The University of Wisconsin-Madison currently has 103 graduates serving overseas in 47 countries as Peace Corps volunteers, ranking third for the second consecutive year on the corps’ annual list of the top volunteer-producers among large U.S. universities.
UW-Madison has made the list every year since the ranking system began in 2001 and held the No. 1 spot from 2001 to 2006. This year, only the University of Washington and the University of Florida produced more volunteers, with 107 each.
Since its creation in 1961, the Peace Corps has found UW-Madison to be a reliable source of graduates committed to making a difference. Some 3,070 alumni have served overseas, more than any other university except the University of California, Berkeley.
“Every year, graduates of colleges and universities across the United States are making a difference in communities overseas through Peace Corps service,” says Acting Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet, who served as a volunteer in Western Samoa from 1981-83. Hessler-Radelet, who visited Madison in November to talk about Peace Corps goals related to global health initiatives, grew up in Appleton, Wis.
“As a result of the top-notch education they receive, these graduates are well-prepared for the challenge of international service. They become leaders in their host communities and carry the spirit of service and leadership back with them when they return home,” she says.
Among the UW alumni currently serving overseas is Natalie Thomure of St. Louis, who received her degree in history and international studies in May 2010. Thomure’s experiences in UW-Madison’s Washington, D.C. Semester in International Affairs program inspired her to apply for the Peace Corps. As an education volunteer, she currently teaches English in China.
“I knew I didn’t want to just move abroad for six months to a year or travel abroad as a tourist,” she says. “I wanted to be a part of a community and a family that I could teach about the U.S. and in turn learn about a new country and culture.”
Peace Corps service benefits not only the communities served, but also the volunteers, who return home as global citizens with cross-cultural, leadership, language, teaching and community development skills that position them for advanced education and professional opportunities in today’s global job market.
After her service, Thomure says she wants to pursue graduate degrees in human rights and democracy studies and work for an organization that promotes free and fair elections as well as transparency in Asian governments.
“Peace Corps service is making a difference in the lives of volunteers by preparing them with 21st-century job skills like language and technical training, so when they come home they are ready to launch a career and give back to their communities,” says Hessler-Radelet.
Common characteristics of the top-producing Peace Corps colleges include a focus on global and international topics, the involvement of returned volunteers, and a strong commitment to service, according to Hessler-Radelet. Plus, she says, having excellent field-based recruiters on campus makes a difference.
At UW-Madison, the Peace Corps works with the Division of International Studies to host an on-campus recruiter, who provides information and shares personal experiences as a volunteer. Kim Johnson, a graduate student who served in Papua New Guinea, is in the final year of her three-year stint as campus recruiter.
The corps is now seeking new volunteers for assignments in 76 host countries on sustainable development projects related to agriculture, community economic development, education, environment, health and youth development.
Graduating college students are encouraged to apply by Feb. 28 for remaining assignment openings for 2013, and the chance to be considered for programs in early 2014.
UW-Madison students interested in learning about Peace Corps opportunities are invited to attend one of the upcoming information sessions, to be held in the Red Gym, First Floor Masley Media Center – on Feb. 14, March 5, and April 4 – at 6 p.m. They also may contact Johnson by phone at 608-262-1121, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by visiting the Peace Corps office, Room 156 Red Gym, 716 Langdon St., Mondays 9-11 a.m. and Wednesdays 10 a.m. to noon.