The University ranked number 14 this year among all small colleges and universities sending graduates to the Peace Corps, making the list for the first time since 2011. In Connecticut, the University ranked number one. 242 alumni have volunteered since the Peace Corps’ establishment in 1961, and 14 are currently serving worldwide.
Peace Corps Public Affairs Specialist Elizabeth Chamberlain discussed why she thought the organization is such a prevalent path for University students.
“I think [Wesleyan] is a very good school for Peace Corps,” Chamberlain said. “We look for students with particular skill sets that are useful and also students that are interested in making a difference overseas, and that seems to work out very well at your school…. Wesleyan students are considered to be interested in international relationships and…global service.”
Associate Director for Jobs and Internships Jim Kubat echoed Chamberlain’s sentiment, citing an intrinsic core value in University students for volunteerism.
“I think it’s in the genes of a Wesleyan student,” Kubat said. “It’s a way of thinking, and it’s the Wesleyan desire to make the world a better place, to do their part, to be involved with the fight for social justice, to help those that are disadvantaged. I think that is so much part of the warp and woof of Wesleyan and I think the Peace Corps is a tailor-made program for a student that has that in them. It’s in their heart. So I think…it’s a cultural way of thinking on campus, in my opinion.”
Baker Woods ’09, who served with the Peace Corps in Paraguay, said that while the University did not have a direct influence on his decision, the ranking is not surprising.
“Wesleyan is the kind of place that definitely fosters Peace Corps-type values, and thus it comes as no shock to me at all that Wesleyan has been so successful in sending people to the Peace Corps,” Woods wrote in an email to The Argus.
Sherry Sybertz ’10 spoke to the unique opportunities the University offers that allow students to volunteer worldwide.
“I’ve always wanted to work abroad, even before I came to Wesleyan,” Sybertz wrote in an email to The Argus. “One of the reasons I chose to study at Wesleyan over other schools was because at Wesleyan, I could study Arabic. I had a wonderful experience studying Arabic at Wesleyan and decided I wanted to use those skills abroad.“
Luke Davenport ’00 agreed, discussing how after he spent a semester abroad in Zimbabwe, he was surprised how easily he was able to maintain his interest in Africa and later join the Peace Corps.
“I spent the remaining year and a half at Wesleyan absorbing and participating in everything to do with Africa that I could,” Davenport wrote in an email to The Argus. “Wesleyan had a surprising amount to offer in that regard, and I took advantage of it. I participated with the African Students Association and got to know a number of the African students on campus, helping to organize a panel on economic development on the continent. I took classes in African history and West African music.”
Kubat said that while the University does not show preference to the Peace Corps over other volunteer opportunities, he sees it as a terrific option for students to consider.
“When I was on the counseling side and when I was running the Careers for the Common Good program, I would really promote the Peace Corps,” Kubat said. “The Career Center is very much in favor of service, not just the Peace Corps, but for me they’re the gold standard in recruiters. We really want the Peace Corps to come here and I have always encouraged students to at least look at it.”
Chamberlain discussed the skills and experience the Peace Corps looks for in recruits.
“Our biggest areas of need are health, education, agriculture, and environment,” Chamberlain said. “We always need volunteers who have those skill sets, and that doesn’t mean you have to be a nurse or a teacher. That could mean that you speak a foreign language, it could mean that you’ve done tutoring with English as a second language. A lot of the recent college graduates that we have of course don’t have professional experience but they do have the grades and they have volunteer experience. And that’s very useful.”
Woods spoke about the trait he found most important while serving.
“The number one quality that someone needs to be successful in the Peace Corps is flexibility,” Woods wrote. “Every day your norms, expectations, and goals will be challenged, and great flexibility is required to be able to adjust to these challenges and do the best job possible. The second quality would be perseverance—things can and will go wrong and you need to be able to be okay with failure, learn from your mistakes, and find ways to learn from every situation to be an effective volunteer.”
Kubat emphasized the rigorous process of becoming a volunteer.
“You initiate contact with the Peace Corps, that’s one application, and they contact you, and then there’s another step and another step,” Kubat said. “It’s a huge commitment and they really want people who have all of the qualities that help someone be a success…. You never always know where you’re going; it’s a fairly short time frame from the time you get the call until you might have to go. So you have to be ready. That is something that characterizes the whole Peace Corps application process.”
Sybertz agreed about the rigors of volunteering, adding that her time at the University helped prepare her.
“Wesleyan promotes liberal arts learning and applying that learning to real-life situations,” Sybertz wrote. “As a CSS major, I had no idea that I would graduate and end up living in a 4,000 person village with limited amenities! However, the diligence and patience that I learned in CSS helped me design lesson plans and create a schedule for learning Moroccan Arabic.”
Kubat spoke positively about the characteristics he finds in University students that allow them to be the type of people the Peace Corps would like to hire.
“Wesleyan students strike me as the kind of people who can do without,” Kubat said. “They’re willing to give up, to sacrifice; they’re willing to pitch in; they’re willing to adopt a lifestyle that might not be the most comfortable of lifestyles, but they’re willing to do it for other people.”