Web Exclusive: Peace Corps sees applicant increase

Peace Corps officials said they have received an influx of applications since Sept. 11. In a list released last week, GW ranks 22nd in a list of the top 25 Peace Corps universities.

“We’ve certainly noticed a trend of (increased applications),” Sara Johnston, Peace Corps spokesperson for the mid-Atlantic region, said at a recruitment meeting at GW last week. “I think it’s a combination of September 11 and the state of the economy.”

Johnston said since President George W. Bush called for more Americans to volunteer in his State of the Union address in January, there has been a significant increase in interest in the Peace Corps.

She said the Peace Corps’ Web site has tripled its number of hits, with 13.2 million hits representing 17,000 unique visitors. The mid-Atlantic region has also seen double the number of applications normally received.

GW’s Assistant Director of Student Activities for Community Service Tim Miller said the increase in applications might be due to the recent recession.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily just because of the economy, but I think that could be a part of it,” he said.

Career Center spokesman Jeff Dagley said economic and political events do not play a part in their advising process.

“We don’t advise them to go into the Peace Corps, and we don’t advise them to not go into the Peace Corps,” Dagley said. “We basically advise them on whatever their interests are. If they’re interested in the Peace Corps then we discuss it with them.”

Thirty-four GW alumni are currently serving in 26 countries, including Kenya, Togo, Romania, Bolivia, Thailand and Russia, Johnston said.

“I would say the D.C. area has a wider worldview for the most part . than the rest of country,” Johnston said. She added that GW students experience a broader worldview because of their access to wide political opportunities, like Congress and the embassies of other countries.

American and Georgetown universities tie GW at 22nd in number of students recruited to the Peace Corps, with 34 volunteers currently serving. The University of Maryland is ranked 23rd with 33 volunteers for the past year.

Johnston said while D.C. area schools have an advantage, the University of Wisconsin topped the list of Peace Corps volunteer schools.

The International Affairs Society held an informational panel of past Peace Corps volunteers March 5 at The Eckles Library on the Mount Vernon Campus. The panel featured GW alumni and an American University alumnus who volunteered in the Peace Corps.

IAS Academic Program Coordinator and senior Sara Ibrahim said IAS wanted to show students about Peace Corps opportunities.

“If you’re an International Affairs major, (the Peace Corps) is a good way to be able to get experience to work and to volunteer also,” said Ibrahim, an International Affairs major.

GW alumnus Dave O’Neill volunteered in Sierra Leone from 1989 to 1991 and participated in health education and construction projects. He said the Peace Corps exposes volunteers to a broader idea of the world.

“I worked on Capitol Hill for three years and I really wanted a different view,” O’Neill said. “I just had a big appetite to go out and learn in another place. I wanted to experience culture shock. I wasn’t afraid of it.”

GW graduate Alexis Moore said she worked in a variety of projects in Ghana.

“I had itchy feet . after experiencing the big city (at GW) I wanted more,” she said.

Johnston said 65 percent of current GW alumni serving in the Peace Corps are women, contrary to the national trend.

For some students joining the Peace Corps would give them a break from student life.

“Once I graduate, I don’t want to work because I’ve been working for four years,” freshman Elina Sarkisova said. “I want to give something back. I don’t want to go straight into working.”

Freshman Beth Pellettieri said she always wanted to go into the Peace Corps and it would allow her some time away from paying off student loans.

Other students said the poor economy has not played a part in their interest in the Peace Corps.

“(A poor economy) would not influence my decision (to join),” said freshman Heera Kamboj. “It’s such a serious decision – it’s two years of your life. To basis your decision on the economy would be stupid.”

More than 165,000 volunteers, including 574 GW alumni, have worked in 135 countries since former President John F. Kennedy created the Peace Corps in 1961. Volunteers are selected after a six to nine month selection process to work in projects centering on education, business, environment, agriculture, health or community development

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