Iowa City philanthropic culture shines in at no. 7 on Peace Corps list of volunteers per capita

Blake Ingram with students in Indonesia
Blake Ingram (UI MBA student) enjoying an outing with his students in Indonesia. Blake will be sharing his stories of teaching English at the next Peace Corps information session on February 2 at the Iowa City Public Library.

Iowa City ranked seventh in the Peace Corps’ 2015 listing of the country’s top volunteer-producing metro areas per capita. This is the first time the Iowa City metro area (defined as Washington and Johnson counties) reached the top 10 on the list of currently-serving Peace Corps volunteers.

“Despite its size and geographic isolation, Iowa City is engaged with – and aware of – the rest of the world. Combine that with a high rate of volunteerism and the result is a natural interest in service opportunities like the Peace Corps,” says former Iowa City Mayor Matt Hayek.

Hayek, an Iowa City native, served in the Peace Corps in Bolivia from 1992-1994. He says his Peace Corps service helped him develop leadership skills. “That experience showed me the impact an individual can have through collective action.  Much of what I learned in Bolivia helped me become a leader of organizations here in Iowa City – and, ultimately, the mayor.”

Since 1961, 3,344 Iowa residents have served as Peace Corps volunteers, with 68 currently in the field.  More than 220,000 Americans have served since the agency was established by President Kennedy.

Jissele house

Iowa City native Jissele Verdinez (B.S. human physiology and Spanish '15) in front of her home in Guatemala.

Jissele Verdinez (B.S. human physiology and Spanish ‘15) is one of the 10 currently-serving volunteers from the Iowa City metro area. She is working in the village of Chicamán, Quiché, Guatemala, on its national project, “Healthy Schools.” Verdinez had long been interested in the Peace Corps and that interest exploded once she heard returned volunteers discuss their experiences during a panel discussion at the University of Iowa. 

Peace Corps recruiter Meredith Mahy Gall hosts a variety of informational sessions on campus and in the community.  With an office in International Programs, she meets with prospective volunteers, assists prospects through the application process, presents to UI classes, and represents the Peace Corps at events.

The relationship between International Programs and the Peace Corps is a natural one. International Programs supports internationalization efforts throughout the university and encourages UI students to explore global engagement opportunities, including study abroad, career-focused internships, and volunteering. Students like Blake Smith (MPH candidate, community and behavioral health) often indicate that their career aspirations were solidified or took a new shape after experiencing study abroad.

Smith participated in the UI’s India Winterim program during his junior year and says, “That experience is what really got me interested in global health.” His Peace Corps service will begin in June 2016 in Swaziland, Africa, where he will focus on HIV/AIDS as a community health extension volunteer.

Aaron Miers hanging out with friends in Togo

Aaron Miers (UI law student) hanging out with friends in his host community in Togo.

A recent simplification of the Peace Corps application process seems to be contributing to rising Peace Corps interest. Prior to its reform, the application process was a bit of a Herculean task that could take several hours to complete, and may have deterred some applicants. But Gall saw many more prospective volunteers stop by her office in fall 2015. “20 UI students and recent grads applied between September and November, which is a large number,” she says.  “The Peace Corps received more applications in 2015 than they have in 40 years,” adding, “it's exciting to see this increase in interest in making a difference.”

More information can be found on the Peace Corps at the University of Iowa website or by contacting Meredith Mahy Gall. The next Peace Corps information session will be on February 2 at 7 p.m. in the Iowa City Public Library Meeting Room A.

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