Colgate Gets Peace Corps Nod

Colgate University ranks number 10 on the 2009 Peace Corps Top Colleges and Universities List, an increase from spot number 16 in 2008. The list is part of a yearly ranking of colleges and universities that the Peace Corps publishes based on how many graduates from schools throughout the country are currently serving in the organization.

Colgate ranks number 10 in the “small school” category, which contains those institutions with fewer than 5,000 students. There are 18 Colgate alums working in the Peace Corps at this time; the University of Chicago received the number one spot for “small schools” with 35 current alumni volunteers.

The Peace Corps was established in 1961, and since then has enjoyed the participation of volunteers from more than 3,000 colleges and universities across the United States. According to the Peace Corps website, 95 percent of the over 7,000 present volunteers have an undergraduate degree. Recent college graduates make up a large part of the Peace Corps Volunteers.

“‘The Peace Corps provides a unique opportunity for graduates to use their education and skills, and apply them in the real world,'” Peace Corps Director Ron Tschetter said on the Peace Corps Website.

A total of 309 Colgate graduates have gone into the Peace Corps since 1961, although the organization began formally recruiting on campus in 1989.

“Here in our office, Colgate students have the reputation for being concerned and knowledgeable about the environment and international affairs and as having a strong sense of volunteerism,” New York Peace Corps Regional Recruiter B.J. Whetsine said. Whetsine has worked with many of the Colgate students who have shown interest in the Peace Corps, and says that he is always eager to work with Colgate applicants.

Olender ardently agrees with Whetsine assessment of Colgate students. He describes the student body as “adventurous spirits” who have “passions for service, and a desire to help solve global problems.”

According to Whetsine, the majors of the Colgate participants have ranged from “political science and international relations to mathematics and microbiology, and the volunteers have served as teachers, business advisors and environmental and health workers.”

When volunteers sign up, they commit to serving 27 months with the Peace Corps. The current Colgate alumni are serving their two-year commitments in countries such as Cambodia, Romania and Mozambique.

Alex Minier ’03 worked for the Peace Corps as an English teacher at a school in Turkmenbashy, Turkmenistan from September 2003 to December 2005.

“When I was there, Saparmurat ‘Turkmenbashy’ Niyazov was President and the tallest point in capital city was a 13-foot tall gold statue of him that always rotated to face the sun,” Minier said. “He named the city [Turkmenbashy] after himself and named the month of January after himself too.”

Even though in 2004 The Economist declared the country to be the worst place in the world to live, Minier would disagree, stating that he met many “warm and welcoming” people and continues to hear from his students, many of whom have gone on to pursue higher education.

Minier said that part of the reason he chose to join the Corps was because of his desire to “pursue the spirit of service that has long been a part of my life,” something he states the Colgate community “truly encouraged” in him.

“I saw the Peace Corps as an opportunity to gain a greater understanding of the world,” Minier said. “During my semesters studying in India and the Czech Republic, I came to appreciate the many learning opportunities encountered simply by working through the daily challenges of life abroad. Those semesters left me hungry to learn more and put to work some of the things that I had learned in my four years [at Colgate].”

Jacqueline Waite ’98, spent two years in Mauritania, West Africa after graduating from Colgate. Her official assignment was as a Health and Water Sanitation volunteer, but she, like Alex, worked at several other jobs to help in the village such as gardening, teaching introductory French and holding workshops on HIV transmission.

Despite living in a mud hut without running water and electricity, Waite loved her village and its inhabitants. Waite admits that she had a desire to join the Peace Corps since she was in seventh grade when a Peace Corps recruiter visited her school and sparked her interest.

“I felt the need to get out and explore the world in order figure out what my contributions to it should be,” Waite said. Waite explained her experience serving in the Peace Corps to a story found in her Challenge of Modernity class, one that all Colgate students can relate to.

“I like to refer to my experience as an odyssey,” she said. “When I entered Colgate we all had to read Homer’s Odyssey. It was like coming full circle to set out immediately after graduation. My semester abroad in Russia got me ready for some of the challenges of negotiating life in a different culture. Volunteer opportunities at Colgate — for example, I did three and led two alternative spring breaks with Habitat for Humanity — helped me develop my leadership skills and confidence.”