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Civic Engagement

Grinnell a Top Peace Corps School

Sachiko Graber '12

Sachiko Graber ’12 (left) with her teachers on day of cultural celebration.

For the third year in a row, Grinnell College has earned a spot on Peace Corps’ annual list of the top volunteer-producing colleges and universities. Moving up 11 places, Grinnell ranks No. 10 among small schools nationwide with 11 alumni currently serving overseas as Peace Corps volunteers.

Since the agency was created in 1961, 374 Grinnell graduates have made a difference as Peace Corps volunteers.

“The Peace Corps provides an indispensable opportunity for young people out of college to put their unique skills to work making a difference for communities around the world,” Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet said. “Volunteers make lasting change by living and working at the grassroots level in their communities of service and using their talents to tackle some of the most critical challenges in international development.”

Sachiko Graber ’12 makes a difference as an education volunteer in Namibia. She teaches eighth grade math and leads several sports programs, including soccer, rugby, and track and field. Arriving in Namibia in July 2012, Graber chose to extend her service a third year to teach English and develop a science laboratory.

Graber graduated from Grinnell in May 2012 with a degree in physics

“Grinnell gave me was a self-sufficiency and self-motivation that has helped me immensely in Peace Corps,” she said. “At Grinnell, I always filled my schedule with every possible activity — organized or not — and I have been lucky enough to bring that same mentality to the village. I have found or created a lot of new projects, such as starting a science laboratory project, and I think that I was able to do this in part because of the confidence and willingness to branch out into many different disciplines that I acquired at Grinnell.”

Nationally, the University of Washington in Seattle pulled in the highest number of volunteers with 72 graduates currently serving in the Peace Corps. You can view the entire top 25 rankings for each school size category.

Service in the Peace Corps is a life-defining, hands-on leadership experience that offers volunteers the opportunity to travel to the farthest corners of the world and work on sustainable development projects in agriculture, community economic development, education, environment, health, and youth development.

Volunteers return home as global citizens with cross-cultural, leadership, language, teaching, and community development skills that position them well for advanced education and professional opportunities in a 21st-century job market.

This year’s rankings follow historic reforms to Peace Corps’ application and selection process, led by Hessler-Radelet, that resulted in a 22-year application high for the agency in 2014. Through a one-hour online application, applicants can now choose the countries and programs they’d like to be considered for. Graduating college students are encouraged to browse open programs and apply by April 1 for assignments departing fall 2015.

Iowa-based Peace Corps recruiter Ryan Cairns, a returned volunteer who served in Bulgaria, advises Grinnell candidates.

Approximately 68 Iowa residents are currently serving in the Peace Corps. Overall, 2,316 Iowa residents have served since the agency was created in 1961.

About the Peace Corps

The Peace Corps sends the best and brightest Americans abroad on behalf of the United States to tackle the most pressing needs of people around the world. Volunteers work at the grassroots level to develop sustainable solutions that address challenges in education, health, economic development, agriculture, environment, and youth development. 

Through their service, volunteers gain a unique cultural understanding and a life-long commitment to service that positions them to succeed in today’s global economy. Since President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps in 1961, nearly 220,000 Americans of all ages have served in 140 countries worldwide.

For more information, visit Peace Corps' website and follow Peace Corp on Facebook and Peace Corp on Twitter.


Service Learning Success

At Grinnell, an array of class-related experiences outside of the main academic buildings gives students a chance to dig deeper into topics in real-world settings.

Take Asani Seawell’s Advanced Health Psychology course, for example. Seawell, an associate professor of psychology, used the class to offer students deeper knowledge while also helping their community. With the assistance of Susan Sanning, assistant director of service learning and engagement with the Center for Careers, Life, and Service, the students in Seawell’s course developed community interventions that aim to ease adolescent obesity.

The course combines Grinnell’s extensive commitment to community engagement and social responsibility.

Investigation and Introspection

The course focused on the creation of a number of community interventions. The students spent their time in and out of the classroom examining obesity issues. They observed and interviewed patients who were having bariatric surgeries at the Grinnell Regional Medical Center. Some students interviewed patients who were undergoing surgery long after their dramatic weight loss following bariatric surgery, such as a breast reconstruction and a skin removal procedure.

As a result of personal interactions and observations and examining the primary literature, Seawell’s students gained a much more nuanced view of obesity. “Now I question everything,” says Beth Gillig ’15. “I’m more of a critical thinker.”

The class also extended students’ knowledge of the community, thanks to Susan Sanning, who helped them find community partners. “One focus of the class was to highlight obesity in a different way,” says Emily Twedell ’15, “and it did.” “We also designed community interventions so that there’s no disconnect between the researchers and the community,” says Gillig.

Intervention Implementation

Asani Seawell and students

Last year, Ellie Garza ’14 developed an intervention in Seawell’s class that would help children ages 2 to 12 learn about nutrition and grocery stores. She and Sanning worked with Hy-Vee to establish the healthy kids kiosk. Garza considered the needs of the community and sustainability issues when planning this project. “I wanted this to be something community members could pick up on their own,” she says.

Between the class and the implementation of her proposal, Garza figured out her next steps after graduation. “This class and the project inspired me to apply for health psychology research positions,” says Garza, who will be working at a research lab at Northwestern University where she will be involved in implementing a behavioral intervention for individuals struggling with obesity. Being able to make her intervention happen outside of class was one of the opportunities that steered Garza in this direction.

This year’s proposed projects ranged from a partnership with 4-H to a cookbook, a series of community walks, and a program at a local youth center. When the students return to Grinnell in the fall, they will have the opportunity to meet with community organizations to repeat the success of the healthy kids kiosk with their own projects.

Civic Engagement Across Campus

Philanthropic Endeavors through Community Enhancement

The Office of Community Enhancement & Engagement supports the college’s core mission by helping our hometown become an even stronger place to live, work, and study. Serving as a liaison between Grinnell College and the surrounding community, the office administers the college’s gifts and grants, and actively facilitates other town/gown connections to enhance the experience and vitality of life in Grinnell.

Service Awards and Prizes

Grinnell’s commitment to social justice and serving the common good is reflected in the college’s strong philosophy of student self-governance and personal responsibility, as well as in campus programs and initiatives that encourage students, staff, faculty, alumni, and the larger community to learn about civic issues and effect positive social change. Each year through various scholarships, fellowships, and awards the college recognizes individuals for outstanding commitment and innovation in serving the common good. Below are a few examples of such awards. 



OrgSync is a Campus Engagement Network in which you can:
1. Find forms and applications. For example: Service Transportation requests, AltBreak & ReNew applications, Community Service Work-Study applications, etc.
2. Browse service opportunities provided by student organizations and community partner organizations.
3. Register new student organizations
4. Create co-curricular profiles that track your activities, service participation, and professional skills.
5. Manage student organizations' projects and memberships

Mission & Goals

Welcome to the Service Learning and Civic Engagement Office!

The students, faculty, and staff of Grinnell College have long been committed to social responsibility. Grinnell was a center for abolitionist activity before and during the Civil War, and it later played a key role in the Social Gospel Reform Movement. During the New Deal, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Grinnell alumni—including Harry Hopkins, Paul Appleby, and Hallie Flanagan—to positions in his “New Deal” administration.

Community Partners

Whether you are a student looking to connect to the community in a meaningful way, a faculty member wanting to add a service component to one of your courses, or staff member interested in a new project, the Service Learning and Civic Engagement Program can assist you in connecting with local organizations. Susan Sanning, Assistant Director of Service Learning and Engagement, is happy to talk with you and help you explore opportunities that match your individual interests, needs, and strengths.