On the celebration for the Peace Corps’ 50th anniversary in 2011, UC Berkeley renewed its call for more graduates to serve. The appeal may finally be paying off.
UC Berkeley has jumped 10 spots to place 11th among large U.S. colleges and universities in this year’s Peace Corps rankings of the top volunteer-producing colleges and universities, with 53 graduates currently serving around the world.
The campus remains the nation’s all-time top producer of Peace Corps volunteers. Since the U.S. government program’s founding in 1961, a total of 3,685 UC Berkeley alumni have been sent overseas.
“I’m not surprised that more Cal grads are joining the Peace Corps,” said Sandra Bass, director of the Berkeley Public Service Center, which helps facilitate student volunteer opportunities. “We attract students who are passionate about making a difference in the world and the Peace Corps provides an opportunity to do that.”
As it did last year, the University of Wisconsin–Madison topped this year’s list, with 75 alumni currently serving in the Peace Corps.
On its heels is the University of Virginia with 74 volunteers, the University of Minnesota with 70 and the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, with 63. Ohio State University, the University of Washington and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill tied with 62.
UCLA made the top 25 in the 2019 rankings, placing 21st with 38 graduates currently serving in the Peace Corps.
“I am proud that so many graduates of these esteemed institutions leverage their educations to make the world a better place,” said Peace Corps National Director Jody Olsen, who served in Tunisia from 1966 to 1968.
Portia Boykin, an Oakland-based Peace Corps regional recruiter, attributed the uptick, at least in part, to her office “making Cal a top priority for recruitment efforts, and the fact that UC Berkeley students are extremely enthusiastic about Peace Corps service.”
President John. F. Kennedy founded the Peace Corps to promote understanding and cooperation between Americans and people in the developing world. Volunteers receive three months of training and then serve two years in their assigned countries.
Among the 53 UC Berkeley alumni serving overseas today is Ursula Kajani, a 2017 graduate in public health who is working on maternal and child health in Rwanda. She said the rewards far outweigh the challenges.
“The frustrations and rewards of working in a culture completely different than your own — and in a language you are still learning — definitely helps me understand and value the immigrant plight in the U.S. more than I ever have before,” she wrote in an email.
Overall, she added, “it’s truly a beautiful and exhilarating experience.”
Meanwhile, in Guinea, Priscilla Ibrahim, a 2016 graduate in peace and conflict studies, is teaching English, women’s literacy, malaria prevention and soap-making, among other skills.
In an essay, Ibrahim described how she and her African host family bonded over their shared love for the music of Rihanna, among other cross-cultural passions, when she was unable to speak French or the local lingo.
The daughter of Egyptian immigrants, Ibrahim said she has felt, at times, like a stranger in her native United States, but that her time in Guinea has expanded her sense of identity.
“I’m proud of my Egyptian heritage, and I’m proud to be an American,” she wrote. “But I’m most gratified by what I am slowly accomplishing here.”
The University of California’s Education Abroad Program offers a Peace Corps Prep certificate program that trains undergraduates in how to gear up for international development fieldwork.