According to recently released annual rankings from the Peace Corps, Macalester College has moved up from fifth to third place in the small college category. There are currently 17 Macalester alumni abroad and, since the creation of the program in 1961, there have been 369 Macalester volunteers abroad.
Three other Minnesota schools were recognized for their contribution of volunteers as well, in all three categories. University of Minnesota- Twin Cities ranked third in the large school category with 59 volunteers abroad, University of Minnesota-Duluth was 20th in the medium school category with 14 volunteers abroad, and Carleton College ranked fourth, one place behind Macalester, on the small school list with 13 volunteers abroad.
Founded in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy, the Peace Corps is a cultural exchange program to send American volunteers abroad to work on grassroots development projects. Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet said that “the Peace Corps is a unique opportunity for college graduates to put their education into practice and become agents of change in communities around the world.”
Hessler-Radelet added that “today’s graduates understand the importance of intercultural understanding and are raising their hands in record numbers to take on the challenge of international service.”
The Peace Corps attributes increasing application numbers to changes they have made within the application system. To better personalize the application, volunteers can select where they would like to go. The whole process is much quicker than it was a few years ago.
Macalester graduate Benjamin Lavin ’14 was highlighted by the Peace Corps as an excellent example of an international volunteer. He is currently serving in Benin.
“I work with an organization which runs a trash collection business using motorized tricycles. My role is helping improve the management (financial and logistical) and to expand the service to cover more unserved households.”
“Secondarily, I am a member of our malaria committee, Benin Against Malaria (BAM). In that role, I and another volunteers are finalizing an Android application that we have created to conduct mosquito net distributions. Additionally, I work with women’s groups on financial management and to improve nutritional practices,” Lavin said about his duties as a volunteer.
He credits the values and programs at Macalester with pushing him towards volunteering with the Peace Corps. “My Macalester experience played a large role in my decision to become a Peace Corps volunteer. As a sophomore, I joined the Macalester Development Group (which is focused on international development) and eventually became a co-president my senior year. Courses such as development politics with David Blaney challenged my conceptions of development but at the same time inspired me to international service.”
Lavin said study abroad helped him experience cultural differences in a challenging way, something he has learned to appreciate in the Peace Corps.
After the Peace Corps, Lavin wants to continue working in development-related projects abroad.