While working for the Peace Corps at Western Washington University, some of my favorite experiences have been hearing from our alumni during their Peace Corps service and finding out how they are making a difference. Samantha Russell is a recent graduate of Western in the Peace Corps. She's in Fiji, working on several projects to help monitor and protect marine resources, critically important to people who live on an island.
"It was important to me to use my education at Western, the theories and ideas I learned and received there, and to put those into practice somewhere that really needed them," Russell says of her decision to join the Peace Corps.
To many Western students, making a difference on campus, in their community and in their world is very important. That desire to reach out, to be "active minds changing lives" is evident is so many ways, such as students volunteering in the local community. Western is the only college or university in the state - public or private - that three years in a row has been on the President's White House Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll with Distinction. Mainly that's because of hundreds of thousands of volunteer hours each year by Western students in local schools and nonprofits.
And Western alumni continue this call to service. So we were excited to learn, after the Peace Corps recently released the 2014 rankings of the top volunteer-producing colleges and universities across the country, that Western was ranked No. 1 in the nation - for the second year in a row - among medium-sized schools, with 65 alumni currently volunteering worldwide.
Over the past 10 years Western has been ranked seventh or better each year among medium-sized schools nationwide. Since the first days of the Peace Corps, 914 alumni from Western have traveled abroad to serve as volunteers.
The Peace Corps, established by President Kennedy in 1961 to foster a better understanding among Americans and people of other countries, sends Americans abroad to tackle the most pressing needs of people around the world. Peace Corps volunteers work at the grassroots level with local governments, schools, communities, small businesses and entrepreneurs to develop sustainable solutions that address challenges in education, health, economic development, agriculture, environment and youth development. When they return home, volunteers bring their knowledge and experiences - and a global outlook - back to the United States that enriches the lives of those around them.
Western's culture of putting higher education to higher purposes matches well with the aspirations of the Peace Corps, notes Western alumnus Lukas Paul Henke, a youth development volunteer for the Peace Corps in Ukraine. "From day one at WWU, I was taught how to learn, not what to learn, how to educate myself through others, through participation, and to test the waters in many fields to see if I can find my true passions. It couldn't have prepared me more for the 'be part of something that is bigger than yourself' aura that permeates the mentality at Peace Corps and specifically within Peace Corps Ukraine."
Service in the Peace Corps is an invaluable experience that benefits Peace Corps volunteers as well. I don't know how many times someone has told me that the Peace Corps was one of the best, most important times of their lives.
For decades Western alumni have served with great distinction in the Peace Corps. We are very proud of Western alumni abroad making wonderful contributions and improving the lives of people all over the world. Service to others is what Western - and the Peace Corps - is all about.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jill MacIntyre Witt is the Peace Corps campus representative for Western Washington University. For more information, go online to wwu.edu/careers/peacecorps.shtml.