The University of Michigan ranks eighth nationwide on the Peace Corps’ list of top Paul D. Coverdell Fellows graduate schools this year, with 25 Returned Peace Corps Volunteers currently enrolled in the program.

The Coverdell Fellows graduate program provides returned volunteers who have completed their Peace Corps service with scholarships, academic credit and stipends to earn an advanced degree, along with professional internships helping underserved American communities.

“The Peace Corps is proud to partner with colleges and universities to support returned volunteers who want to further their education while continuing to serve their local community,” Peace Corps Acting Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet said.

“Returned volunteers enrich the lives of those around them by sharing their knowledge of the world and different cultures, which helps to strengthen international ties and increase our country’s global competitiveness.”

The Peace Corps Coverdell Fellows Program at U-M has been in place since 2007, offering graduate degrees in the schools of Public Policy, Natural Resources and Environment, Art and Design, Nursing, Social Work, and Information.

Additionally, U-M offers Peace Corps Master’s International programs in Social Work, Education, Nursing, Natural Resources and Environment, and Information. The Peace Corps Master’s International program allows students to earn their graduate degree while serving in the Peace Corps.

Kristine Schantz of Wolverine Lake, Michigan, is pursuing her graduate degree at U-M after serving as a Small Enterprise Development Peace Corps volunteer in Burkina Faso from 2004-06. She also worked for five years as a Peace Corps staff member in Guinea.

Now a student at the Erb Institute, a dual-degree program between the Stephen M. Ross School of Business and the School of Natural Resources and Environment, Schantz will graduate in 2016 and hopes to work within the private sector to assist institutions in furthering social sustainability goals.

“U-M offers a diverse and engaging community, tremendous resources and an interdisciplinary learning approach, all of which help me to explore the issues that matter most to me,” said Schantz, who earned her bachelor’s degree from Hope College in 2004.

“The Coverdell Fellows program is a wonderful opportunity to stay connected to the Peace Corps ‘family,’ share perspectives and experiences with peers, and learn how the many valuable lessons I learned in Sub-Saharan Africa translate here in the U.S.”

U-M’s 25 Coverdell Fellows have served as Peace Corps volunteers in areas around the world including Africa, the Caribbean, Latin American, Asia, and Eastern Europe.

The Peace Corps graduate programs attract global-minded students to the university; help Peace Corps meet host country needs for skilled professionals to serve and assist communities in key areas of need, such as environmental conservation, public health, youth and community development, and education and English teaching; and help volunteers reach higher education and career goals while bringing their overseas skills and experience back to the U.S.

The history of the Peace Corps can be traced back to U-M when, at 2 a.m. on Oct. 14, 1960, then-Sen. John F. Kennedy challenged students on the steps of the Michigan Union to give two years of their lives to help people in developing countries. U-M students accepted that challenge, and a few months later, in March 1961, President Kennedy signed the executive order creating the Peace Corps.

U-M is the No. 4 all-time producer of Peace Corps volunteers, and more than 2,556 alumni have served over the agency’s history. Currently, 81 U-M graduates are serving as Peace Corps volunteers in communities abroad, placing the university fifth on the Peace Corps’ annual list of the top volunteer-producing large universities across the country.

Additionally, Michigan is among the top-producing states for volunteers, and 271 Michigan residents are currently serving in the Peace Corps. Overall, 6,988 Michigan residents have served since the agency was created in 1961.