Coverdell Fellowship Program Offers Perks to Returned Peace Corps Volunteers

Published April 09, 2018 under Education News


Coverdell Fellow Julie Zemke (far left) jumps with participants in the 2015 Girls Leading Our World (GLOW) Camp during her Peace Corps service in Madagascar.

With international field experience in agriculture, environment, education, health, youth or community development sectors, many returned Peace Corps volunteers are well-positioned to pursue a graduate degree in global health. And starting this academic year, the Duke Global Health Institute (DGHI) has partnered with the Peace Corps to offer a sizable financial incentive for selected former volunteers to follow this path at Duke.

Through the Paul D. Coverdell Fellowship Program, up to five returned Peace Corps volunteers enrolled in DGHI’s Master of Science in Global Health program (MSc-GH) receive a 50 percent tuition scholarship. This scholarship supplements the standard funding given to students to engage in a field-based research and professional development activities. 

Another component of the fellowship program is an assistantship focusing on research or projects that benefit underserved U.S. populations. DGHI Coverdell Fellows, for example, can tap into opportunities with local impact through DGHI’s Center for Health Policy and Inequalities Research, the Duke Department of Community and Family Medicine or local non-profit organizations. If Coverdell fellows do not match to projects through the assistantship process, DGHI staff helps connect them with volunteer opportunities with underserved populations in the Durham, North Carolina area.

“It’s a win-win from our perspective,” said Sarah Martin, assistant director for graduate admissions and special projects. “The field experience returned Peace Corps volunteers bring to the program sets them apart from many other candidates. And in addition to the financial benefits they receive, DGHI’s focus on interdisciplinary learning and applied research gives these students the opportunity to reflect on their Peace Corps service within the broader global health context.”

The Paul D. Coverdell Fellowship Program advances the Peace Corps goal of promoting a better understanding among Americans of people from different cultures through the process of former volunteers sharing their experiences in classrooms and in communities.

Duke is among more than 90 U.S. universities partnering with the Peace Corps to offer this fellowship. Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy and Fuqua School of Business also participate in the program. 

DGHI currently has two fellows: first-year MSc-GH students Beth Eanelli and Julie Zemke.

Beth Eanelli

Beth Eanelli completed her Peace Corps service in a rural village in The Gambia from 2013 to 2015. She worked with community health workers and traditional birth attendants to address local health challenges such as undernutrition, malaria and infant and maternal mortality. She taught women in the village about nutrition and other maternal and child health topics, and she helped organize and conduct a “health school” with a core group of community members who then disseminated their newly-acquired knowledge among other villagers. She also worked on malaria programming and Peace Corps-wide projects targeting adolescent health and gender education.

After the Peace Corps, Eanelli wanted to pursue a graduate degree to gain a more concrete skill set and a stronger grasp of how to create sustainable changes in a community. She looked into programs in international development, nursing, global health and public health, and she quickly narrowed her focus to global and public health programs that offered the Coverdell Fellowship. In addition to the financial incentive, she was drawn to the idea of bridging her Peace Corps service with her schooling. 

“As a Peace Corps volunteer, I have a unique set of skills and knowledge from a little corner of the world, and being at Duke and being a part of the Coverdell program has enabled me to tap back into this experience in a variety of ways,” she reflected. “I wasn’t expecting that, and it’s been really awesome.”

Case in point: Eanelli was thrilled to discover that she will most likely have an opportunity to return to The Gambia for her master’s fieldwork project this summer.

Julie Zemke

Julie Zemke joined the MSc-GH program in the fall of 2017, almost immediately following her Peace Corps service in the small village of Anivorano-Est on the east coast of Madagascar. She split her time between teaching gardening and nutrition at a middle school and assisting community health workers in implementing various health programs such as bed net distribution and vaccinations. She also secured USAID funding to organize a training between local hospital staff and rural traditional birth attendants to facilitate an exchange of ideas, discuss standards of care and improve communication between the two groups.

Going to graduate school for global health, Zemke says, was a strategic move. She knew she could figure out many things on her own, as she had done in the Peace Corps, but her experiences taught her that the high-impact work she envisioned doing would require the structure and skill building only a graduate program could provide. 

DGHI’s Coverdell Fellowship became a key factor in Zemke’s graduate school decision. “Duke is an amazing school, but I don’t know if I’d be here if not for the funding incentive,” she said. “The fellowship offer gave me the sense that DGHI was investing in me, and that—along with the academic rigor of the curriculum—compelled me to invest in the program.”

Zemke also appreciates that the program helps her stay connected with the Peace Corps. “Reminding myself that I’m here as a Coverdell fellow keeps me grounded and helps me stay focused on the experiences that brought me here, especially my time in Madagascar.” 

Learn more about the Paul D. Coverdell Fellowship Program.

The fellowship offer gave me the sense that DGHI was investing in me, and that—along with the academic rigor of the curriculum—compelled me to invest in the program.

Julie Zemke, 2nd-year MSc-GH student and Coverdell Fellow