GW has most Peace Corps volunteers of mid-sized schools

For the second consecutive year, GW has more graduates in the Peace Corps than any other medium-sized university, the organization announced Thursday.

This marks the second year in a row and third time in four years that GW has placed first in the rankings for the category of colleges and universities with between 5,000 and 15,000 students. Currently there are 53 undergraduate alumni from GW serving in the Peace Corps, more than any other university of this size.

Following GW in the medium-sized rankings is American University with 51 participants and Cornell University with 46 participants.

University President Steven Knapp said that GW’s high ranking is indicative of the University’s “culture of public service.”

“I think it starts with the passionate interest in solving real-world problems that our students bring with them and that is one of the reasons they choose to attend a university in the heart of our nation’s capital,” Knapp said in an e-mail. “But that interest grows stronger and clearer, I believe, as students learn from each other, from our extraordinarily service-oriented faculty, and from the opportunities for civic engagement that the university and the city afford them.”

Last year, service corps spokespersons partly attributed stark jumps in applications to a slow economy. The Peace Corps saw a 16 percent jump in applicants during 2008, The Hatchet previously reported. The increase was the group’s largest in five years.

Knapp said there are several GW programs available to students, programs he felt have made students more inclined to join service organizations such as the Peace Corps. Programs in the Elliott School and the University’s newly founded Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service offer internationally focused learning objectives, which appeal to students who aspire to join the Peace Corps.

Knapp noted the University created the Power and Promise Fund to defray educational costs for students who will go into public service fields upon graduation.

Julie Potyraj, who graduated from GW in 2009 and will begin her stint in the Peace Corps this month, said GW taught her that “to succeed, you must become an active participant in the things you care about.”

“I have wanted to join the Peace Corps since I knew what the Peace Corps was,” said Potyraj, who will be stationed in Zambia. “I grew up in a very homogenous area where everyone looked the same and thought the same. I realized during high school that there was more to life than just my tiny town. One reason I chose GW was the diverse opportunities the school offered.”

Peter Konwerski, associate vice president for Student and Academic Support Services, said he thinks GW attracts students who have a “desire to really expand their global view,” one of the Peace Corps’ main objectives.

“As a result, many of them go on to not only programs in the Peace Corps, but to other efforts where they strive to foster cross cultural understanding and expand the reach of our academic service,” Konwerski said in an e-mail.

This year, the University of Washington ranked number one for large universities, with 101 participants, and St. Olaf College in Minnesota ranked number one for small colleges, with 26 participants.

The University of California, Berkeley still maintains the most Peace Corps participants of all time with 3,412 involved with the program.

There are 7,671 Peace Corps volunteers working worldwide in 76 different countries. A college degree is not required to join the Peace Corps, but members must be U.S. citizens and 18 years of age to join.

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