Campus among top 25 for Peace Corps sign-up

For the first time, UCSD has ranked among the top 25 large schools in the country for the number of its alumni that joined the Peace Corps last year.

Ranking No. 73 as an overall producer of volunteers for the humanitarian organization that works in developing countries, UCSD saw 43 campus alumni join the program in 2004.

Also on the list are UC Berkeley, UC Santa Barbara, UCLA and UC Davis, which sent out 94, 57, 55 and 43 volunteers, respectively.

“UCSD is the only school to debut on the list this year,” Peace Corps spokesperson Nathan Arnold said. “That’s a remarkable job, especially dealing with large schools, because a lot of movement happens in smaller schools, but with the larger schools sometimes there [are smaller fluctuations in the number of ] volunteers.”

Every year, the organization looks at the number of volunteers in the field and what colleges they came from to determine the ranking. The list is divided into three categories according to the size of university student populations. Large universities represent campuses with more than 15,000 undergraduates, medium universities have between 5,001 and 15,000 and small schools enroll fewer than 5,000.

The rise in the number of volunteers recruited from the campus is a reflection of changes within the organization itself, according to Arnold.

“The Peace Corps is a different agency now than in the past,” Arnold said. “We’ve been getting into technical stuff and are looking for more specialized skills, such as engineering, and there might be more people in UCSD who have those skills.”

Events such as job fairs and information sessions have been vital in promoting the organization at UCSD and perhaps contributing to the rise in numbers, according to new campus Peace Corps representative and former volunteer Diana Gomez. As many as 500 to 600 students have indicated interest during the present school year, she said.

“UCSD is a campus focused on internationalization and global issues,” Career Services Center director Andy Ceperley said. “It’s not surprising that Peace Corps numbers are growing.”

While being a college graduate is not a requirement to join the organization, 97 percent of volunteers have undergraduate degrees and 13 percent hold graduate degrees. Through the Peace Corps, 7,733 volunteers are working around the world, according to Arnold.

“I think that all of us as human beings have a special need to do something for other people,” Gomez said. “[The Peace Corps] is a way for people to grow.”

Since its inception in 1961, the Peace Corps has sent more than 178,000 volunteers to 136 countries. Through the program, volunteers work with projects in various fields including agriculture, business development, information technology, public health services and education.

“It’s a grandiose experience,” Gomez said. “From traveling and knowing other cultures and looking at life, you can really grow spiritually.”

Applicants go through a six- to 12-month application process that includes an interview, medical and legal review and an official invitation from the organization. Eligibility requirements include U.S. citizenship, a 27-month commitment and a minimum age of 18.

The number of applications in the past year has also increased by 10 percent, with one of three applicants becoming a volunteer, Arnold said.

Volunteers in the Peace Corps receive benefits like loan deferment, graduate school opportunities and medical and dental care while in service.