by Gretchen Kell
Berkeley has been named the top university in the country for the number of Peace Corps volunteers it has produced since President John F. Kennedy established the agency 36 years ago.
In Washington, D.C., on Aug. 25, Peace Corps Director Mark Gearan announced the 50 colleges and universities with the highest cumulative number of Peace Corps volunteers. Berkeley took first place with 2,960 volunteers; the University of Wisconsin-Madison was second with 2,237 volunteers.
With 150,000 Americans having joined the Peace Corps since 1961, the agency decided to research which schools had produced the most volunteers. Eleven of the schools in the top 50 are in California, the state with the highest all-time number of volunteers-more than 20,000.
Gearan said that Berkeley's top ranking was "no surprise, because at Berkeley, service is a tradition. The idea of giving something back to your community and to the world is not just a cliché, but a way of life."
Graduates of Berkeley, the site of the first-ever Peace Corps recruitment campaign in 1961, were among the first 50 volunteers to join the Peace Corps. That year in September, they left for Ghana to teach high school.
"Those students set the trend," said Maryann Murray, director of the Peace Corps' San Francisco office. The office has a part-time recruiter on the Berkeley campus.
Known worldwide for its political and social activism, Berkeley produces students "who have seen and been part of change at the grassroots level throughout their college careers," said Murray. "Peace Corps has been a logical next step for their energies and talents."
Patricia Wilkinson Garamendi, a Berkeley alumna who is associate director of the Peace Corps in Washington, D.C., and wife of U.S. Deputy Secretary of the Interior John Garamendi, said it was Kennedy's Bay Area speeches in the early 1960s and Berkeley's atmosphere of activism and idealism that inspired her and other students to join.
"Historically speaking," she said, "it's significant that Berkeley caught on first. They led the way, they jump-started the Peace Corps, and now they're being validated after 36 years. It all started at Berkeley."
She said she had heard Kennedy's "very powerful" speech at Berkeley's Memorial Stadium in 1962 as a high school senior from Watsonville, Calif. She and her classmates traveled to campus to be among 80,000 people who "heard the call for young men-and young women-to serve. As women, it opened the doors of the world to us" at a time when women had limited career choices.
Garamendi and her husband, also a Berkeley graduate, married as college seniors and went to Ethiopia as Peace Corps volunteers after graduation. "John had been accepted to Harvard for an MBA," she said, "but I said, 'I'd love to marry you, but we're going into the Peace Corps.' He said he'd been thinking of joining, too, so we went together."
She added that Berkeley's first-place ranking also can be attributed to the types of students who choose the diverse campus for their education.
Chancellor Berdahl agreed, saying, "To know we have the largest number of Peace Corps volunteers of any campus in the country reflects on the quality of the people who choose to come to Berkeley and their values. They want to make the world a better place."
While Berkeley hasn't always produced the highest number of Peace Corps volunteers per year, said Murray, "it has held fast to its overall, cumulative volunteer ranking since 1961, and no other university has come close to overtaking it."
"When Berkeley sends its 3,000th volunteer to the Peace Corps," she added, "that will be something really special."
That day may not be far off. The campus is in another growth spurt when it comes to producing volunteers. During the past 10 years, the number of volunteers-the vast majority are graduates with a bachelor's degree-has doubled, said Murray. In 1988, there were 33 Berkeley volunteers overseas; today, there are 66.
Most of today's Berkeley graduates in the Peace Corps are working on projects in education, health and the environment, she said. A few are involved in business development, urban planning and agriculture projects.
They are part of some 6,500 Peace Corps volunteers currently serving in 87 countries. During the agency's history, 150,000 volunteers have served in 132 countries worldwide.