By Brianna Jett, The Daily Iowan
UI alum and former Peace Corps volunteer Amy Bowes wears traditional clothing on Cultural Day in Lesotho. Bowes is currently a study abroad advisor at the UI and specializes in connecting students with work, intern, and volunteer abroad opportunities.
An increasing number of University of Iowa students are choosing to not only study abroad but also to work and volunteer overseas. The university is ranked 46th, among schools of its size, in the number of students graduating and joining the Peace Corps.
The UI recently increased its response to this demand by creating a position specifically geared toward students wanting to work, intern, or volunteer abroad.
The position has been in place for 18 months, and officials have seen good results.
“It’s an area of growth,” said Downing Thomas, the dean of International Programs. “I think there are different ways students decide to become involved abroad.”
Currently, there are 28 UI alumni serving with the Peace Corps in 24 different countries.
“I think the UI has consistently had a strong number of students go into the Peace Corps,” said Meredith Mahy Gall, the UI Peace Corps representative.
For those students considering applying for the corps, there is a revamped online application aimed at making the process smoother and faster. Application times can take as long as nine months.
“The whole internal system has changed,” said Jessica Mayle, the public-affairs coordinator of the Peace Corps Chicago regional office. “Just in general, we expect people to move through the system faster.”
But even without online applications, UI alumni have been a part of the Peace Corps since it was created in 1961 — and both sides have benefited.
“Peace Corps service really makes a difference in the lives of those served and of those who volunteer,” Mayle said.
UI alumni currently serve all over the world, from Albania to Zambia. They work in varied sectors: agriculture, education, environment, health, community economic development, and youth development.
“They’re in all of the sectors, doing all the kinds of work Peace Corps volunteers do,” Mayle said. “That’s really interesting because it shows the wide range of skills UI students have.”
For Mahy Gall, who works to recruit UI students, the program is personal; she served in Botswana from 1995-1997.
“It gave me a chance to experience life differently,” she said.
Mahy Gall appreciates the strength of the relationship between the UI and the Peace Corps, seen both in the support from faculty and staff and the enthusiasm from past volunteers.
The Peace Corps does not just take students from the UI — sometimes, those students come back.
“There is a great community of returning volunteers,” Mahy Gall said.
Some return to attend graduate school — some return later as faculty or staff.
“The Peace Corps opportunities are a big commitment, but those who have taken that up and come back have grown tremendously,” Thomas said.
But the benefits aren’t limited to personal rewards.
“[The program] really helps volunteers launch a global career,” Mayle said.
Thomas hopes the university will continue to increase its international programs.
“The UI is only growing its global footprints,” he said. “Students and faculty are the ones who will benefit.”