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University leads pack in sending grads to Peace Corps

The University of Chicago has been recognized again as the ‘top producer’ of Peace Corps volunteers for small-sized colleges, with 39 graduates currently serving in the program, almost half of which are from the class of 2004.

This is the second year the University has landed the number-one spot for colleges of fewer than 5,000 students on the Peace Corps’ annual list of “Top Producing Colleges and Universities.”

This high number of students not only reflects an especially great interest in the Peace Corps among University students, but also an acceptance rate above the national average of about 30 percent. University applicants who do not end up joining the Peace Corps are more likely to do so because of self-selection than rejection from the Peace Corps, according to Sophie O’Donnell, a Peace Corps recruiter who gives presentations and interviews on campus twice a year.

“University of Chicago students are more competitive for the Peace Corps, because they tend to be exceptional when it comes to leadership, taking initiative, volunteer experience, and cross-cultural sensitivity,” O’Donnell said.

Students who have studied abroad, researched developing countries, or majored in area studies can be at an advantage in the application process, because it shows their ability to “be outside their comfort zone,” O’Donnell said. The Peace Corps, however, does not look for one type of student, and the diversity of interests at the University may contribute to its success in the application process, O’Donnell added.

Students apply to the Peace Corps in a rolling admission application process, and if accepted are then matched with a specific program based on their skills.

O’Donnell said that “service and wanting to make a difference” draws University students to the Peace Corps. “Even if students pursue careers that aren’t service-related, they want to make a two-year service commitment,” she said.

For many students, the Peace Corps represents the perfect opportunity to gain world experience between college and graduate school. Volunteers commit 27 months to Peace Corps initiatives throughout the world in areas such as education, health and HIV/AIDS, environment, business, and agriculture.

Many students come to Career Advising and Planning Services (CAPS) to talk to professors about how they want short-term job experience, according to Meredith Daw, assistant director for employee relations at CAPS. She said that applicants had “the mentality of wanting to give back, an interest in world affairs, and the opportunity to work with other people who have similar interests.”

The excitement of living in a new place and getting to know a new culture drew Brian Chelcun, a University graduate, to serving in Tanzania. He said the University’s teaching him to realize that there are always multiple points to an issue and to accept cultural differences helped him prepare for the Peace Corps.

Emily Janoch, a fourth-year in the College studying International Studies, will be working in a Peace Corps community development program in West Africa. She said that on-campus Peace Corps recruitment did not influence her decision, since she already knew she wanted to join.

When asked what drew her to the Peace Corps, Houman Saberi, a fourth-year in the College studying biology who will be working as a volunteer in HIV/AIDS clinics in Iran, said she was drawn to join because of “the fact that the government is willing to pay for you to go abroad and gain invaluable language and cultural experiences by working directly with the local populace and the experience in a field that you may pursue in the future.”