Evan Marczynski/The AS Review

Western Washington University recently ranked among the top U.S. schools that sent the most volunteers into the Peace Corps in 2009.

Western ranked sixth among other medium-size schools with undergraduate enrollments between 5,000 and 15,000 students. Last year, 38 Western students entered the Peace Corps.

Western’s Peace Corps Representative Sylvia Graham said Peace Corps volunteers learn a number of professional skills that can be used in careers later on. Volunteering can give someone experience in areas such as public speaking, project management, grant writing and budget management, Graham said.

“I also think you gain a different perspective of lifestyles and the world,” she said. “It just opens your eyes to different values.”

There were a number of other Washington schools that also placed in the rankings. Out of universities with enrollments under 5,000 students, the University of Puget Sound, Gonzaga University and The Evergreen State College all ranked in the top 25.

The University of Washington ranked first out of schools with enrollments above 15,000.

For those who may be thinking of serving in the future, there are a number of things to consider.

The first step in the process is to apply online at Peacecorps.gov. Copies of academic transcripts and personal references need to be submitted with an application.

Graham said a good list of references could include a volunteer supervisor, a former employer and a close friend. If an applicant does not have much volunteer or employment history, a professor could be a suitable reference as well, she said.

She added that some programs offered in the Peace Corps, particularly in South America and West Africa, require some foreign language training. For example, a volunteer sent to either of these regions is expected to have at least one year of Spanish or French education, depending on which area they are sent to.

After an application is submitted, applicants are scheduled for in-person interviews. Graham said the interviews are usually scheduled about two weeks after the application is received. During the school year, the interviews are held at Western, but in the summer applicants may have to go to Seattle to be interviewed.

After interviewing, volunteers are nominated depending on whether their skills and availability fit with the positions the Peace Corps needs to fill.

Once nominated, a volunteer will find out which program and region they are being placed in as well as the time of year they will be leaving, Graham said. The exact date and location of service is not given until the volunteer is officially selected.

Following nomination, volunteers need to have a medical exam and legal review.

Graham said volunteers need to be in generally good health, but the Peace Corps is able to accommodate people with certain medical conditions. The list of acceptable conditions is rather long, so Graham said people who are curious should contact her or the Peace Corps office in Seattle.

In terms of legal standing, Graham said that volunteers must have good legal status. For example, they cannot be on parole or in the middle of court proceedings. However, a past criminal record does not automatically disqualify someone from service. The Peace Corps is willing to work with volunteers who have run into legal trouble in the past, Graham said.
“You don’t have to have a perfectly clean slate,” she said. “They take it case by case.”

Graham said the entire process usually takes between nine and 12 months. However, Peace Corps programs with more demand can sometimes move volunteers through the application process faster.

Right now the fastest growing program is English education, Graham said.

“We’ve seen huge growth in demand for English teachers,” she said. “Those positions can leave within six months of applying.”

According to Peace Corps data on last year’s job requests from the entire organization, 33 percent of volunteers entered the education program. Eighteen percent of volunteers worked with youth and community development and an additional 18 percent entered the health and HIV/AIDS program.

Last year 41 percent of volunteers served in Africa and 23 percent served in South America. Seventeen percent worked in Eastern Europe and central Asia.

Graham served in the Peace Corps from 2000 to 2002 in Madagascar. During her service, she did a wide variety of jobs. Her main project was teaching environmental education to elementary school children. She also coordinated a teacher training program so that environmental education could continue to be taught after she left.

In addition to her primary project, Graham also worked with a farmer’s association and helped to successfully increase their production. She also cultivated tree nurseries and planted new trees with people in the schools she worked with.

On top of all that, she also taught HIV/AIDS courses and hosted a radio show.

Graham said it was common for volunteers to take on other projects in addition to their main job while in service.

“You have a lot of freedom to branch out in addition to your main project,” she said.

Graham encouraged those interested in volunteering to research the positions available and set up meetings with her to go over different possibilities. For more information, she can be reached at (360) 650-301 7 or by e-mail at Sylvia.Graham@wwu.edu.