February 6, 2007

Cornell Tops Ivies for Peace Corps Recruitment in 2006

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The Peace Corps announced last week that Cornell recruited more Corps members than any other Ivy last year and ranked third among medium-sized schools nationwide.

According to officials, the high number of Cornell grads joining the Peace Corps — 52 alumni — is not surprising considering Cornell’s history with the program.

John Edgar grad, Cornell’s new Peace Corps coordinator said that since the program’s inception in 1961, 836 Cornellians have joined the Peace Corps.

Edgar suggested that Cornell’s high recruitment numbers can be attributed in part to the University’s agricultural focus.

“One of my tasks is to recruit for critical skills which are valuable in the field,” Edgar said. “Agriculture is considered a scarce skill.”

Edgar also cited Cornell’s longstanding record of commitment to service and community engagement as a motive for high Peace Corps participation.

Cornell is unique among Ivy League schools because it co-sponsors a Master of Professional Studies degree in Life Science in coordination with the Peace Corps. The program consists of one year of coursework in a range of Life Science disciplines, followed by a two-year assignment in the Peace Corps. Students then return to Cornell to complete their theses.

According to Edgar, the application process is competitive but “approachable and open.” The Peace Corps receives between 9,000 and 10,000 applications yearly, and approximately half of all applicants are placed in the field. Currently, the Philippines and the Ukraine are the most popular destinations.

Despite the competitive process, some Cornell students became interested in the Peace Corps because of their experiences at Cornell.

Elizabeth Jordan ’07 applied to the Peace Corps this year with hopes to be assigned this summer. Although she has not yet received her final assignment, she hopes to teach science and English in a secondary school in Africa.

Jordan, a biology major, said that science classes and tutoring community service programs offered by Cornell factored into her decision. A trip to Kenya with her field biology class last January truly “set her mind at ease.”

Jordan added, “My experience at Cornell really convinced me that yes, I want to go on with science [and] yes, I want to do research, but I also wanted teaching to be a significant part of my life.”

For Jordan, the Peace Corps offered an ideal combination.

Jordan’s desire to work in Africa is rare among the majority of Peace Corps recruits across the country but surprisingly common among Cornellians, Edgar said.

“A lot of people don’t want to go to Africa because they have heard that it is dangerous,” said Edgar. “But you don’t see those false stigmas about Africa here at Cornell,” he added.

Michael Gold, associate professor of collective bargaining, spent three years teaching in secondary and law schools in Liberia as a Peace Corps member. Although he received his undergraduate degree from the University of California at Berkeley, he believes that Cornell offers a range of curricular and extracurricular programs to prepare students for the Peace Corps.

“A sound education prepares many Cornell students for positions like teaching and community development.” He added, “Cornell can also educate students about the rest of the world so that some of them will become interested in foreign countries.”

Professor Gold also said that programs like Cornell Traditions and the Cornell Public Service Center “foster development of the generous spirit that motivates good people to help others.”

As an independent government agency, The Peace Corps sends volunteers to live and work in developing countries for 27 month periods. The goal of the organization is to foster understanding and education between the United States and host countries. Volunteers specialize in issues ranging from health education to economic development and environmental protection.

The Peace Corps recruitment office is sponsoring a panel of returned Peace Corps Alumni today at 7 p.m. in the Willard Straight Art Gallery for interested students.