Peace Corps recognizes the University

By Will Greenberg, Daily News Editor
Published February 11, 2014

For the 14th year in a row, the University is on the Peace Corps’ top contributor list, ranking fifth nationally.

In 2013, 81 graduates worked with the Peace Corps, the third-most out of the large colleges and universities within the Big Ten, behind the number one-ranked University of Wisconsin and number four-ranked Ohio State University. This year’s group brings the University to a total of 2,556 alumni recruits, the fourth-most of any school since the Corps first started in 1961.

The University’s connection to the Peace Corps has been strong since the program’s inception, which began with a speech given by President John F. Kennedy on the steps of the Michigan Union in 1960.

In a statement, Carrie Hessler-Radelet, Peace Corps acting director, said the organization has consistently drawn a great deal of passionate members, especially from the University.

“The enthusiasm for service that President Kennedy saw on the Michigan campus more than 50 years ago continues to drive students to the Peace Corps,” Hessler-Radelet said. “The University of Michigan's commitment to service and cross-cultural learning makes it consistently one of the top five recruiters of Peace Corps volunteers.”

Brian Smyser, a graduate student in the School of Natural Resources and Environment and campus recruiter for the Peace Corps, said the University’s consistently high contribution is reflective of a strong passion for volunteerism at the school and within Ann Arbor.

“University of Michigan programs are well respected,” Smyser said. “The Peace Corps sees University of Michigan undergrads as well prepared for Peace Corps service, and so I think that’s a positive thing that makes Peace Corps take attention of undergrads here.”

Smyser served in the Corps from 2010 to 2012 in Malawi. He said the University’s branch is particularly tight-knit, with former volunteers often returning to the program as staff members or continuing to help.

“Returning Peace Corps volunteers are attracted to Michigan as a graduate program, and that kind of maintains continuity between undergraduate and graduate programs, kind of establishing a larger ethic of Peace Corps service, public service, volunteerism, stuff like that,” he said.

In terms of the composition of volunteers from the University, Smyser said the group is highly qualified, many with high language skills and experience in environmental studies and health. He said the Corps draws most students from LSA and the College of Engineering, but also has members from the Ross School of Business and the Ford School of Public Policy. Volunteers work on a variety of projects ranging from manual labor and infrastructure to education.

Nate Gire is another former Peace Corps volunteer and University alum, and worked in Peru promoting public health from 2010 to 2012. He also said the University has a strong ethic of volunteerism, adding that Peace Corps members form bonds together through their shared experiences abroad — even between students working in different parts of the globe.

“There’s a reason they call it the toughest job you’ll ever love,” Gire said. “It’s inspired me to go more into public service and to come to U of M for grad school. I think that both U of M and Peace Corps go hand-in-hand.”

In the press release from Tuesday, Hessler-Radelet said graduating college students are still able to apply for a 2015 program; the deadline is March 1.