The University, where the idea for the U.S. Peace Corps was conceived, is now one of the top schools for the number of graduate students concurrently involved in a Peace Corps program.

The University was recently ranked sixth in the 2011 rankings of the Peace Corps’s Fellows/USA graduate school program, which has 25 University students currently enrolled. The Peace Corps Fellows/USA Program was instituted at the University in 2007. The program allows students to obtain graduate degrees in the School of Public Policy or the School of Natural Resources and Environment at a reduced cost in exchange for volunteer work in underserved areas within the United States.

The University of Arizona took the number one spot for the most number of students in the Fellows/USA program at 58 students. The University of Arizona was followed by the University of Denver, Johns Hopkins University, the Teachers College at Columbia University and Duke University.

A similar but separate Peace Corps program, the Master’s International program allows students to obtain a graduate degree in social work, education or natural resources and environment while serving overseas in the Peace Corps. The program will be offered at the University for the first time starting in the upcoming academic year.

Each program is made up of returned volunteers who have completed between 24 and 27 months of service in the Peace Corps.

Rackham student Scott Burgess, who is studying in the School of Public Policy and is a Peace Corps recruiter at the University, said the University has historically been at the forefront of Peace Corps volunteering.

“It doesn’t surprise me that Michigan is high in the rankings,” Burgess said. “It really shows that (because of the) 50-year tradition that Michigan has after Kennedy gave that speech at 2 in the morning.”

The idea for the Peace Corps was first proposed by then-Senator John F. Kennedy in a speech he delivered early on the morning of Oct. 14, 1960 on the steps of the Michigan Union during his presidential campaign. The organization was formally established by an executive order, signed by Kennedy on March 1, 1961.

Current Peace Corps participants volunteer in 139 countries, according to a Peace Corps press release issued yesterday.The 25 University graduate students involved in the Peace Corps have volunteered in several locations overseas such as South Africa, Western Samoa and Paraguay.

Burgess, who is a Peace Corp Fellow, said the ranking reflects the current status of the University’s program. Burgess volunteered in Paraguay educating communities about environmental sustainability, according to the University’s International Center website.

“We’re continuing to have a high number of recruits, a high number of applicants, and I’m very proud to be part of that 50-year legacy,” Burgess said.

In addition to the graduate school programs, 94 University alumni are currently serving in the Peace Corps in various places. The University ranks third on the Peace Corps’ list of top volunteer schools in the country for 2011, and ranks fourth as a top feeder school since the organization’s founding.

Burgess attributed the University’s high number of volunteers to the campus’s strong emphasis on community service.

“I think it really shows a high level of character within the students and an interest in international service (and) an interest in international development,” Burgess said.

Rackham student Abby Hyduke, who is a Peace Corp Fellow studying in the School of Natural Resources and Environment, said because she was uncertain what she wanted to study in graduate school, the Fellows program was a good option for her.

“I wanted to go and see part of the world … to know a different place before deciding what I really wanted to pursue,” Hyduke said.

Hyduke, who spent her time in the Peace Corps in Cameroon, said she worked with local farmers by teaching them how to the implement farming techniques, which helped them save money and practice agriculture more sustainably.

Hyduke said she enjoys the program because, unlike most theses, the fellows’ projects have the potential to be implemented in underserved communities.

Hyduke added that her course of study has been changed by her experiences in the Peace Corps.

“I think I was more of a scientist before, and now I see the value of incorporating people and social issues into a professional life,” Hyduke said.

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