UW’s strong legacy of service continues with the continued overseas service of the Peace Corps The Badger Herald

University of Wisconsin graduate serving as a volunteer in the Peace Corps return for service overseas for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Peace Corps is an independent agency and United States government program that prioritizes and positions volunteers to provide international development assistance. The pandemic caused the Peace Corps to suspend global service in March 2020, but volunteers are now returning to overseas volunteer deployments.

UW has a strong tradition of service and has been involved with the Peace Corps since its founding in 1961 – with nearly 3,400 Badger alumni having served as Peace Corps volunteers, Campus Peace Corps Recruiter Hannah Bennett said in an emailed statement to The Badger Herald.

Outside of the UW campus, more than 6,400 people in Wisconsin have served in the Peace Corps, Bennett said.

“There has been a significant presence of returning volunteers across the state – a source of pride for Wisconsin,” said Bennett.

UW is one of the top recruiting schools for Peace Corps volunteers in the country, ranking #1 for the fourth year in a row when the last rankings were issued in 2020, said Bennett.

Returning Peace Corps Volunteer of Wisconsin-Madison President Ron Giesen worked with Bennett on Peace Corps recruiting efforts, thereby helping UW maintain its high recruiting rate.

“UW produces more Peace Corps volunteers than any other major campus in the country,” said Giesen. “And we have been doing this for many years in a row.”

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In his role, Bennett works with students interested in the Peace Corps. She helps them learn about the agency, get help with application materials and answer any questions related to the service, says Bennett.

Bennett follows a long legacy of Peace Corps recruiters on campus and in Madison since the early 1970s — including former UW recruiter Aaron Williams who served as director of the Peace Corps under President Barack Obama, according to Bennett.

The UW campus Peace Corps office is currently located in Bascom Hall and has been part of the International Division since 2010, Bennett said.

Badger and RPCV alum Mark Thorpe benefited from the legacy of Badgers serving in the Peace Corps, as well as the presence of recruiters on campus before preparing to volunteer in Cambodia from 1990 to 1992. Thorpe, who works as a UW residence hall housemate, learned about the Peace Corps when another housemate shared that he was preparing to serve in the Peace Corps.

“I never even considered it until I met someone who was getting ready to join the Peace Corps and go abroad,” Thorpe said. “While he’s talking about it, I thought it sounded interesting.”

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At a career fair, Thorpe spoke with Peace Corps recruiters on campus, solicited applications, and eventually began preparing for his voluntary educational service in Cambodia. In Cambodia, Thorpe worked as a math and science teacher for middle and high school students.

While abroad, Thorpe says he experienced new cultures, learned new languages ​​and made connections in new communities.

“My favorite thing about being in the Peace Corps in general, is the experience of living in a different culture,” said Thorpe. “Living with people from different places, speaking different languages ​​in different cultures and learning about the history of those cultures.”

Returning to the US after his service in Cambodia, service remained important to Thorpe as he began volunteering in various local organizations.

The idea of ​​Wisconsin is centered on the idea that education goes beyond the classroom. The services performed by Peace Corps volunteers embody this principle, according to Giesen.

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“Peace Corps is a logical extension of Wisconsin Idea university, where campus boundaries are state boundaries and public service is a big part of what UW does,” said Giesen. “And the Peace Corps fits perfectly with that.”

Peace Corps volunteers can serve in one of six sector — agriculture, community economic development, education, environment or health and youth in development, according to the Peace Corps.

Volunteers have Already returned to 45 countries since the March 2020 suspension and the Peace Corps is recruiting volunteers in 56 countries, according to the Peace Corps.

When Badger Peace Corps volunteers return to overseas service, UW’s legacy of service will continue to impact individuals and communities locally and internationally.

“Serving as a Peace Corps volunteer is a great way for Badgers to make connections across borders and also continue to learn through hands-on experience,” said Bennett. “Lessons and experiences from service are brought back and enrich the city, country and nation.”

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