March 07, 2011

Students, Recent Alumni Increase CWRU Participation in Peace Corps

Peace Corps logoMore and more students at Case Western Reserve University want to give “Peace” a chance—the Peace Corps, that is. For the first time ever, the university made Peace Corps’ list of top 25 small colleges and universities with volunteers. Case Western Reserve tied at No. 23 with Denison University, Mount Holyoke College and Seattle University, which each can count 16 students or alumni as Peace Corps volunteers in 2010.

The interest continues to grow on campus. Thirty-five students attended the Peace Corps information session on campus last month, and at least nine students are at some point in the application process at the moment, said Annabel Khouri, U.S. Peace Corps field recruiter for Northeast Ohio.

This includes Trevor Allen, a senior physics and economics double-major student who has been nominated to travel to Sub-Saharan Africa in August, where he likely will teach secondary-level math and science. Allen’s interest in Peace Corps is fueled partially by his desire to travel and experience other cultures but also because he wants to “dedicate a substantial amount of my life to helping people far less fortunate than me and, in the process, expose myself to the realities of our world, from which we're often shielded by America's affluence,” he said. Additionally, volunteering for the Peace Corps will be an ideal experience for a career in international development, he said.

For Sarah Robinson, who graduated last May with a double major in anthropology and environmental studies, she felt the call to join the Peace Corps in high school. Now, she’s been nominated for a health extension program in Sub-Saharan Africa in June, where she intends to work on issues such as HIV/AIDS or maternal/women’s health education.

But Allen and Robinson still are not officially Peace Corps volunteers—even though they’ve both been in the application approval process for nearly a year. The process is a long, arduous one that likely weeds out individuals who are not fully committed. The online application itself is long and time-consuming, and then individuals take part in an interview. If the interview goes well, an applicant receives a nomination, which is a recommendation to move forward in the application process. From there, each applicant undergoes medical, legal and competitive reviews to see if they will be invited to participate in Peace Corps, explained Mir Bear-Johnson, a biology major who graduated last May and leaves for her service in Morocco this month. Once the reviews are complete, approved applicants receive official acceptance and learn just what their placements will be. The official offer usually comes about two months before the volunteer leaves for the two-year commitment.

But the long process is well worth the wait for those applying. “I think it’s important for people to understand their privileges and do something positive with them, rather than feeling entitled on one end of the spectrum, or burdened on the other,” Robinson said.

For some, Peace Corps will help pin down exactly what they should with their careers. Bear-Johnson, for example, knew she wanted her career to be based around work with diseases and health, but she wasn’t set on any particular path—research? Public health? Something completely different? She started looking into Peace Corps and found its mission was a natural fit with her interests and beliefs. “CWRU showed me what doing research would be like, but I haven’t had the chance to implement my knowledge in any community,” she explained. “In the Peace Corps I will be able to see the social side of health education.” From there, she will be able to decide if she likes the social aspect she gained in Peace Corps, or the research side she developed at Case Western Reserve.

Students agree their experience at Case Western Reserve drove them to join Peace Corps, whether it was Robinson’s and Bear-Johnson’s study abroad experience or the high expectations of professors and the environment they promote. “I’ve always considered first the purpose of a vocation or lifestyle,” Allen said. “Case Western Reserve University’s environment has emphasized this and taught me that whatever the challenge, I can tackle it.”

Posted by: Emily Mayock, March 7, 2011 09:02 AM | News Topics: Students

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