February 8, 2010

Cornell Graduates Rank Among Most Active in Peace Corps

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Already providing the third-most Teach for America volunteers, the University’s graduates continue to flock in droves to the public sector. The University sent 46 volunteers into the Peace Corps in 2009, more than any other Ivy League institution, according to statistics released by the agency last Thursday.

The Peace Corps, an independent federal agency that sends volunteers to 76 countries to work in such varying fields as education, health, business, information technology, and agriculture, issues an annual ranking of the colleges and universities that provide the most volunteers.

Among medium-sized colleges and universities — those with 5,000 to 15,000 undergraduate students — from across the nation, Cornell ranked third. The George Washington University topped the list of medium-sized schools with 53 volunteers; American University came in second with 51 volunteers.

A total of 1,516 Cornell alumni have volunteered since the agency’s inception in 1961, according to Anne Park grad, who serves as the Peace Corps coordinator at Cornell. This high participation rate ranks the University 11th on the list of all-time producers of Peace Corps volunteers.

Citing the invaluable experience of service, Park tried to explain why the prospect of the Peace Corps might appeal to graduating students and alumni.

“I think the Peace Corps is attractive for many Cornell students because more and more students are realizing the value of service and understand that it does not inhibit them from having a fulfilling career in the future,” she said. “Many [returned Peace Corps volunteers] continue working in a field which they worked in while abroad, but many also continue to go on to fields unrelated to their service.”

Park, who served as a secondary education teacher trainer in the Philippines, noted that students might not consider the Peace Corps as a potential post-graduate avenue because of the 27-month commitment.

“Peace Corps is a two-year commitment, which is why it is such an enriching experience, but it is also what deters people from joining,” Park said.

The basis for entering the Peace Corps after college could lie in uncertainty. According to Jocelyn Getgen ’00, J.D. ’07, who now works in international human rights and public health, her Peace Corps experience came at a time when she was unsure about her post-graduate career plans, but was certain that she wanted to make a difference in people’s lives.

Getgen now works to improve access to justice for survivors of gender-based violence globally. She also noted certain difficulties that accompanied her work as a Peace Corps volunteer, in one instance citing the isolation from her family and friends,

“[Another] difficult part is the reentry into one’s own culture and seeing everything with new eyes — how wasteful we are in the [United States], how many ridiculous choices we have that are unnecessary, how superficial our culture can be — and the fact that no one will truly understand or try to understand your experience,” Getgen said.

The Cornell administration has enacted a provision that allows for the deferment of loans during students’ participation in the Peace Corps, according to a Sun article from 2008.

Furthermore, the University offers a Master of Professional Studies degree program in agriculture and the life sciences, which features the option of a Peace Corps field assignment in lieu of the traditional research thesis.

Original Author: Lawrence Lan