At the height of Cold War tensions, President John F. Kennedy noticed that the Soviet Union was sending hundreds of scientists, teachers and health-care workers abroad in the name of goodwill. That inspired him to ask future doctors and teachers amid a crowd of 10,000 students at the University of Michigan whether they’d be willing to use their skills in Ghana, to travel the world in service of the greater good.
One year later, in 1961, Kennedy signed an executive order creating the Peace Corps, a U.S. government program that trains and deploys volunteers to provide international development assistance. The goal (aside from world peace) was to compete with the Soviet Union by promoting a better understanding of America while giving Americans a better understanding of the world. That opportunity took off at the UW, which, since 2001, has consistently ranked in the top three volunteer-producing universities in the nation.
“Being situated in the Pacific Northwest, UW students tend to be very keyed into current events and issues,” explains Amanda Li, the UW Peace Corps campus recruiter. Since 1961, the UW has sent 3,132 changemakers all over the world. After a pause in volunteerism during the pandemic, 24 recent UW graduates currently serve in 16 countries worldwide.