WUSTL among top producers of Peace Corps volunteers

Washington University in St. Louis has been named one of the top universities nationwide for producing Peace Corps volunteers.

The Peace Corps recently released the “Top Colleges 2012” list, which ranks WUSTL No. 21 among medium-sized (5,000-15,000 undergraduates) universities. The rankings are based on fiscal year data as of Sept. 30, 2011.

Currently, 24 alumni are serving as Peace Corps volunteers. Since the Peace Corps was founded in 1961, a total of 532 WUSTL alumni have volunteered with the organization.

“Our inclusion in the top ranks of Peace Corps recruitment is a testament to the culture of civic engagement at Washington University,” says Amanda Moore McBride, PhD, director of the Gephardt Institute for Public Service and associate professor and associate dean in the Brown School. “Our students want to pursue meaningful opportunities for social change and are eager to have sustained impact here and around the world.”

Peace Corps on-campus recruiter Christine O’Neill agrees. “With less than 7,000 undergraduate students, WUSTL is a fairly small school for its category, and yet still managed to make the list of top schools,” she says. “This demonstrates the service commitment of WUSTL students.”

O’Neill notes that by the time many student applicants reach her door, they already have the skills and experience that translate well to Peace Corps programming.

“Many WUSTL students also have the opportunity to take part in study or service trips abroad, which both heightens their interest in an opportunity such as Peace Corps, and helps to prepare them for future service abroad,” she says.

“Another theme that I commonly hear from my applicants is that they are grateful for the educational opportunities that they’ve received and want to use their education to give back in some respect.”

Ashley Greve is one of those grateful alumni. Greve, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Spanish literature and a minor in Japanese languages and culture from WUSTL in May 2010, has served in the Ukraine as an English teaching volunteer since September 2010.

Realistically, however, her reach extends much further, as she is involved in planning community projects and running camps focused on women’s issues — and now is working to establish a 527 hotline Ukrainians can call to report incidents of human trafficking.

“I remember the spring day of my junior year that a friend mentioned an upcoming information session about the Peace Corps,” Greve says. “ ‘It can’t hurt,’ I thought, but as I listened to the on-campus recruiter talk about her service, her sincerity and her depth of passion made the possibility of joining very real to me.

“My professors, who showed me how to appreciate and respect other cultures even when I don’t fully understand them, were extremely supportive and helpful throughout the application process. WUSTL brings so many opportunities to us, puts them right in front of us, and asks us only to select which future we want.

“I credit WUSTL with shaping me into the person I am today and with leading me to my current job, which officially is teaching English in a secondary school in the Ukraine,” Greve says.

O’Neill says the university’s “great institutional support in hosting an on-campus recruiter” helps to make the Peace Corps an accessible, visible option for students. Operating out of an office in the Career Center on the Danforth Campus, O’Neill shepherds students through the competitive application process and shares her personal experience as a former volunteer in Costa Rica.

Today’s Peace Corps volunteers are addressing important global issues such as education, reconstruction, food security, environmental conservation, HIV/AIDS and malaria prevention, clean water accessibility and women’s empowerment and poverty through local economic development.

Volunteers become well integrated into their local communities, are treated as extended family members and valued as contributors to development.

Volunteering information

Volunteers must be U.S. citizens and at least 18 years of age. Peace Corps service is a 27-month commitment, including three months of comprehensive culture, language, program and safety and security training. The agency’s mission is to promote world peace and friendship and a better understanding between Americans and people of other countries.

Peace Corps information sessions are being held at:

  • 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 20, in the Multipurpose Room on the lower level of Mallinckrodt Center; and
  • 6 p.m. Thursday, April 19, in Room 234 of Danforth University Center.

The Peace Corps is actively seeking applicants with backgrounds in agriculture, the environment, education, teaching English as a second language and health promotion for programming extending into early 2013. Students who have studied French or Spanish (particularly paired with one of the technical areas above) also are in high demand.

While the Peace Corps application process is competitive, most candidates can become qualified through a mixture of academic, work and volunteer experience. Applicants are encouraged to apply for Peace Corps service one year in advance of their targeted departure date.

Benefits offered with Peace Corps service include: graduate school programs, paid living expenses, full health and dental coverage, readjustment allowance, federal employment advantage and field experience and cross-cultural skills.

For more information, contact O’Neill at (314) 935-4166 or peace@wustl.edu; join the Facebook page at facebook.com/WashUPeaceCorps, or visit peacecorps.gov.