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Public Health Students Travel to Africa and South America for Peace Corps Assignments as Part of Graduate Degree

Aline Heffernan, far right, and skip-roper Jean DeMarco will serve in the Peace Corps in Ethiopia and Ecuador, respectively. Here they are participating in a study tour in Costa Rica. (Photo courtesy Jean DeMarco)

The first three students in the School of Public Health's Peace Corps Master's International (MI) Program are set to tackle their volunteer assignments in Ethiopia, Togo, and Ecuador to work with local governments in health and community care and related fields.

While Elizabeth Stevens, of East Greenbush, will be stationed in Togo to expand her view of global health, Jean DeMarco, a Schenectady native who has a doctorate in cell and molecular biology, will work on HIV/AIDS community education in Ethiopia. She hopes to work someday in the humanitarian sector. She feels this Peace Corps-Master's in Public Health experience offers the perfect opportunity to further her education while getting her closer to her career goal.

Aline Heffernan of Wantagh, Long Island, will be posted to Ecuador. Aline says that "The Peace Corps–MPH program was the reason I decided to go to UAlbany for my master's," and Ecuador will offer the experience of a lifetime.

The University at Albany School of Public Health was selected in 2007 to partner with the Peace Corps Master's International Program. Joining a group of nine other Schools of Public Health involved in the program, including Johns Hopkins University, Boston University and George Washington University, the UAlbany School of Public Health offered the MI Program beginning in 2009.

The MI Program was established in 1987 by the Peace Corps to meet the increased need for international Peace Corps volunteers with higher levels of education and technical skills and to enable universities to provide internationally-focused experiences for students.

Students in the MI Program enter the MPH degree program for one year, then spend 27 months serving in the Peace Corps, earning nine credits for their intern service. Following their experience in the Peace Corps, students return to the School of Public Health for one final semester to complete work toward the MPH degree.

Participation in the MI Program expands upon other global health initiatives underway within the School of Public Health, including the establishment of the Center for Global Health and the School's strong connection to the local Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) organization.

Aline Heffernan and Carol Whittaker

Aline Heffernan, left, bound for Peace Corps service in Ecuador, with Carol Whittaker, director of the SPH's Center for Global Health, in Costa Rica on a study tour. (Photo courtesy Aline Heffernan)

"I am so proud of our first cohort of Master's International students; they are bright, well-travelled and very capable young women. They have an abundance of common sense as well as a sense of humor which will serve them very well as Peace Corps volunteers. With the public health training they have gained this past year they will be true assets to the communities they serve," said Carol Whittaker, assistant dean for Global Health at the School of Public Health.

"The UAlbany School of Public Health is the first SUNY school to participate in this innovative and valuable program, which is leading to expanded opportunities for our public health students and for graduate students across the system," said School of Public Health Dean Philip C. Nasca.

Through its partnership with the New York State Department of Health, UAlbany's School of Public Health offers students immediate access to internships at the Health Department, Albany Medical College, and a variety of other public and private health institutions throughout New York. The school serves as the academic anchor of the East Campus and biotech hub of the university's life sciences research, which includes the Cancer Research Center.

Students and faculty at UAlbany's globally-oriented School of Public Health study the most profound health issues facing us today: the origins of disease such as cancer, the threat of bioterrorism, the spread of HIV/AIDS and other emerging diseases, the lack of affordable and accessible health care for individuals and families, environmental hazards, substance abuse and social violence, maternal mortality in developing countries, the promises and threats of genetic engineering, and protecting food and water supplies. 

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Educationally and culturally, the University at Albany-SUNY puts "The World Within Reach" for its 18,000 students. An internationally recognized research university with 58 undergraduate majors and 128 graduate degree programs, UAlbany is a leader among all New York State colleges and universities in such diverse fields as public policy, nanotechnology and criminal justice. With a curriculum enhanced by 300 study-abroad opportunities, UAlbany launches great careers. For more information about this globally ranked University, visit For UAlbany's extensive roster of faculty experts, visit