With more than 55 current volunteers, the Peace Corps announced Penn State as a top 25 large institution for producing Peace Corps volunteers.
While Penn State is considered a large school because it has more than 15,000 students, Elizabeth Chamberlain, the public affairs specialist for the Peace Corps Northwest region, said it’s never the sheer mass of students at a school that causes a high number to volunteer.
“Some college campuses and student bodies are really service-orientated and are attracted to the idea of making a difference,” Chamberlain said.
The University of Washington and University of Florida top the list for large category schools, with each school having a total of 107 volunteers.
Chamberlain said how highly the Peace Corps values its relationship with Penn State can be seen in the presence of a full time on-campus recruiter, who is one of four in the entire northeast region.
The other three schools who have full-time, on-campus recruiters are Cornell University, New York University and the University of Vermont.
Nellie Bhattarai, Penn State’s on-campus recruiter for the Peace Corps, said a combination of things — including past experiences and studying abroad — can contribute to why someone may want to volunteer.
“What I hear from a lot of students who are interested is that it is something initiated during high school and it was in their mind and heart that they wanted to do a humanitarian act,” Bhattarai said.
As for studying abroad affecting future volunteers, Bhattarai said it gives students a taste of another county.
“Students get the international fever and want to continue with that,” Bhattarai said.
Many students are interested each year, and there is no quota or limit the Peace Corps has to fulfill when accepting applicants. But the Peace Corps can be a potentially nerve-wracking undertaking.
Bhattarai said that people, when hesitant, are afraid of the commitment and the safety and security of volunteers.
“We come from a part of the world where we have control over almost everything,” Bhattarai said. “At the beginning, people are scared because they are afraid they won’t have control.”
With a potential 27-month-long commitment, students are hesitant to agree to that, but Bhattarai tries to put it in perspective.
“If you’re a junior or senior, you already have been here for the time that you’d be in the Peace Corps,” Bhattarai said. “It helps when you put it into perspective.”
As for where a volunteer may end up in the world, the applicant can name a preference, but that is not necessarily where he or she will volunteer, Chamberlain said.
“Where they want to go is not necessarily where they are needed, or where they will make the most impact,” Chamberlain said. “We try to match the skills of the volunteers to the needs of the country.”
Erica Sausner, a Penn State graduate student, applied to be a Peace Corps volunteer after she graduated from SUNY-New Paltz. Even though applicants do have a choice of region, Sausner didn’t opt to make a selection.
“I didn’t pick a choice,” Sausner said. “I was sort of like, send me wherever.”
Initially, Sausner thought the Peace Corps would send her to eastern Europe to teach English, but she was “thrilled” when she was placed in Panama to work in youth development, teaching computer classes and conducting workshops on topics such as sexual assault and goal setting.
The highest percentage of volunteers is placed in Africa, while the second highest percentage is placed in Latin America, Chamberlain said.
Peace Corps volunteers work in six areas of service, including agriculture, education, environment, health, community economic development and youth development, Chamberlain said.
Penn State currently has students working in all six areas of service, Chamberlain said.