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Peace Corps makes MU cradle of service

By Emily C. Tate
On March 11, 2014

With its 'J. Crew U' reputation and continually high placement on "Best Party Colleges" lists, perhaps Miami University is not the most likely candidate for an organization that requires its volunteers to serve 27 months in a developing country. However, for many years now, Miami has produced enough Peace Corps volunteers to be considered one of the Peace Corps Top Colleges.

Established in 1961, the U.S. Peace Corps is a service organization that sends American volunteers all across the globe to foster peaceful relations with other countries and promote sustainable development through educational, environmental and health programs.

According to its website, the Peace Corps has produced more than 215,000 volunteers across 139 countries to-date. Of these volunteers, 876 have been Miami alumni, based on a Miami news article from February 2013.

Katie Sylvester, the Peace Corps Regional Recruiter for Cincinnati, Dayton and Columbus, said Miami has always had a strong partnership with the Peace Corps, and as a result, the organization has invested a lot of time and recruitment in the university.

"When I first took this position in fall of 2010, there was already an inherent interest in Peace Corps [at Miami]," Sylvester said. "It was my job to cultivate that interest. Miami students want to be globally engaged, they want to learn more about and visit other countries."

Sylvester said she could identify a number of reasons why Miami is such a top-producing Peace Corps university - named 11 in the nation for medium colleges and universities in 2013.

For one, she said, the particular degrees offered at Miami tend to be a really great fit for the Peace Corps.

"For example, the department of Kinesiology and Health offers many relevant programs," she said. "The education program at Miami produces excellent teachers and the Farmer School [of Business] produces excellent business-minded students."

Sylvester said each of those specific majors translates well into a related Peace Corps field.

In addition to the degrees Miami offers, its strong Peace Corps influence comes from several other factors, Sylvester said.

"Miami has one of the most involved career services departments I've seen," she said. "And they have really strong study abroad and international education programs that spark students' interests to travel and seek other global opportunities."

Most of all though, Sylvester said it comes down to Miami's core values as an institution, which ultimately transform into the core values of its students.

Visiting Assistant Professor of International Studies Chris Sarver served in Guatemala for the Peace Corps from 1993-95. He has worked at seven different universities but said he did not know anything about Miami's Peace Corps reputation when he accepted his position here. Now, having spent several years at the school, he was able to provide his own explanations for Miamians' high interest in the Peace Corps.

"You have to have a passion for service and an interest in developing countries - that's a prerequisite," Sarver said. "But there's a practical side to it. It's very much for people who want to get into international service as a career - meaning learning a foreign language, having experience abroad, etc. - and this opens a lot of doors that could also lead to Peace Corps."

Throughout his time here, Sarver learned of Miami's various stigmas but has developed his own perspective on the student body.

"Miami has this reputation of being J. Crew U and what not, but there are a lot of students here who are very service-oriented and do a lot of volunteer work," he said. "It's been my experience that the students here, regardless of their backgrounds, have a real genuine interest in this kind of thing."

For senior Nicole Theodore, who is now in the midst of the Peace Corps' application process, this was not something she had always wanted to do but something that eventually just made sense.

"I always had this weird urge to do something to help the world since I was like 12 [years old]," Theodore said. "When I was little I would always watch documentaries on the Discovery Channel with my dad, and it just made me want to travel and go help."

Theodore studied abroad in Kosovo last summer, and her experience ultimately led her to apply to the Peace Corps.

"Kosovo, for me, was extremely eye-opening in terms of poverty," she said. "It was the experience of Kosovo and meeting a fellow Miami alum there who was in the Peace Corps that led me to apply."

Theodore explained Miami's presence in the Peace Corps in a similar fashion as both Sylvester and Sarver, but she attributed most of it to study abroad programs.

"I honestly think it's because there's so many abroad opportunities focused on helping people," she said. "Miami just does so much in terms of [study] abroad programs and volunteer service. You can be involved in really anything, but the only way you're going to really learn these things is by going there yourself."

Since beginning the application process with the Peace Corps in November, Theodore has taken advantage of some of the resources Miami provides through the organization, such as office hours and the spring career fair.

Representatives for the Peace Corps come to Miami several times a year, where they hold information sessions and have open office hours. At these events, helpful Peace Corps employees like Sylvester are available to answer questions and explain the process to anyone interested.


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