U of C wins recognition for top Peace Corps yield

By Claire McNear

The U of C was recognized earlier this month with a service distinction from the Peace Corps, which honored the College for sending the greatest number of graduates from universities of its size into service.

With 34 active alumni recruits as of September 30, the U of C surpassed both Gonzaga and Willamette universities, with 32 and 27 recruits respectively, garnering first place among universities with fewer than 5,000 undergraduates. Meanwhile, the University of Washington topped the list of schools with 15,000 or more undergraduates at 113, while the University of Virginia rose to the helm for medium-size schools, producing 72 volunteers.

Since the Peace Corps’s inception in 1961, 654 U of C alumni have enlisted with the federal agency, which sends Americans to more than 70 countries to help with tasks as varied as education, agriculture, and HIV/AIDS prevention. The University ranks 59th on the list of all-time volunteer-producing schools.

2007’s number-one ranking comes as no surprise to the University. Each of the Peace Corps’s last eight annual lists of high-volume volunteer-producing schools awarded the U of C a spot. In 2006, the University was ranked number two, and in 2005 it had the number-one spot.

“The University has had a long history of community service,” said Wallace Goode, associate dean of students in the University and director of the University Community Service Center (UCSC).

In an interview with the University of Chicago Chronicle, Christine Torres, the public affairs specialist for the Peace Corps’s Chicago regional office, said, “We have so much outstanding support from the University and have always recruited very hard at this institution. The caliber of student who graduates from the University of Chicago is exactly what the Peace Corps looks for.”

“I think [the Peace Corps’s announcement] has two potential impacts,” Goode said. “It will encourage more students to think of Peace Corps as a viable option upon graduation…. It serves to affirm that we are truly a leader in the field…[and] it gives us the recognition that we are already committed to our undergrads,” he said.

“Upon return from Peace Corps, there are opportunities at multiple universities” for fellowships, he said. “I think [student involvement] will continue to grow.”

The Peace Corps’s website lists numerous resources and options for returned volunteers. Among them are job suggestions and the names of the dozens of graduate schools offering special Peace Corps fellowships in everything from arts and sciences to theology to veterinary medicine.

Goode described a number of ways that involvement in Peace Corps has spread at the U of C. While he recognized word of mouth as a powerful contributor to the growing trend, he said that it was the Career Advising and Planning Services (CAPS) office that had the most to do with students’ Peace Corps involvement.

“CAPS has been a major mover in opening up the doors to Peace Corps.” It has “provided opportunities to students…making Peace Corps very appealing,” he said.

“It is the U.S. government picking up the tab to send you around the world for 730 days,” Goode said. “I’m never surprised by how many students do Peace Corps. I’m just surprised that even more don’t.”