Andrea Ward becomes first VCU graduate of Peace Corps Prep program to join the Corps
For Immediate Release
Contact: V. Renee Russell
VCU Global Education Office
Phone: (804) 828-3636
RICHMOND, Va. (May 11, 2016) — Andrea Ward, a senior at Virginia Commonwealth University, was one of the first students to enroll in the VCU Globe Peace Corps Prep program when it launched in November of 2014. Now, just a three semesters later, she has completed the program and plans to enter the Peace Corps this summer.
Ward, who leaves for the Republic of Benin in West Africa this September is VCU’s first student to successfully complete the Peace Corps Prep program and subsequently accept a position with the Corps immediately following graduation.
Earlier this semester, Ward was one of VCU Globe’s first graduates, completing the program with a certificate of completion in global education and a Peace Corps Prep designation. The designation is available to students who complete the Globe curriculum, together with four semesters of a foreign language. A total of 37 students graduated, of which, 17 received the designation.
A sociology major and French minor in the VCU College of Humanities and Sciences, Ward plans to use her Peace Corps experience to help define her career aspirations.
“My end goal is to work in the field of public health,” she said. “This opportunity will help me decide the exact sector I want to pursue. I’ll be working in the areas of maternal health and HIV/AIDS, and hope to develop a clearer mindset for looking at these issues.”
The first three months of Ward’s assignment will be devoted to language and practical training with other volunteers. She will also live with a host family, which, according to Ward, will help her acclimate to the culture and learn more about the local community.
After the initial three months, Ward will be assigned her post as a community health adviser. “I could be in either an urban or a rural area, depending on what the Peace Corps thinks will be a good fit. I’ll stay there for two years and will be responsible for continuing an ongoing project started by an earlier volunteer.”
Ward will also have the ability to help address needs in the community that fall outside her assigned project area. “Even though I’ll have a specific job, I know that many volunteers take on additional projects, as well.”
“By living everyday life there, I’ll be able to see the actual needs of the community and try to address them. Even though I’ll have a specific title in community health, if I see an area where I can contribute — like to education or agriculture or childhood development — I have the freedom to try and tackle that, too.”
Although this will be her longest time outside the U.S., it will not be Ward’s first experience traveling abroad to address challenges faced by communities around the world. During her time at VCU, she studied abroad three times. Last summer, she traveled to the province of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa to conduct research on social challenges in rural areas; during spring break 2015, she was instrumental in hosting two community health fairs in Negril, Jamaica; and during summer 2014, she studied abroad in Oaxaca, Mexico, teaching English to adult learners in the village of Teotitlan del Valle.
“It’s funny, because going to Mexico was my first time out of the country and I think that gave me the ‘travel bug.’ Before that, I’d wanted to travel, but it was just an idea. I didn’t realize how much of an impact that first trip would have on me.”
“In all of the traveling I’ve done, though, the service is what has really resonated with me,” Ward said, attributing her interest in global service and citizenship to her experiences in VCU Globe and studying abroad. “Entering the Peace Corps feels like a natural extension of the global service that I’ve already done.”
Several factors went into Ward’s chosen location in West Africa. “I wanted to go someplace where the language barrier wouldn’t prevent me from being impactful and learning as much as much as I could in a short amount of time,” she said. “Because French is my minor, and that’s the language spoken in many West African countries, it was a good fit.”
“In many of my classes and throughout life, I’ve met people from West Africa and have learned about their culture,” she continued. “I’ve always wanted to learn more and I felt the best way to do that would be to fully immerse myself into it.”
Adjusting to a new culture and overcoming language barriers will not be the only challenges Ward will face over during her time abroad. Being apart from her identical twin sister will also have an impact on her daily life.
“She is really supportive of my decision and knows it’s the right thing for me to do,” she said. “This will be the first time that we’ve been away from each other for such a long time, so I know it will hard. But we’ll get through it.”