November 8, 2007

Students Inquire About Peace Corps Opportunities

Although many Dickinson students are showing interest in joining the Peace Corps, many do not know where to look for information about how to apply.

“I like service, and it would be an intense and concentrated program. I wouldn’t know where to get information on campus,” said Anna Elliott ’10. But information about the program is readily available.

Though Dickinson does not have a service or counselor devoted to Peace Corps recruiting on campus, the college sends students into the Peace Corps year after year. According to the executive director of the Career Center, Patrick Mullane, over 190 Dickinson graduates have joined the Peace Corps.

Mullane said that students have recently expressed interest in several short-term commitment programs such as Teach for America and the Peace Corps.

“Interest [in the Peace Corps] was unusually high last year,” said career coach Nalylee Padilla ’09. In response, she said, the Career Center is taking steps to promote the organization.

Students like Elliott with serious interest can contact career coaches or Tammy Herberlig, the recruiting coordinator at the Career Center.According to Padilla, the most recent Peace Corps recruitment event was held on Nov. 6 in the Stern Center.

Between 50 and 70 students attended this event, which included a short film, a presentation of the organization, and Regional Recruiter for the Peace Corps Jody Tilbury’s story of her experience in Zambia from 1998 to 2000.

Mullane advised students to view the Toilet Paper, which is posted in most bathrooms across campus, for future recruitment opportunities and other upcoming Career Center events.

In addition, e-mails are periodically sent to students regarding Tilbury’s visits to campus, at least twice a year.

Tilbury works out of the New York regional office, which serves Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. She also visits other schools in central Pennsylvania such as Gettysburg, Bucknell and Kutztown.

In response to last year’s large turnout, the Career Center is organizing a short-term opportunities fair for the 2008 spring semester. The fair is scheduled to take place on Feb. 5. Two organizations, the Peace Corps and the Language Corps, have confirmed their attendance for the event.

“Given the trends, I think we will still see high numbers this year,” said Mullane.

Several faculty members with Peace Corps experience are also on campus.

Dickinson Professor of Anthropology Ann Hill was overseas in Micronesia from 1966 to 1968 as a Peace Corps volunteer. She worked to conduct “a census, and diagnostic surveys for Hansen’s disease, filariasis, and tuberculosis,” after just three months of training. “The Peace Corps experience toughened me up and helped me grow personally and in my appreciation for other cultures,” Hill said.

Professor of English Robert Ness spent two years after college in Ghana as a member of the Peace Corps. He returned to Africa years later to serve in Nigeria, where he met his wife.

“It was the best experience of my life,” Ness says. He worked in Ghana as a teacher in a girls’ secondary school and in Nigeria as a professor in a university.

Ness said that his experience in the Peace Corps was “fulfilling in so many ways,” making him more qualified for graduate school. “It’s a good way to step outside of what you have been doing for the past four years to get a perspective,” he said. Ness is often approached by students on campus searching for information and firsthand accounts of the Peace Corps experience.

“It is impossible to prepare someone for the first 24 hours. It’s an impact on the senses,” Ness said. He said the Peace Corps experience varies from country to country. Often, volunteers are a public spectacle, sticking out like a sore thumb. Ness describes a sense of loneliness frequently felt by volunteers, and said that experiencing what it is like to be a minority is a valuable, but difficult, lesson learned.

Hill agreed there were tough moments.

“The experience was fantastic, if at times painful. I mean that we had to make do on our own, with not much help from anyone or any bureaucracy.”

Emily Thurston ’04 entered the Peace Corps after graduating from Dickinson. Her first years of service were spent in Madagascar, and she is currently stationed in Kyiv, Ukraine.

“The people and the country are beautiful,” Thurston said. She said the cultural rituals and beliefs in Ukraine are much different than those in the United States. After two terms in the Peace Corps, Thurston stated that she has the ability to “compare experiences in Madagascar with the transitional economy in Ukraine.”

Students often enter the Peace Corps after college to gain experience for graduate school, as well as to spend time contemplating a future occupation. “It is a wonderful opportunity to reflect on what you want to do,” Ness said. He considered his time spent in the Peace Corps as finishing an education.

He was given a great deal of down time, during which he could read and study.

“Because of the Peace Corps experience, I became an anthropologist,” Hill said.

While the Peace Corps offers a rich opportunity for many, it is not a perfect fit for everyone. Dickinson graduate Alison Walkley ’07 returned home on Sept. 1, after spending only three months in Malawi as a Peace Corps volunteer. Walkely was miles away from another Peace Corps member, stationed at a work site where her services were not needed. She was trained to be a health volunteer, intending to educate Malawians about HIV/AIDS. However, the village inhabitants were previously informed of HIV/AIDS, and she was asked to perform tasks not related to her training. Walkley eventually left the program.

Students curious about or with questions about the Peace Corps can visit the Career Center in Biddle House for guidance.