By Stephen Gruber-Miller, grubermi@grinnell.edu

Grinnell made the Peace Corps’ annual list of top 25 highest volunteer producing schools this year, jumping 32 spots from last year to place 16th in the small colleges and universities category.

“Grinnell is a small school, but it is mighty in its Peace Corps impact,” said Peace Corps Acting Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet.
This year’s rankings for most volunteers produced in 2012 come after Grinnell’s two-year absence from the list. There are currently 16 Grinnell alumni serving as Peace Corps volunteers, three more than last year.

Gonzaga University placed first in the category of small colleges and universities, which included schools with less than 5,000 undergraduates. Gonzaga has 24 volunteers currently serving and a total undergraduate population around 4,800.

Western Washington University topped the medium category with 73 volunteers while University of Washington and University of Florida tied in the large category with 107 volunteers each.

Peace Corps volunteers serve in countries around the world for terms lasting 27 months. There are currently 8,073 volunteers serving. Volunteers from Grinnell are serving in countries as far away as Benin and Turkmenistan.

Andrea Leiser ’10 works in Benin teaching English to 6th and 7th graders. She also focuses on girls’ empowerment as the coordinator for the Peace Corps’ only internship program for high school girls in West Africa.

“As most higher-level professions are held by men in Benin, girls have little idea of what professional life means and also have few female role models,” Leiser wrote in her volunteer profile. Her internships teach girls about professional life and they then return to their communities to share that knowledge.

Leiser also cited Grinnell as an inspiration.

“Grinnell’s focus on social activism inspired me to serve in underserved communities, particularly to silenced populations,” she wrote.
Hessler-Radelet also complimented Grinnell’s activism and global outlook. She said that the language, technology, and leadership skills gained from a good education help volunteers succeed in the Peace Corps and in the job market.

She also congratulated Grinnell’s staff, including Director of Social Commitment and past Peace Corps volunteer Doug Cutchins ’93, for all the work they have done to promote service at Grinnell and beyond.

Cutchins said he is not surprised that Grinnellians gravitate towards international service programs like the Peace Corps and Grinnell Corps, which he directs.

“It’s a fantastic way for Grinnell students to live out their stated values, and to put the theory that they have learned into practice,” Cutchins wrote in an email to the S&B. “For students who are interested in careers in international public service, it’s a terrific first step.”
Cutchins also helped inspire Sam Stragand ’10, another Grinnell alumnus who recently served in the Peace Corps. Stragand taught English in Turkmenistan for two years.

“Doug Cutchins encouraged me to apply, and I spoke to several other RPCVs [Returned Peace Corps Volunteers] who also left me with a positive impression,” Stragand wrote in his volunteer profile.

The number of Grinnellians currently serving is in line with how many volunteers the College has had historically, wrote Cutchins. He noted that Grinnell has been on the Peace Corps top colleges list several times in the past.

“The way for us to keep our numbers strong is just to keep doing the things we already do: have dedicated, internationalized students who take a global commitment to service seriously,” Cutchins wrote.