Students top Peace Corps’ volunteer rolls, serve across the globeBy Josh Schonwald
The Peace Corps has recently released statistics that show Chicago ranks No. 1 among institutions with undergraduate populations of fewer than 5,000 in the number of alumni who volunteer for the corps.
For the second year in a row, Chicago has pushed to the top of the Peace Corps’ annual list of smaller colleges and universities, with a total of 39 College alumni joining last year.
Sophia O’Donnell, a Chicago-based Peace Corps recruiter who covers a six-state area, said it is no surprise that the biggest producer in her region also is one of the nation’s biggest producers of Peace Corps volunteers.
O’Donnell said the skills set Chicago students possess—advanced language skills, study abroad experience, a demonstrated commitment to community service and, most importantly, leadership skills—makes them ideal candidates for the Corps. Many Chicago students are given Peace Corps assignments in difficult situations, managing projects alone or with little support, O’Donnell said.
“I find that Chicago students often are independent thinkers. They’ve done independent research or have experience taking the lead,” she said. “They’re comfortable working without a lot of guidance.”
Students in the College also have a tendency to be interested in more remote corners of the world, “the types of places where Corps volunteers serve,” O’Donnell said.
Though the Peace Corps’ application acceptance rate is roughly 50 percent, Chicago students have an acceptance rate that O’Donnell estimates at over 80 percent.
Peace Corps volunteers have incredibly varied assignments—from language and math training, to sanitation engineering, health education and community development. In recent years, Chicago alumni have done everything from teaching computer science in the Dominican Republic, to teaching math in Burkina Faso, to advising not-for-profit organizations in Mongolia.
Student interest in the Peace Corps has been extremely high during the past several years, said Meredith Daw, Assistant Director of Employer Relations in Career Advising and Planning Services. As a result of this student interest, CAPS has been very supportive of the Peace Corps, holding several sessions each year and providing free interview space for the organization.
The 13-page application requires two written essays, three references and a one-hour interview with a recruiter. Daw strongly encourages interested students to tap into the University’s Alumni Career Network, which lists former and current Peace Corps parti-cipants and contact information.
“It’s a great way for students to make a decision about whether they want to spend two years in the Corps,” said Daw.
More than 150,000 Americans have served in the Peace Corps since its founding in 1961.