Many U grads opt for service in Peace Corps

by Boa Lee

Four years after graduating from the University, alumnus Dan MacLaughlin left the Twin Cities’ urban comforts for three years in Slovakia.

The history student turned Slovak English teacher is one of a growing number of University graduates who leave the landlocked Midwest for what some consider the ends of the earth: the U.S. Peace Corps.

“It was a good experience from an intellectual standpoint,” said MacLaughlin who returned to the United States in July 2002. “I got to see the revolution and the generation gap occurring between the kids and the old people.”

Teaching his native language kjto Eastern European children

in grades five through nine helped MacLaughlin realize he wanted to work with at-risk youth at home.

According to the Peace Corps, the University ranks 12th among large U.S. colleges and universities in producing the greatest number of participants in 2003.

Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Craig Swan said the ranking does not surprise him.

“It has a lot to do with being in Minnesota, where there is a tradition of strong and active participation in community service,” Swan said. “It reflects students taking responsibility for being active members of the community.”

Shannon Skally, a University Peace Corps campus representative, said that since September, hundreds of University students have expressed interest in joining the Peace Corps.

“The University is such a big school. People here have a lot of different skills,” Skally said. “And the Peace Corps has had lots of great volunteers from the University.”

This year, 73 graduates from the University committed to the Peace Corps. About 1,051 alumni have served since the Peace Corps’ inception four decades ago.

Nine of the 25 largest-producing colleges and universities for the Peace Corps in 2003 are based in the Midwest, which Skally said reveals the quality candidates the region offers.

“Midwest people are open to different experiences and they like to be challenged,” Skally said.

Branda Long, a graduate student in the University’s department of fisheries, wildlife and conservation biology, said she joined the Peace Corps immediately after graduating from Northland College in Wisconsin because she wanted to try something different.

Although serving two years in Kosrae Micronesia, a country southwest of Hawaii, meant she had to take cold showers and learn a new language, Long said the experience is irreplaceable.

“The people there taught me way more than I taught them,” she said. “There’s a sense of community there that we don’t necessarily have here.”

But seeing the world up close does not require an energized pitch to students, political science professor Ronald Krebs said.

He said any experience that takes students abroad is invaluable. Whether they join the Peace Corps or keep current on international events, Krebs said, students should seek ways to stay informed and curious.

“Since Sept. 11 (2001), people know we can never be insular,” Krebs said. “Students don’t need to be convinced that they need to know a lot about the world.”