A message from the dean: A tradition of service that continues with you

Barry Gerhart
Dean Barry Gerhart

One of the most hallowed traditions and values of UW-Madison, the Wisconsin Idea, holds that the benefits of the university should extend beyond the borders of campus to every corner of the state. The International Division frequently see this ethos extend even further—across international borders. While there are many people, programs, and activities that exemplifies a “global” Wisconsin Idea, perhaps the prime expression of this is through the university’s deep and storied service in the Peace Corps.

Every year at this time, Peace Corps Week is observed in the United States and around the world to commemorate March 1, 1961, the day that President John F. Kennedy established the agency. The week recognizes the ways that the Peace Corps fosters connections and effects change in the U.S. and around the world.

The state of Wisconsin has also made a notable contribution to the Peace Corps organization, with more than 6,400 Wisconsinites having served in the Peace Corps since its creation in 1961. Many of those who served call Madison home today, giving the city a unique attachment to Peace Corps through the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of Madison.

Since the founding of the organization, more than 3,300 UW-Madison graduates have contributed around the world in the areas of education, health, environment, community and economic development, agriculture, and youth in development. This level of commitment has the university consistently recognized as the top producer of Peace Corps volunteers.

Knowing this, it probably comes as no surprise that a UW-Madison alumna is among the first Peace Corps volunteers to return to overseas service since the agency’s unprecedented global evacuation in March 2020 at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ella Zelenak, who graduated in 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in social work, is serving as an education volunteer in Indonesia.

Any students, who like Ella are seeking to challenge themselves and expand their worldviews, should learn more about service via events scheduled this week to celebrate the Peace Corps. Additionally, Badgers are encouraged to explore the campus website for the Peace Corps or visit Campus Recruiter Hannah Bennett in Bascom Hall 200B.

I hope you will explore the ways in which you can be a part of this worldwide tradition of service!


All the best,


Barry Gerhart

Interim Vice Provost and Dean

International Division