UC Berkeley ranks among top universities to produce Peace Corps volunteers

Gabrianna Dumagun/Staff

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In line with annual trends, UC Berkeley continues to rank high among universities in the nation to produce Peace Corps volunteers, though falling to seventh place after ranking sixth last year.

According to the Peace Corps Top Colleges 2014 report released Tuesday, 66 volunteers hailed from UC Berkeley in 2013, falling just below UCLA with 67. With more than 3,500 alumni, UC Berkeley still holds the record for producing the most volunteers since the organization’s founding in 1961.

In recent years, the Peace Corps has experienced an overall decrease in its number of undergraduate alumni who are volunteers. Although the University of Wisconsin at Madison is ranked first on the list this year after being third last year, the school saw a decrease of 13 volunteers. Similarly, UC Berkeley experienced a decrease of nearly 20 in the same period.

Mike Bishop, interim director of the UC Berkeley Public Service Center, speculates that gradual increases in student tuition over the years have deterred students from participating in public service.

“Students can’t serve because there is a push to engage in career-building activities,” Bishop said.

Yet Clint Niehus, a Cal Peace Corps representative who volunteered in Senegal from 2010 to 2012, offers an alternative explanation. He said there have been fewer openings for volunteers in recent years because the Peace Corps has been restructuring where and how the organization allocates its resources, now operating in fewer countries than ever before.

“(The Peace Corps has) had to re-evaluate and reprioritize how we present ourselves around the world and where we put our resources,” Niehus said. “So there have been fewer openings for volunteers.”

The Peace Corps is a federal organization that has sent more than 215,000 American volunteers overseas to live and work in developing nations. After federal budget cuts slashed about $19 million from the Peace Corps’ 2013 budget, the organization had to scale back across the board, according to the Peace Corps Worldwide’s website.

Despite the dip in volunteers from UC Berkeley, Bishop said students’ dedication to public service has always been a crucial component of the campus’s legacy.

“The students here have a passion for applying their classroom learning to pressing social issues, both locally and internationally,” Bishop said.

UC Berkeley alumni who volunteer are particularly interested in sectors involving health, youth development, the environment and agriculture, according to Niehus.

In addition to wanting to contribute to society, UC Berkeley students want to experience life abroad, said Avnee Nulkar, one of the student facilitators of the Peace Corps DeCal this semester.

“It’s not just that (volunteers) bring the American culture into another one,” said Michelle Lin, a UC Berkeley junior who also facilitates the DeCal. “They get to integrate themselves into different cultures.”

Contact Ivy Kim at [email protected]