As an anthropology major at Grinnell College, Andrea Leiser ’10 volunteered as co-leader of a group that worked to end the stigma of mental health issues. Three years later, Leiser is a Peace Corps volunteer in Benin, teaching English and introducing local instructors to new teaching methods.
Leiser is one of 16 Grinnell alumni currently serving in the Peace Corps—a participation rate that puts Grinnell eighth in the nation in a recent list of Peace Corps Top Colleges.
Since the Peace Corps’ founding in 1961, 365 Grinnell grads—including former Grinnell President George Drake ’56 and his wife, Sue—have served as Peace Corps volunteers. Leiser sees a direct link between her Grinnell experience and her current work with the Peace Corps. “Grinnell’s focus on social activism inspired me to work in underserved communities, particularly with silenced populations,” she said. “I knew I wanted to do something ‘meaningful’ right out of college. I wanted a completely different experience to broaden my perspective on the developing world and my own country, and to help me figure out how I wanted to fit my career into this global system.”
Grinnell College’s connections to the Peace Corps are long and deep. The college’s “fifth- year travel-service program” — which existed at Grinnell until 1964 — preceded the establishment of the Peace Corps by many years. The college established a teaching program in Nanjing in the 1980s, and created a similar program in Lesotho in 1997. And since 2001, the college has supported international service through the Grinnell Corps, six one-year, post-graduation service programs for graduating seniors. Last year, Grinnell graduated more Peace Corps volunteers per capita than almost any other college or university in the nation.
“Service with an international focus is a natural for Grinnell students,” said Doug Cutchins ’93, the college’s director of social commitment. “Every year, dozens of Grinnell students pursue opportunities to serve abroad through the Peace Corps, Grinnell Corps, Watson Fellowships, and other programs. The college is serious about supporting and encouraging these efforts,” he added, “and we’re proud that Grinnell has so many individuals committed to making a difference at home and abroad. “
Carrie Hessler-Radelet, acting director of the Peace Corps, said the organization welcomes graduates of Grinnell and other highly selective colleges. “As a result of the top-notch education they receive, these graduates are well prepared for the challenge of international service,” she said. “They become leaders in their host communities and carry the spirit of service and leadership back with them when they return home.”
Hessler-Radelet said Peace Corps service makes a difference not only to the communities served, but also to the volunteers themselves, who return home as global citizens with cross-cultural, leadership, language, teaching and community development skills that position them for advanced education and professional opportunities in the global job market.
For Leiser, the experience has been a natural and important extension of her academic experience at Grinnell. “I knew from my studies in anthropology that the best way to broaden my knowledge was from firsthand experience,” she said, “not simply reading someone else’s thoughts or the media’s interpretation of a situation.”
About Grinnell College Since its founding in 1846, Grinnell has become one of the nation’s premier liberal arts colleges, enrolling 1,600 students from all 50 states and from as many international countries. Grinnell’s rigorous academic program emphasizes excellence in education for students in the liberal arts; the college offers the B.A. degree in a range of departments across the humanities, arts and sciences. Grinnell has a strong tradition of social responsibility and action, and self-governance and personal responsibility are key components of campus life. More information about Grinnell College is available at www.grinnell.edu.
About the Peace Corps Since President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps by executive order on March 1, 1961, more than 210,000 Americans have served in 139 host countries. Today, 8,073 volunteers are working with local communities in 76 host countries in agriculture, community economic development, education, environment, health and youth in development. Approximately 95 of these current volunteers are Iowa residents, and 2,251 Iowa residents have served since the agency was created in 1961. Peace Corps volunteers must be U.S. citizens and at least 18 years of age. Peace Corps service is a 27-month commitment, and the agency’s mission is to promote world peace and friendship and a better understanding between Americans and people of other countries. Visit www.peacecorps.gov for more information, and read about the work and experiences of current volunteers from the Midwest at http://midwestpcvs.wordpress.com/.