Serving in the Peace Corps always has required courage, compassion and commitment. From the start, University of Denver students have stepped up to the challenge.
Beginning with Kevin Dixon (BA '62), more than 400 DU students and alumni have participated in projects all over the world; today's students have worked in countries ranging from Burkina Faso to Ukraine.
In 2011, DU ranked No. 2 among colleges and universities participating in the Peace Corps' Paul D. Coverdell Fellows program, which permits returned volunteers to pursue master's or doctorate degrees in more than 60 universities around the country at a reduced cost. The Josef Korbel School of International Studies also sponsors students in the Master's International program, which allows students to begin coursework on campus, serve in the Peace Corps for two years on projects related to their studies, then return to campus to finish their degrees.
No matter when or why they joined, or where they went, one theme stands out among Peace Corps volunteers: The experience helped shape the direction and flavor of their lives.
"I think I told myself that it was something I couldn't do; it was something too exciting that I wouldn't be able to be a part of," says Sandra Meek (PhD '95), who taught English in Botswana from 1989-91 as a Peace Corps volunteer. "You just go and figure it out when you go. It really changed me as a teacher, a writer, an editor and a person."
Judy Bennett is proof positive that the Peace Corps isn't just for twentysomethings. At the age of 52, and with a lifetime of experience in nonprofits, she began serving in Ignalina, Lithuania, in 1999 as an adviser to nongovernmental organizations. On the side, she also helped develop tourism there and taught English to adults.
Though she had toyed with the idea of joining the Peace Corps when she was younger, Bennett says she wasn't prepared then to commit to the two-year obligation. But when she turned 50, "I rented a little cabin on the coast of Maine for a few days and decided to divorce my husband, sell my house and do some kind of international service work," she says. "I [still] liked the philosophy of the Peace Corps, the support that it gave, and I was ready for the commitment."
Bennett says she reapplied for another two-year stint about three years ago, but she did not clear medically.
Instead, she and her current husband now work on water projects in the Dominican Republic with the Rotary Club. "We talk about ways we could do something similar to the Peace Corps. He's up for the challenge, and I would love to live in another country again. Now that I'm 64, I'd like to be somewhere where I have running water. I'm not as adventurous as I used to be."
- John Coyne, University of Denver Magazine