UW ranks high among Peace Corps volunteers

On their first date, Dash Walczak and Jade Fairbanks talked about their mutual desire to join the Peace Corps. After graduating from UW in 2013 and completing three months of training with the Peace Corps, they began work in their new host countries — Walczak as an education volunteer in Madagascar and Fairbanks as a health volunteer in Burkina Faso.

The dedication of alumni like Walczak and Fairbanks is why the UW has been ranked as one of the top producers of Peace Corps volunteers in the country for the last decade. 

The Peace Corps sends American volunteers all over the world to help communities develop solutions to their most difficult challenges, including health, economic growth, and education.  Walczak and Fairbanks are two of 85 UW alumni currently serving as Peace Corps volunteers around the world. These graduates make UW one of the top volunteer-producing large-sized schools in the country, second only to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which has 90 alumni currently serving.

“UW students are very socially and globally minded people,” said Kristi Moses, a representative for the Peace Corps in Seattle. “They want to make a difference in the world.”

This attitude has helped the UW to maintain its rank as one of the top three producers of Peace Corps volunteers for the last decade. Since the Peace Corps’ founding in 1961, more than 2,800 UW alumni have served.

In the announcement of the 2014 volunteer rankings, the Peace Corps recognized the UW for its continued commitment.

“We take enormous pride in recognizing and thanking the University of Washington for its continuing tradition of developing dedicated individuals who choose to serve the Peace Corps mission of promoting world peace and friendship,” said Janet Allen, the Peace Corps’ West Coast regional manager.

According to Walczak, the UW’s study abroad program fosters a global mindset among undergraduate students.

“It encourages students to explore the world and apply their knowledge in the field,” Walczak said. “And students going abroad and sharing their experiences with friends is a snowball effect.”

Walczak’s interest in the Peace Corps began when he was young, but it wasn’t until he spent time in Zambia as part of a UW summer exploration seminar that he decided to make the commitment. During the seminar, he had the chance to meet Peace Corps volunteers in Zambia and learn about their work.

“There’s a lot of fear,” Walczak said of joining the Peace Corps. “You’re leaving your life … (but) it’s surprising how quickly you integrate and feel at home in your host country, with some determination.” Two other Washington state schools were recognized by the Peace Corps. Western Washington University was named the top volunteer producer among medium-sized schools and Gonzaga University the top producer among small schools.

There will be a panel of returned Peace Corps volunteers speaking Thursday from 6 to 7:30 p.m. in Smith Hall.

For more information about the Peace Corps, visit peacecorps.gov. 

Reach reporter Eleanor Cummins at news@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @elliepses 

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