Whitman Peace Corps recruitment slows down this year

Melissa Navarro

When Sen. John F. Kennedy was running his presidential campaign in 1960, he presented a speech at the University of Michigan that encouraged students to become proactive citizens of the world. He challenged the young adults to picture themselves taking what they have learned in college and applying it abroad to help others.

From his rhetoric and campaign for a free and peaceful world, the Kennedy administration created the Peace Corps in 1961. This program allowed adults, young and old, to spread peace and aid by working in developing countries.

According the Peace Corps Web site, about 190,000 volunteers have worked in 139 countries all over the globe since the program started. Their efforts include work in education, HIV/AIDS awareness, environmental improvements, business development and much more.

In a forthcoming issue of “Livewire,” Whitman’s young alumni magazine, it is reported that about 280 graduates of Whitman College have been invited to serve since the Peace Corps began nearly 47 years ago. Currently, former Pioneer editor Megan Bunch ’07 is in Honduras starting her 27-month term in the program.

“Through the Peace Corps, I will have the opportunity to gain two years of business experience, while simultaneously helping others, learning a language and growing as a person,” said Bunch in a recent Peace Corps press release. She will become familiar with the Honduran culture and lifestyle while living with a host family for the first few months. Bunch will then partake in various projects helping a local community with business development.

“Most of them come back from this experience highly motivated and jump right into grad school,” said Career Center director Susan Buchanan of Peace Corps alumni. She also mentioned some graduate school programs that could consider a student work in the Peace Corps toward a master’s degree.

Buchanan noted that the opportunities in the program are perfect for Whitman students because of the aim for major change. The Peace Corps’ former slogan “the toughest job you’ll ever love” encapsulated the difficulty of facing some of the world’s most testing challenges.

“The application process is a long one. They want to know you’re applying for the right reasons by talking to you and getting to know you,” said Buchanan, who has assisted students with the written response aspects of the application.

Buchanan has also affirmed that there has been just as much Whitman interest in the Peace Corps as in previous years.

“There are currently 11 Whitman College alums serving in the Peace Corps. Last year, there were 19. Although the drop from last year to now doesn’t seem terribly large, it was enough: unfortunately: to bump Whitman College off the list of top volunteer-yielding small colleges and universities,” said Maria Lee, a Peace Corps public affairs specialist for the Northwest region. The cut-off point to be on the list was 15. “What’s important to note at this point given the razor thin margins we have to work with the small colleges and universities category is that in terms of how the Peace Corps perceives Whitman College absolutely nothing has changed.”

A recent fall in the number of Whitman alumni in the Peace Corps does not mean that students are less interested according to Lee. With the high admission standards, the competition is only getting tougher.

“Our reports show that Whitman actually had the same number of applicants this year over last. There were eight applicants in fiscal year 2006 (October 2005 –– September 2006) and eight applicants in 2007 (October 2006 –– September 2007). As far as the number of invitees goes, our reports show that in 2006 we had three invitees and in 2007 we had five invitees,” said Lee, proving that the little dip in numbers did not indicate any change in the Whitman community’s interest in pursuing the Peace Corps.

The power of change and a mission of peace have consistently been inspiring college graduates to apply to join the successful program, especially Whitties.

“We feel that the interest level at Whitman College is just as high as it ever was,” said Lee.

For more information about the Peace Corps and the application process, go to peacecorps.gov or visit the Career Center.