As his graduation loomed last winter, Ryan Burke was ready to get neck deep into Public Health. “I’d had a lot of school, and I was ready to take what I’ve learned and start doing something.” So he joined the Peace Corps.
Of course, one can’t just join the Peace Corps. There’s a competitive application process that takes upwards of 6 months from start to finish. There’s an application, interview, nomination, essays, and background check before a volunteer gets cleared.
Ryan is a 2013 UMass graduate who majored in Public Health and is one of the first four iCons graduates. His 27-month assignment in the Dominican Republic includes three months of language and cultural training in the capital, Santo Domingo, followed by 24 months of service somewhere else in the country. Exactly where, he doesn’t yet know. Volunteers are placed based on their skills and expertise and local needs. “I left the where-do-you-want-to-go section blank,” Ryan said. “I wanted to go wherever I could help out the most.”
With a public health background, Ryan’s efforts will focus on nutritional and sexual health. He will be working with expecting mothers and young children to help them eat healthfully and decrease malnutrition and mortality rates. The second part of his job is to develop and teach sexual education programs for teenagers. “It’s pretty wide-open for me to decide how to do it,” he says, which is both daunting and exciting. “So I’m still researching what other volunteers have done.” Ryan believes the most important thing he can do, though, is lead by example, to “be part of the community, shopping at the local markets and showing things can be done.”
Seeing the first iCons graduates move on is exciting for iCons Director Scott Auerbach. “It’s really exciting seeing the iCons scholars get out there and make a difference. Being accepted into the Peace Corps is no easy feat. I’m sure Ryan will be fantastic, and I can’t wait to hear his stories!”