UMN ranks third for Peace Corps volunteers

The University has supplied more than 1,500 volunteers to the Peace Corps since 1961.

by Dylan Miettinen

A report released last month by Peace Corps, the U.S. governmental organization that connects volunteers with underserved communities, ranked the University of Minnesota as third in the nation for supplying Peace Corps volunteers.

The University produced 70 undergraduate alumni volunteers in 2018 and has supplied more than 1,500 volunteers to the Peace Corps since 1961. 

According to Katie Page, the University’s Peace Corps campus representative, the program is unique in that it offers students opportunities to learn all around the world free of cost with the opportunity of loan forgiveness.

Page volunteered in Paraguay with Peace Corps after finishing her undergraduate degree. Her focus was on health-related issues and she informed community members about the importance of eating healthy and remaining active. 

“For the first year, it was a lot of learning. I was learning the languages, getting to know the students I would be working with and gaining trust. My projects were all over the map. I tried to teach a couple of different kinds of curricula regarding any health topic you could think of,” Page said.

Peace Corps volunteers can specialize in one of six areas: agriculture, environment, health, education, youth development or community economic development. Service times are typically two years, plus an additional three months worth of training. Peace Corps placements are open to those 18 years and older. 

Though third-year student Holland Griffin said she loves the idea of joining the Peace Corps, she doesn’t know if it is accessible to all students. While the Peace Corps offers deferment and even forgiveness for federal loans, only some private loans offer viable plans for volunteers. Griffin took out private loans and won’t be able to join Peace Corps right away post-graduation as a result. 

“I want to spend a few years working in order to pay for the bulk of my loans,” Griffin said in an email. “Coming fresh out of college feeling pretty low on funds and then immediately joining the Peace Corps is a scary prospect.”

Griffin hopes to volunteer in South America teaching English as a second-language. As a Spanish and Portuguese major with a minor in ESL, she said it would be a natural fit. 

Fourth-year student Danica Mooney-Jones recently applied to join Peace Corps with her girlfriend. Like Page, Mooney-Jones hopes to go to Paraguay, but Mooney-Jones wants to focus on agriculture. 

“Coming out of college, I have a lot of academic experience in farming, but I would like to go to a place where I can actually apply that knowledge,” Mooney-Jones said. “I’d like to see how people work in much smaller, poorer farming communities and figure out if there’s any way that interventions can help make stuff better.”

The application process takes about nine months from the submission of the application to program placement, Page said.

Mooney-Jones and her girlfriend will be the first in a series of three volunteers in her program, meaning volunteers will aid farmers for a total of six years. She said she appreciated this aspect of the Peace Corps versus a non-governmental organization that may volunteer in a community for a year, then leave community members to their own devices. 

“I like that Peace Corps has staying power in certain areas. The people there can really become your family and your friends,” she said.