During her time at American University, Holly Dancy pursued a degree in international studies and looked for opportunities to make connections with the subject in the real world. After graduating in 2014, she decided on volunteering with the Peace Corps to immerse herself in a foreign culture, learn a new language and work with children as a teacher.
Now, the Philadelphia native is serving in the Southern Province of Rwanda, teaching English to high school students.
“I decided to join the Peace Corps, because I wanted the opportunity to teach and also travel and see different cultures,” Dancy said “The warmth that I get from the people here in my village — the families have basically adopted me.”
The experience, Dancy said, has already proven richer than she could have predicted. The allure of life abroad is part of why young people have shown renewed interest in the Peace Corps in recent years. Dancy is among 74 AU alumni, from undergraduate and graduate programs, now in the organization.
The Peace Corps on Monday released a new study showing that AU is among the top medium-sized colleges producing volunteers for the service organization founded in 1961.
Other colleges from the Washington region sending large numbers of Peace Corps volunteers abroad include the University of Maryland, the University of Virginia, James Madison University, George Washington University, Georgetown University, Howard University, the College of William & Mary, the University of Mary Washington and St. Mary’s College of Maryland.
The Peace Corps has seen a renaissance in recent years after stagnant growth. In fiscal 2015, the organization received 23,000 applications for volunteer service, double what it drew in 2013. Since its inception, more than 225,000 Americans have deployed overseas with the Peace Corps, founded under President John F. Kennedy.
“How many of you who are going to be doctors, are willing to spend your days in Ghana?” Kennedy asked in October 1960 during a campaign speech at the University of Michigan where he outlined what became the mission of the Peace Corps.
Since then, Peace Corps volunteers have served in 141 countries. Some volunteers contribute to public health projects, others to agricultural production. And some are teachers like Dancy.
Peace Corps volunteers have helped build bathrooms in elementary schools in Senegal and improve beekeeper honey production in Ghana. Among the thousands of college graduates who served was an alumnus from Providence College, who, armed with a degree in English, volunteered in 1966 to serve two years in the Dominican Republic. Years later, as a Democratic U.S. senator from Connecticut, Christopher J. Dodd became a strong advocate on Capitol Hill for the program.
“The Peace Corps stands today as one of the singular accomplishments of the 20th century. Let us never lose that spirit, that idealism, that ambition that led a young president of a young nation to ask a generation to serve,” Dodd told the Senate in 2009.
In Peace Corps history, no campus has sent more volunteers abroad than the University of California at Berkeley, with 3,640 alumni who have joined the Peace Corps. Second is the University of Wisconsin at Madison, having sent 3,239 alumni to the service organization. The Wisconsin flagship was also the top-producing campus in 2016, with 87 undergraduate alumni now serving overseas.