Peace Corps Opens Tulane Office

January 16, 2004

Heather Heilman
Phone: (504) 865-5714

Tulane's School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine has had a long, close relationship with the Peace Corps. It has the largest master's internationalist program in the country, by far, despite the fact that it's a relatively small school.

peacecorpsEach year, between 20 and 30 students participate in the program, in which they complete their coursework for master of public health degrees before serving for two years in the Peace Corps. Tulane as a whole is the largest producer of Peace Corps volunteers in the state of Louisiana.

There are also a significant number of returned Peace Corps volunteers studying at Tulane's public health and medical schools.

"Tulane is a draw because the work of the faculty is so international and grass-roots in focus," said Meredith McLanahan, a returned Peace Corps volunteer studying environmental health.

She also is Tulane's new in-house Peace Corps recruiter. The Peace Corps' regional office in Dallas is responsible for recruiting volunteers from a broad five-state region that stretches from New Mexico to Louisiana. And it can be particularly hard to recruit in the South.

"Part of that is because people have such strong family ties here," said McLanahan. "You're not just recruiting a student, you're recruiting the whole family. You have to reassure them that the volunteer won't go away forever, and that they'll come back with tangible experience and job skills that will make them attractive to graduate schools and employers."

Yet Southern recruits, particularly from Louisiana, can be worth the extra effort. The Peace Corps is interested in recruiting more African-Americans, as well as people with French language skills to work in francophone countries. So Tulane seemed like an especially good place to open a recruiting office this fall. While McLanahan expects most of her recruits will come from the public health school, she also plans on being a regular presence on the uptown campus and at all the colleges and universities in the city.

But she emphasized that you don't have to be young and freshly out of school to join the Peace Corps, just a U.S. citizen over the age of 18 and free of dependents. Many recruits are retirees and mid-life career changers. Often these more mature volunteers are especially effective.

"Maturity and experience are respected. When I was overseas, I saw gray hair get people into places where young kids couldn't go."

McLanahan's own experience in the Peace Corps illustrates the way volunteering can be a life-changing experience, one that's often nothing like what was expected. A French major in college, she expected to be sent to francophone West Africa. But her asthma disqualified her from working in Africa, while high school experience working in a greenhouse gave her the skills needed to do forestry work in Thailand.

The Peace Corps has five programs--in agriculture, business development, the environment, health and education--and is active in 63 developing countries. Each country identifies its own needs, and the Peace Corps does its best to find volunteers to match. Each volunteer will spend three months in training and 24 months on assignment.

During that time, volunteers are paid a salary roughly equivalent to that of the people they're working with, usually around $15 to $200 a month. "It's enough to allow you to have fun and do things," said McLanahan. At the end of service, each volunteer receives a $6,000 readjustment allowance. They also enter an active community of returned Peace Corps volunteers and get help finding a job or getting into graduate school. The recruiting office is in the public health school's admission office on the 24th floor of the Tidewater building.

For more information, call 988-6737 or e-mail

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Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000