By Madeleine Thompson
A recent rankings report by the Peace Corps revealed that Kenyon has the eighth highest number of Peace Corps volunteers among small colleges and universities, with 16. Tied with nine other schools in the category, including Lewis and Clark College and Grinnell College, Kenyon had eight fewer volunteers than the leading small institution, Gonzaga University. The University of Washington topped the large colleges and universities bracket with 107 volunteers.
“It’s in the nature of the liberal arts that, the best efforts of career development notwithstanding, a lot of people aren’t entirely sure what they’re going to do [after college],” said Writer-In-Residence P. F. Kluge ’64, who serves as the advisor for the Collegian. Kluge has written and spoken extensively about his time as a Peace Corps volunteer in Saipan.
“I think the Peace Corps applies to those who … are still wondering,” Kluge said. “And if they take that sense of wonder out into the world, the Peace Corps accommodates them.”
Kluge noted that while he wanted to see the world, Kenyon had accustomed him to “a tight weave of life,” and prepared him in that way for the pace of life in Saipan.
Peace Corps Public Affairs Coordinator for the Midwest Region Jessica Mayle has also noticed trends in the kinds of applicants and volunteers that come from small, liberal arts schools.
“What we see from a lot of generalists [students who come from liberal arts backgrounds] … is just a commitment to making a difference,” Mayle said. “That’s something that they do on their campuses and they want to do it in a bigger way.”
Others speculate that Kenyon’s relative isolation draws students to the Peace Corps’ promise of a far-flung posting. “If you think about it, Kenyon is literally up on a hill in the middle of nowhere,” said Director of the Career Development Office (CDO) Scott Layson. “[Students] are really viewing [it] from an outside perspective, and I think it gives them a different viewpoint. I do think our curriculum has something to do with it, but I think it’s the Kenyon experience taken in toll.”
It is difficult for the CDO to collect data analyzing how many students have been in the Peace Corps, what their majors were and other statistics. “It’s one of the weaknesses in terms of data,” Layson said. “Everything is very self-report. So if [students and former students] don’t tell us, we don’t know.”
Peace Corps representatives typically visit campus twice a year, but occasionally return for interviews or hold Skype sessions.
“We have only a modicum of utilities that we can use to advertise to students, but I’m frequently stunned at students’ ability to ignore that,” Layson said. “We can’t get into classrooms but we’ve been trying to work with different groups on campus … where there’s an opportunity to get the message out.”
Chief Business Officer Mark Kohlman was assigned to teach math with the Peace Corps in Benin, West Africa, where he also helped to dig wells and build a library, and then stayed on as a staff member after his two years were up.
“It was an outstanding experience that kind of directed what I wanted to do with the rest of my life,” Kohlman said. “Because you get such a broad exposure to a lot of different things, [Kenyon] gives you training that fits well with the Peace Corps experience. You have to be able to adapt to new challenges.”
Now in its 52nd year, the Peace Corps has experienced fairly constant growth in the number of volunteers who apply each year, which Mayle expects will continue.
“I quickly became skeptical of lots of things” in the Peace Corps, Kluge said. “But I did care about the people I met overseas and the places I discovered. I sure don’t regret it.”