DETROIT (AP) -- The leader of the Peace Corps elaborated on the group's plans to simplify the application process for prospective volunteers and to expand and further diversify the applicant pool during a speech Wednesday at the Michigan university where the agency traces its roots.
Acting Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet told those gathered at the University of Michigan that the Peace Corps aims to double the number of applications while boosting recruiting in more racially and ethnically diverse communities. To that end, every regional recruitment office is hiring an additional dedicated diversity recruiter.
"We're stepping up our efforts to recruit in underrepresented communities so that our volunteer force represents the beautiful multicultural nation that we are," she said. She first outlined the changes during a speech at the National Press Club late last month.
Hessler-Radelet said the organization is drastically shortening its application form -- cutting the time it takes to complete it from about eight hours to one -- and allowing prospective volunteers to apply for specific jobs and countries. The goal is to cut "red tape" while still recruiting the best candidates, she said.
The changes are part of a broader overhaul of the organization that has included the addition of new safety training and support for volunteers and the creation of an office to support those who become victims of crime. Many of those changes were directed by Congress, which in 2011 passed legislation in response to criticism that the Peace Corps wasn't doing enough to protect the volunteers it sends abroad.
"Our highest priority as an agency remains doing everything we can to support our volunteers and ensure their health and safety," said Hessler-Radelet, a Peace Corps volunteer in Western Samoa in the early 1980s who became the agency's deputy director in 2010 and was nominated for the top post last year.
Hessler-Radelet also announced two new partnership agreements with University of Michigan that will provide more students the ability to combine Peace Corps service with graduate degrees. One allows students to earn a graduate degree while serving overseas and the other provides volunteers with scholarships, academic credit and stipends toward an advanced degree after they complete their service.
Then-U.S. Sen. John F. Kennedy came to the Ann Arbor school in 1960, weeks before being elected president. He challenged students to give two years of their lives and serve people of the developing world, a call leading to the creation of the Peace Corps.
Peace Corps volunteers provide hands-on assistance in developing parts of the world in areas including health education, information technology and environmental preservation. Volunteers receive a living allowance and transition funds after they complete 27 months of service. The Peace Corps has sent about 215,000 Americans to serve in 139 countries.
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