ATHENS, Ga. -- Leslie Marbury stood tall among the dignitaries at a Wednesday ceremony marking a new partnership between the Peace Corps and the University of Georgia's College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
Ms. Marbury is the first University of Georgia student to participate in the program, which will reward overseas service with credit toward a master's degree. Gordhan Patel, the university's graduate dean, called her "a pioneer."
"I'm really ready to go," a beaming Ms. Marbury said at the afternoon ceremony, held at the Georgia Center for Continuing Education. "I never thought this day would actually come."
According to Peace Corps Director Charles R. Baquet, Ms. Marbury represents what the Masters International Program is all about -- students combining academics with overseas experience to enhance the economic well-being of developing countries around the globe.
A master's candidate in agricultural economics, Ms. Marbury may well become a "global citizen" -- the type of person the partnership is likely to produce, according to university Provost Karen Holbrook.
Beginning Sept. 21, Ms. Marbury will serve in the west African country of Ghana. Under the Masters International Program, graduate students in the agriculture college must complete one year of academic study before entering the Peace Corps. Students may earn from three to 12 academic credits for their Peace Corps service.
"I do think it will make me a better person," Ms. Marbury said. "I've been interested in international development for a long time. And one of the things I'll be doing is helping small farmers market nontraditional crops, like pineapples and cashews."
Ms. Marbury said the trip to Ghana is not her first international venture.
"Last summer I did an internship in Morocco," she said. "I was working to get my certificate in international agriculture. I worked and lived on a farm and had a great cross-cultural exchange living with another family."
Though Ms. Marbury said she felt undeserving of this recognition, friends, faculty and well-wishers crowded around her after the ceremony to shake hands and congratulate her.
All students who enter degree programs in the university's College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences are eligible for the program.
With its initiation of the Masters International Program, Georgia becomes the fifth university in the United States to form an alliance with the Peace Corps offering academic credit in exchange for service.
Wednesday's ceremony kicked off a three-day national Symposium on the Future of American Agriculture, which runs through today.