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Notre Dame alumni drawn to Peace Corps

Megan Doyle | Friday, March 19, 2010

The 21 Notre Dame alumni currently serving in the Peace Corps h­­ave earned the University a place among the top middle-sized schools involved with the organization for the 10th consecutive year, according to the “Peace Corps Top Colleges 2010” list posted on the Corps’ Web site.

“We have a huge international focus here on campus,” said Anita Rees, associate director at the Career Center. “We try to tie that in with making the world a better place.”

Rees also mentioned that a résumé that includes the Peace Corps will aid students applying for government positions as well as certain graduate schools.

Many of the students who inquire about the Peace Corps have studied abroad, enjoyed the international perspective and “become impassioned about a sort of social issue or a vocation to make a difference there,” she said.

“I think that the leadership experiences that students can take on here at Notre Dame and the breadth of classes offered on international concepts make them ready to build networks with people who are different than them,” Rees said.

A Peace Corps recruiter at the Career Fair in the fall sparked senior Elizabeth Pinto’s interest in the program. She said the agency was “an excellent fit” for the volunteer work she was hoping to find after she graduates in the spring.

“One of the most important things I think I have learned while at Notre Dame has been that we, as students, are given the privilege of an outstanding education and tremendous opportunities for growth, but it is not simply for us,” Pinto said.

Pinto said she hopes to apply her degree in Arabic to a location in the Middle East or North Africa.

“We must take that education and all of our experiences over these four years and use them to make the world a better place in some way or form,” she said.

Notre Dame’s history with the Peace Corps began when the agency was founded in 1961 and trained some of its first volunteers on the University’s campus. Since then, over 800 Notre Dame alumni have joined the Corps as volunteers, surpassing any other Catholic college, a University press release said.

“The ethos of social justice within the Catholic tradition is one thing that sets that up very well,” Rees said.

Second-year graduate student Mirjam Wit said that the her two years in Panama as a Peace Corps volunteer were the reason behind her decision to come to Notre Dame for her Masters in Business Administration.

An undergraduate degree from Boston College and a plan to become a lobbyist for United States-Latin American relations brought Wit to the Peace Corps, but her plans changed when the lack of jobs and funding in Panama led her to pursue a graduate degree in business.

“My ultimate goal in all of this was to create opportunities for people in underdeveloped regions,” she said.

When undergraduate students approach career counselors about the Peace Corps, Rees said they should question whether or not they are cut out for the unique volunteer experience offered by the agency.

“Students who are now considering going into the Peace Corps have some tremendous examples in alumni who have gone before them,” Rees said. “We can find these alumni to speak with our students on a one-to-one level about the experience.”