Chicago leads other colleges in Peace Corps volunteersBy Josh Schonwald
A growing number of Chicago alumni are joining the Peace Corps, according to a recent report from the government agency.
In fact, in 2003, Chicago was the country’s biggest producer of Peace Corps volunteers among colleges and universities of its size (less than 5,000 undergraduates). A total of 34 alumni of the College joined the Peace Corps last year, pushing Chicago from third in 2002, to the top of the Peace Corps’ annual list of schools.
Among Chicago’s 2003 enlistees in the program, 21 were recent graduates of the College. Last year, 11 recent alumni of the College joined the Corps.
Meredith Gretz, Employer Relations Manager in Career and Placement Services, is not surprised by the surge of interest in the Peace Corps, a more than 40-year-old program that sends volunteers for two years of service to 136 countries. In recent years, CAPS also has seen growing interest in other public service careers. Last year, for instance, the College also was the leading producer of participants per capita in the Teach for America program, with the highest acceptance rate at 67 percent.
Gretz believes the increase may be, in part, because of the growing numbers of students who are involved in public service during their time in the College. Summer Links, a popular program coordinated by the University Community Service Center, gives students a chance to spend their summer working at a not-for-profit or governmental organization. The Jeff Metcalf Fellows Program also offers College students funded internships at not-for-profit and community service organizations. This gives more and more students a chance to experience public service work, said Gretz, and many of them choose to continue this work after they graduate.
Perhaps more importantly, Gretz said students’ varied educational experiences make the Peace Corps a popular post-graduation choice.
“Students here are not pre-programmed.” Unlike students at other more pre-professionally structured schools, many Chicago students, with their broad liberal arts background, are still exploring in their fourth year. “Programs like the Peace Corps, with their many opportunities and chances for adventure, give students a chance to continue exploring.”
CAPS, which provides free interview space for the Peace Corps and all employers, also strongly encourages interested students to tap into the University’s alumni network. The Alumni Career Network lists Peace Corps participants, along with contact information. “It’s a great way for students to make a decision about whether they want to spend two years in the Corps,” Gretz said.