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Peace Corps Seeks a Few Good (Smith) Volunteers

With 17 Smith alumnae currently serving various roles in the Peace Corps, the college ranks 17th nationally among small colleges and universities in number of volunteers in the program. Since the organization began in 1961 at the behest of President John F. Kennedy, a total of 292 Smith graduates have served as volunteers with the program.

Partly because of those statistics, which reflect Smith’s interest in and commitment to international humanitarian aid, a Peace Corps recruiter will visit the campus on Tuesday, September 30. Drew Hafner, the Peace Corps’ New England recruiter, who served with the corps in the Philippines, will staff an information table in the Campus Center from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and will lead an information session at 7 p.m., also in the Campus Center, at which students can meet returned volunteers, and learn about volunteering and the application process.

Since its founding, the federally funded Peace Corps has placed 170,000 Americans in 136 countries to assist in international and grassroots development projects ranging from AIDS education to clean water engineering. The program is particularly reliant on the energy and talent of recent college graduates, and is suited to students with liberal arts degrees, as current Smith volunteers can attest. Degrees such as biology, government, and anthropology have yielded projects in crop extension in Madagascar, English education in Mongolia, hygiene education in Bolivia, and science education in Burkina Faso.

The work of Peace Corps volunteers fits well with many of the goals and motivations that students develop at Smith, says Jane Sommer, associate director of programs and services in the Career Development Office, and a former Peace Corps volunteer. “There is such an interest on campus in international relations, in social service, public service, and health and community development issues,” she says. “There aren’t many other ways to spend two years in another culture in a substantive, structured way, right after college. It’s an opportunity to explore many of the interests that our students have.”

A variety of experiences, whether at Smith or elsewhere in the world, can uniquely prepare students for the Peace Corps experience. Katrina Gardner ’00, spent two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Baitadi, Nepal, after graduation. A neuroscience major at Smith, Gardner interned in public health, one summer at the largest public hospital in Quito, Ecuador, and for the U.S. Department of Labor before her Peace Corps assignment. In Nepal, she taught in a government-run primary school.

Regardless of the assignment, Sommer says, Peace Corps work “really makes you think a great deal about your own culture, about your own assumptions, about who you really are and who you want to be. When you’re suddenly away from family, from the structure of college, doing important work, I think there’s enormous personal development there.”

For more information on the Peace Corps, consult

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