With 61 alumni volunteering for the Peace Corps this year, more Aggies are opting for “the hardest job you’ll ever love” after graduation.
Since 2003, UC Davis has been one of the top 25 U.S. colleges to send students on the program post-graduation, but this year UCD moved up in the rankings to number 13 in the large-school category.
University of Washington in Seattle consistently sends the most students each year. This year UW has over 100 volunteers.
Nathan Hale Sargent, Peace Corps public affairs specialist from the San Francisco regional recruiting office, said nationwide there was an 18 percent increase of Peace Corps applications.
“Most people say it must be the economy,” Sargent said. “But it’s a real big commitment to go overseas, so there must be something more there. We always say Peace Corps is not a plan B.”
The commitment is more than tangible; volunteers spend 26 months in impoverished nations teaching, building and working.
Last week, wildlife, fish and conservation biology major Nathaniel Quesenberry from the class of 2005 shipped out to Zambia in southern Africa to utilize his conservation skills. He said Davis made it possible and easy for him to spend over two years in Africa.
“Davis has a lot of opportunities,” Quesenberry said. “I wanted to do Peace Corps or something like this for many years.”
The application process is a big hurdle between students and their volunteer experience. Quesenberry said the Peace Corps office on campus made it a lot easier to apply and complete the essays, medical examinations, interviews and the waiting period until hearing about placement.
“If you are going to apply to the Peace Corps, you have to be patient,” he said.
The UCD connection to the Peace Corps is something special and should not be taken for granted, Sargent said.
“The ICC employs a campus representative and only about 40 schools around the country have that,” he said. “It’s really great to see [UCD] on the list, and to see [UCD] rise [in ranking] is also exciting.”
Peace Corps campus representative Neda Yousefian said the student body is interested in the program because many students are service-oriented and already involved in many extracurricular activities.
“[Students] want to immerse themselves in a new culture and language,” said Yousefian, who is currently a graduate student at UCD and was part of the Peace Corps in Mauritania. “They want to be more than tourists.”
UCD alumni Eric Sneathen, who graduated in 2008 as an English major with minors in comparative literature and art history, is currently serving in a city of about 15,000 people just outside the Middle Atlas mountains in Morocco. He is a youth development volunteer, which means he leads classes and works with youth associations to organize activities around environmental, gender and health issues.
“I think UC Davis offered me a wide range of experiences that led me to explore Peace Corps as a serious option for my future,” Sneathen said in an e-mail interview. “My best guess as to why [UCD] is so successful at recruiting students to join the Peace Corps [is the ICC Peace Corps office] and a wide variety of majors available – with a strong emphasis in agriculture and biological sciences – and the diversity of [UCD students].”
At last week’s city council meeting, the city of Davis proclaimed the first week of March as Peace Corps week, nationally and locally.
On campus there will be many events including a panel of past Peace Corps participants and an opportunity to learn more about using an agriculture major overseas. All events are open to the public and Yousefian will table all week on the Quad.
SASHA LEKACH can be reached at email@example.com.