Virginia Tech is one of only two universities in the commonwealth selected to host on-campus Peace Corps recruiters, and alumna Amanda Gurley, who served as a recruiter last semester, thinks she knows why.

“I suspect Virginia Tech was chosen because our commitment to service, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), aligns so closely with the Peace Corps mission — and because Virginia Tech has a long, strong history of developing Peace Corps-ready volunteers,” said Gurley, a 2012 graduate who served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Mongolia from 2015 to 2018.

The Peace Corps is a federal agency that undertakes the U.S. government’s international development objectives through public service. It challenges American citizens to extend their knowledge, compassion, and resilience to host communities in countries around the world.

The process of applying and being selected as a volunteer is competitive and rigorous. The lifestyle of volunteers while abroad and the service they do for underserved communities can be both physically and mentally demanding. Hokies, though, are rising to the challenge.

“Within Virginia Tech, so many colleges, schools, and majors are developing naturally competitive candidates for the Peace Corps,” Gurley said.

Among the Hokies recently accepted as volunteers are three May 2023 graduates — Alex Lowe, Katie Rice, and Sara Rheintgen. Each will be serving in different countries and doing different work, yet a common thread runs through their commitments: Ut Prosim.

‘A big part of who we are as Hokies’

In Kyrgyzstan, Lowe — a graduate of the College of Engineering — will be teaching English to school-age children. He said that because English is largely used as the international language of business, he anticipates that learning it will enable these Kyrgyz students to better engage internationally later in life.

Spurring Lowe’s interest in the Peace Corps was his profound drive toward community service. “I have opportunities and privileges just because of where I grew up,” he said. “So, I feel it’s a duty for me to help those who have fewer opportunities just because of where they were born.” 

Lowe’s experience studying at Virginia Tech also influenced his decision.

“I probably wouldn’t be going to the Peace Corps if I hadn’t started at Virginia Tech. Giving back to the community is a big part of who we are as Hokies, and being immersed in a culture of Ut Prosim throughout my four years here was probably what solidified my choice to take the serving and volunteering path.”

His time at Virginia Tech also provided the practical tools he needed to be ready for the Peace Corps. Lowe said his study abroad experiences helped him recognize and cope with homesickness — something that can be a challenge in the Peace Corps. The meet-ups and information sessions provided by Gurley connected him with returned volunteers who helped him better understand the challenges he should anticipate.

“Having someone around that can answer future volunteers’ questions is so helpful,” Lowe said. “It is so necessary to have someone to talk to who has done it before to assuage all of the anxiety and fears about the unknowns.”

Peace Corps Prep 

Like Lowe, Rice said her decision to attend Virginia Tech was strongly influenced by the university’s dedication to service.

“With Virginia Tech being so committed to service and so involved in the community, I knew I would find a community of like-minded people across the campus interested in helping others,” she said.

That’s exactly what Rice found. She joined a service fraternity and delved headlong into serving as often and as much as she could. These opportunities, she said, were also resume-building. When considering what her next steps would be after graduating from the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, Rice knew the Peace Corps could be the perfect launching point.

To help strengthen her competitiveness, Rice completed the requirements for the Peace Corps Prep certificate from Virginia Tech. The university is one of about 150 in the U.S. to offer the program, which enhances students’ undergraduate experience by preparing them for international development fieldwork and potential Peace Corps service. It is intended for students from any major.

Rice will go to Guatemala to work with a local organization addressing gender issues and to help empower local women to become more involved in their government. 

International service experience

In Lesotho, Rheintgen will also be gathering career-building experience. She fell in love with service in high school when she traveled to Namibia as part of a program supporting farmers. Since then, she has aspired to a career in government through which she can effect change and serve citizens in need. In that pursuit, she studied food and health systems economics in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and received an internship in culinary diplomacy. Rheintgen also completed the requirements for the Peace Corps Prep certificate.

For her, the Peace Corps was a logical next step. Not only will she have international service experience on her resume, but returned Peace Corps volunteers also receive preferential hiring status for government positions. Moreover, the Peace Corps Development Fellowship program could help fund her graduate education.

One of the greatest benefits Rheintgen sees is the perspective her service will give her for her career.

“Sometimes when you’re too far away from the picture, you don’t see the everyday problems. But by being on the ground in Africa I’ll see the smaller scale and see what works and what they need, and I can take that learning to apply it at a larger scale when I have a job in government,” Rheintgen said.

“We have a strong sense of community here at Virginia Tech. The Hokie Nation is huge, and Hokies support Hokies. The Peace Corps is a lot like the Hokie community. I will likely find returned Peace Corps volunteers and Hokies anywhere I go. So, I’ll have two very supportive communities — what an advantage as I start my career!”

‘A service-oriented institution’

The Peace Corps recruiter position and the Peace Corps Prep certificate program are hosted by the Center for International Research, Education, and Development (CIRED), part of Outreach and International Affairs.

Larry Vaughan, who oversees the Peace Corps Prep certificate program and the recruiter position in CIRED, said, “More than many students realize, graduating from a top global land-grant university prepares them for opportunities others may not have. When Virginia Tech graduates pursue opportunities like the Peace Corps, they are making an important contribution to Virginia Tech’s reputation as a service-oriented institution with a long history in international development.”

Written by Amanda Broome