Cal ranked ninth in number of Peace Corps volunteers

In a rural Peruvian village in the northern Andes Mountains, UC Berkeley graduate and Peace Corps volunteer Devina Kuo worked hand in hand with local nurses and health workers to provide basic health care to mothers, teens and children.

Kuo — who spent three years in Peru after completing her undergraduate degree in social welfare — is among thousands of campus graduates who have volunteered with the Peace Corps. In a report released by the organization Wednesday, the campus ranked ninth in the number of volunteers produced by large colleges and universities in 2011.

According to the Peace Corps Top Colleges 2012 report, 84 former campus undergraduates are currently serving as volunteers overseas, living and working in developing countries for two years or more.

The campus also maintained its historical ranking as the college which has produced the most Peace Corps volunteers since the agency’s creation in 1961 — as of Sept. 30, 2011, the campus produced a total of 3,497 volunteers over its history.

The campus’ number one ranking “really does highlight Cal’s dedication to service,” said Yune Lee, the agency’s designated campus recruiter. “Berkeley still remains a strong supporter of public service and turns out really amazing Peace Corps volunteers and stellar applicants that serve overseas.”

In 2010, the campus ranked sixth in the country for the number of volunteers with 92 volunteers, and in 2009 the campus ranked third with 89 volunteers.

Lee attributes the campus’ fluctuating number of volunteers and declining ranking position among the top universities to the number of programs the organization offers each year.

“Rankings in general depend on what kind of programs are available and where we can place people year to year,” she said. “The thing to focus on is that Cal has consistently held the number one spot, and that’s something to be proud of.”

As students in universities around the country become more aware of global issues and apply to the Peace Corps in greater numbers, competition to produce the highest number of volunteers has increased among the top-ranking universities, said  Melanie Forthun, spokesperson for the Peace Corps’ Northwest region recruiting office.

The University of Colorado at Boulder produced the highest number of volunteers in the country in 2011 with 112 volunteers, while UCLA ranked sixth with 96 volunteers.

“There’s obviously fluctuations year to year but it’s quite impressive that Berkeley has remained in the top ten,” Forthun said.

Currently, the Peace Corps has 9,095 volunteers in over 75 countries that span the globe from South America to Africa to work on issues ranging from AIDS education to information technology and environmental preservation, according to Forthun.

Kuo described the three years she spent in Peru working as a community health promoter as life-changing, expanding her service beyond health care by working in environment and small business development. She originally spoke with a campus Peace Corps recruiter during her freshman year, with the goal of working in a Spanish-speaking country.

“After the short two years, or however long we have, I think we come back a different person,” Kuo said. “You learn to work with limited resources and use what you have to make things happen. You learn to work as a team.”

Afsana Afzal covers academics and administration.