URI honors first graduates of its Peace Corps Prep program

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First row from left, Jamie Lavoie, Elizabeth Malloy, Vanessa Garcia-Polanco, Jessica Atutubo, Shayna Krasnoff, and Shade Olowookere. Second row from left are: Maximilian Greatshell, returned Peace Corps volunteer and current Peace Corps recruiter; Neil Ross, alumni coordinator for URI’s Peace Corps Prep program; David Abedon, URI professor of natural resources sciences and faculty advisor; Nancy Stricklin, assistant to the provost for global strategies and academic partnerships at URI; Michael Rice, URI professor of animal and veterinary sciences, returned Peace Corps volunteer, and faculty advisor; and Kathleen Maher, assistant director for national fellowships in the URI Honors Program. URI photo by Michael Salerno Photography.

KINGSTON, R.I. — June 6, 2017 — The University of Rhode Island presented certificates of completion to the first students to complete requirements of its Peace Corps Prep program.

In ceremonies during the week leading up to commencement, nine graduating seniors were honored as the first students to complete the program.

The honorees are: Jessica Atutubo of Fair Lawn, N.J.; Alexandra Benavides of Providence; Vanessa Garcia-Polanco of North Providence; Shayna Krasnoff of Massapequa, N.Y.; Jamie Lavoie of Warwick; Elizabeth Malloy of Wareham, Mass.; Shade Olowookere of Woonsocket; Filipa Serpa of Dulles, Va. and Nicholas Tierney of North Kingstown.

Atutubo said taking classes that allow students to learn about different cultures and then being able to follow them up with an internship abroad are major parts of the program.

“It’s important to be able to function in other societies,” Atutubo said. “The program gave me the proper training through both classes and experiences and even more, gave me contacts that could help me.”

She won’t be traveling abroad right away, saying, “I would like to do work domestically first. But eventually, I would like to go to the Philippines and help preserve its natural resources.”

Peace Corps Prep allows undergraduate students to combine targeted coursework with hands-on experience. The program equips students with the tools needed to become competitive Peace Corps applicants and international development professionals. URI is the only university or college in Rhode Island to have such a program.

Laura Beauvais, vice provost for faculty affairs and head of global initiatives at URI, congratulated the students on their achievements.

“This program has given you outstanding experiences that have allowed you to build your leadership skills and cultural competencies,” Beauvais said.

URI Professor of Animal and Veterinary Sciences Michael Rice, faculty advisor to the program and, a returned Peace Corp volunteer, told the students that the program founded by President John F. Kennedy has strong Rhode Island roots. “President Kennedy signed the Peace Corps legislation at the summer White House, Hammersmith Farm, in Newport. Decades later, 141 countries have participated in the program. I applaud you for your hard work and accomplishments.”

URI alumnus Neil Ross, the first URI graduate to join the Peace Corps, went to the Dominican Republic in 1962. The alumni coordinator for the program offered some keep-in-touch words for the students.

“I was able to get to the Dominican Republic through my URI connections, so please continue to rely on us,” Ross said. “We want you to tell us where you are going and how long you’ll be there. We’d like you to come back to talk with our new students..”

In other news, the Peace Corps ranked URI No. 21 among medium size schools on its 2017 Top Volunteer-Producing Colleges and Universities list, with 425 alumni serving worldwide since 1962, including 15 URI alumni now in service around the globe. Last year, URI was ranked No. 25 and is the only college or university in Rhode Island to be included in the national rankings.