and Mex-ico are partners in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

The scope of U.S.-Mexican relations goes far beyond diplomatic and official contacts; it entails extensive commercial, cultural, and educational ties. More than a half-million American citizens live in Mexico. More than 2,600 U.S. companies have operations there, and the U.S. accounts for 60 percent of all foreign direct investment in Mexico. Along the 2,000-mile shared border, state and local governments interact closely.

In November 2003, the Peace Corps formalized a new partnership that brought Peace Corps Volunteers to Mexico for the first time in the history of the two nations. The Mexico/Peace Corps program is a unique partnership that provides the first opportunity for the Peace Corps to recruit highly specialized, technically trained and experienced Volunteers to work side-by-side with their highly skilled and specialized Mexican counterparts. The first two groups of Volunteers have collaborated with Mexico’s National Council on Science and Technology (CONACYT) in the areas of information technology, small business development, and science and technology. CONACYT operates a network of 27 technology centers across Mexico. These centers work with many institutions, varying from small- and medium-sized businesses to government and nongovernmental organizations. Volunteers share their knowledge and experience, and focus on three sectors within the areas of cooperation: environment/water, business services, and technical research and development.

Since the arrival of the first Volunteers in 2004, Peace Corps/Mexico has experienced great success, producing impressive results for CONACYT. As a result of this model, Mexico’s Department of Environmental Affairs and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) requested an identical agreement with Peace Corps, which led to the signing of a technical cooperation agreement in June 2006.

The Rewards of Peace Corps Service

As a Peace Corps Volunteer you can make a tremendous contribution to the lives of others. At the same time, you discover that you experience is as much about learning as it is about teaching.

Volunteer service develops or accentuates your professional abilities and enhances your personal growth. Virtually all returning volunteers agree that they have received far more than they have given. Recent colleges graduates gain hand-on experience and often further define their career goals. Others confirm their commitment to their profession and receive career boosting international experience. Retirees bring their accumulated life experiences to those who need and respect them.

Some of the benefits that come with Peace Corps service include: student loan deferment and/or partial cancellation, transportation to and from the country of service, in country training, medical and dental care, living allowance, 48 paid vacation days, a $6,000+ “readjustment” allowance upon completion, graduate school opportunities, etc.

Celebrating Hispanics in Service

Peace Corps Director Ronald A. Tschetter announced the agency’s celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month. From September 15 to October 15, the Peace Corps celebrated the culture and traditions of the more than 42 million U.S. residents who trace their roots to Spain, Mexico, and the Spanish-speaking nations of Central America, South America and the Caribbean.

Says Director Tschetter, “This year’s theme of ‘Making a Positive Impact in American Society’ allows us to recognize the contributions of Hispanic Americans past and present who have served in the Peace Corps. Through their dedication to service, they have helped carry out the Peace Corps’ mission of facilitating global development while creating a better understanding of our nation’s rich, multicultural heritage.”

Rewarding UCSD for breaking the record with volunteers in service

Tschetter will meet with Chancellor Marye Anne Fox and Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Penny Rue during his visit, hosted by the UCSD Career Services Center.  Joining Tschetter on the tour will be Robbie L. Robinson, Los Angeles regional Peace Corps manager.

Andy Ceperley, Career Services Center director, noted that the campus Peace Corps office is funded by the federal government and is housed within the Career Services Center. The visiting dignitaries also will tour the Career Services Center, he said, to demonstrate how Peace Corps events and resources complement existing career development services.

In addition to being named among the top 25 in the Peace Corps’ annual ranking of “Top Producing Colleges and University,” UCSD ranks first in the Southern California/Arizona region in the number of students nominated for Peace Corps service.

Ceperley said that 45 Peace Corps volunteers currently on assignment throughout the world obtained their undergraduate degrees at UCSD, and an additional six volunteers completed their graduate degrees at UCSD. The campus has produced more than 550 Peace Corps volunteers since the office was established here in 2002.

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