A recent list published by The Washington Post listing the top schools that send students to the Peace Corps failed to mention Knox, which might be viewed as a poor result for a school that prides itself on its commitment to service and its unique Peace Corps Preparatory Program.
The Prep Program, however, argues that it is doing just fine.
Actually, “it’s probably back up after a lull,” was the judgment of program director and Associate Professor of Spanish Robin Ragan.
Numbers are hard to come by, as they come from unreliable graduate self-reporting, but Ragan estimates there are 15 Knox graduates currently serving in the field in such disparate locations as Zambia, Grenada and the Ukraine. That is out of roughly 9,000 volunteers who are overseas at any given time.
The school’s poor showing on the Post’s list is in large part because the paper places Knox in the same category as schools with several times as many students, making it virtually impossible for Knox to ever appear to do well.
A more relevant ranking might be The Washington Monthly’s annual list of liberal arts colleges, where Knox is tenth among all liberal arts schools in Peace Corps contributions. That formula is based on a ratio of Peace Corps volunteers to the total size of a school’s student body, allowing small institutions like Knox to do much better.
Designed to prepare undergraduates for service in the Peace Corps while they are still enrolled in college, Knox’s program was founded five years ago by former Associate Dean Steve Bailey and was the first of its kind in the country.
Requirements include two years of the study of a single foreign language, at least four courses in international studies taken from a set interdepartmental list and an “enhancement” such as studying abroad or internship experience in a relevant field. A total of 100 hours of community service and a half-credit class on overseas service are also necessary.
Trends are hard to determine because of the program’s relative youth and the fact that students are taken into the program as sophomores. A majority of the program’s graduates, though, never end up serving.
Of the group accepted into the program in the 2007-2008 school year, five are currently serving in the Peace Corps from a class of 17. For the next year, those numbers are four and 18. Data beyond that is unavailable as the relevant students have not yet graduated.
Getting these numbers is a continuous problem.
“One of my missions is to find out where they are serving and whether they were in the prep program or not,” Ragan said.
The Peace Corps will generally send total numbers of Knox students in the organization, but as they do not include names for privacy reasons it can be hard to tell how many of them completed the prep program.
In the end, Ragan cited the close alignment between Knox’s values as an institution and those of the Peace Corps as well as the desire of many students to see the world, especially the world beyond major tourist destinations, to explain why the program has been successful.
“It all comes back to doing meaningful work,” she said.
This year is the fifth anniversary of the establishment of Knox’s program. The weekend of April 12 and 13 will see a series of events held on campus to commemorate the event. Guests expected to come include the graduates of the prep program’s first year.