21 Alums Join Peace Corps, Many to Come
By BRYNN BOYER
When University of Mary Washington senior Jennifer Davis graduates in May, she will be two months away from her dream job, serving in West Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer.
Davis’ plan is not an uncommon one. In fact, UMW was recently named one of the top producing colleges in the country for Peace Corps volunteers.
Currently, 21 UMW alumni are volunteering in the Peace Corps, making Mary Washington sixth among colleges and universities with fewer than 5,000 students.
“I wanted to be abroad after graduation and I have a community service background, so the Peace Corps was always appealing,” Davis said.
The art history and French major hopes to get sent to a French-speaking African country, though she is still waiting for the e-mail that will tell her where and when she will be sent and what she will be doing when she gets there.
“It’s all very vague,” Davis said. “Until I get placement, I don’t think it’s a sure thing. I’m going to wait until I hear [from them] to say for sure that I’m going.”
Davis attributes part of her decision to join the Peace Corps to her involvement with community service on campus through the Community Outreach and Resource Center (COAR). She currently volunteers with local agencies Big Brothers, Big Sisters, Downtown Greens and the Rappahannock Council Against Sexual Assault. COAR works with all three of these volunteer programs.
“On-campus, community service is such a big part of community life. It’s got a stronghold on campus,” Davis said.
COAR student director Colleen McMichael echoed similar sentiments.
“It’s the special breed of people who go to Mary Washington who want to give back,” McMichael said.
McMichael estimates about 100 students volunteer through COAR during the school year, through programs such as Campus Pals and Habitat for Humanity. Alternative spring and fall break trips, where students travel to a site to work on community service projects through Habitat for Humanity, also attract large groups of students every year.
According to McMichael, the recent blood drive sponsored by COAR, during which students donated 92 pints of blood, is evidence of Mary Washington’s high involvement with community service.
McMichael also noted that all of the profits from this year’s COAR poker tournament to be held on Feb. 23 will go toward the Habitat for Humanity spring break trip to Georgia.
UMW History Professor Gregory H. Stanton, who has been active in a number of community service projects in his five years at Mary Washington, says he has been impressed with the volunteer spirit at the University.
“This is a school where people learn to care about other people,” Stanton said.
Stanton, the James Farmer Professor in Human Rights at Mary Washington, was a Peace Corps volunteer from 1969 to 1971 in the Ivory Coast of Africa. While he was there as a public health education planner he met his wife, who was also serving in the Peace Corps at the time.
He contrasted Mary Washington with other schools where he has either attended or taught, and noted that at other schools, giving back to the community is not as much of a priority.
“Schools like Yale and Harvard, although they are great schools, do not have the same community service ethic [that we have],” Stanton said.
The top ranked school in the small college category is the University of Chicago with 34 volunteers. Last year, Mary Washington ranked fifth in the small schools category.
The University of Washington topped the list of large colleges with 113 volunteers and the University of Virginia topped the list of medium schools.
Since 1961, the date when the Peace Corps was founded by President John F. Kennedy, 173 Mary Washington alumni have volunteered. The University of California-Berkeley holds the record for the most volunteers with a total of 3,326.
Currently, over 8,000 Peace Corps volunteers are serving in 74 different countries.
Volunteers work in one of several areas including education, youth outreach, community development, business development, agriculture and environment, health and HIV/AIDS, and information technology.
For 27 months, volunteers work overseas, receiving two days of vacation time each month. While serving, the volunteer receives comprehensive medical coverage as well as the means to live at the same level as those whom they are serving. Upon return to the United States, a volunteer receives just over $6,000.
The Peace Corps will be holding an information session for all interested students on Feb. 21 at the Woodard Campus Center.