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Peace Corps director tells returned DU volunteers their service matters

Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams greeted almost 50 University of Denver returned Peace Corps volunteers Wednesday at a luncheon at the University’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies.

When Williams asked the students in the room to share the names of the countries where they had volunteered, the students answered one by one: “South Africa, Zambia, Ecuador, Philippines, Madagascar, Guatemala, Jamaica, Kenya, Costa Rica, Ghana, Thailand, Peru, Paraguay, China…”

“Just like you, the Peace Corps changed my life forever,” said Williams, who was a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic from 1967–70. “It was the single best decision I ever made in my life.”

He said 200,000 Americans have served in 139 host countries with the Peace Corps since it was started in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy. Today, almost 10,000 volunteers are working with local communities in 75 host countries.

Peace Corps volunteers work on projects in agriculture, education, environment, health and HIV/AIDS education and prevention, small business development and youth development.

In the past year, DU has moved up from ninth to third on the list of schools with the highest number of graduate-student Peace Corps volunteers, said LaShonda Walker, public affairs specialist for the Dallas-based Southwest regional office of the Peace Corps.

Walker credited DU students who work as recruiters for the Peace Corps and DU faculty and staff with increasing the number of Peace Corps volunteers from the University, particularly graduate students.

Sixteen DU graduate students currently are serving overseas as part of a partnership between the Josef Korbel School of International Studies and the Peace Corps Master’s International program, which allows DU students to integrate a master’s degree with overseas service. Students who serve in the Peace Corps while pursuing a master’s degree at the Korbel School receive academic credit for their 27 months of service.

Thirty-five Master’s International students have completed the program since it started at DU in 1999. There presently are 24 students in the program working toward their master’s degrees while preparing to serve with the Peace Corps. DU has the largest Master’s International program in Colorado.

“This unique partnership between the Peace Corps and the Josef Korbel School has really piqued the interest of graduate students” in volunteering for the Peace Corps, Walker said. “It gives students hands-on training; they’re basically project managers when they go overseas. It’s a priceless type of experience to have and to bring back to the United States to couple with a graduate degree.”

Williams told the students Wednesday that their Peace Corps experience would be of value in the job market.

“You have something called cultural agility,” he said, “and that’s going to be very important in the global economy.”

“You have a network of kindred spirits to draw on in the future,” he continued. “With your knowledge of language and your experience … you’re going to do well.”

To read more about DU’s history with the Peace Corps, check out our University of Denver Magazine feature story from winter 2011.

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