Auburn Grads Go Global: Peace Corps

Auburn Abroad Office Photo
Auburn student with children (Photo Credit: Office of International Programs)

In today’s era of globalization, international experience and cultural awareness are highly sought after in the job market. One way Auburn University students obtain international experience is by studying, interning or volunteering abroad during their undergraduate education. Another way is to apply, be accepted and then volunteer abroad through the Peace Corps for a total of 27 months.

Amanda Denney recently returned to the United States from Peace Corps service in Burkina Faso in West Africa. Denney was an education major who, after graduating Auburn in 2008, taught at the high school in Beauregard, Alabama. Now returned from her service abroad, Denney has been appointed the state Peace Corps recruiter for Alabama. Her job duties will include finding, informing and recruiting Peace Corps volunteers both on the Auburn University campus and around the state.

Denney is one of 307 Auburn graduates who have volunteered through Peace Corps since the organization’s founding in 1961, according to Dr. Andrew Gillespie, assistant provost for international programs.

“Auburn’s students are a good fit for Peace Corps, so I expect our recruiting to grow our impact. I’m happy to see this development help internationalize Auburn and provide international early career opportunities for our graduates,” Gillespie said.

According to Denney, she never expected to volunteer in the Peace Corps but after teaching for a few years in Alabama she wanted to obtain new experiences in a new place. Denney said that Auburn’s small-town community prepared her for village life in Burkina Faso, but most importantly, her Auburn education made a considerable contribution to her Peace Corps service.

“When I was a student a lot of teachers force you to stand on your own two feet. They don’t do things for you… and that’s how Peace Corps is. [Peace Corps] says, this is your community, talk to people, figure out what their needs are and then do something about it,” Denney said.

Two things that Denney suggests interested students pursue while in their undergraduate studies are volunteer and language experiences.

“If you are interested in Peace Corps and you have an idea of where you want to go, especially now because you can choose the countries you apply to… get going on learning your language,” Denney said.

Auburn has an abundance of volunteer opportunities throughout town. One way to get connected to the Auburn community is to volunteer through IMPACT, Auburn University’s student volunteer organization. No commitment is required for students to volunteer through IMPACT. Students may volunteer as many times as they want with the organization at any of its 16 projects. IMPACT project coordinators lead volunteers for two hours each week at their projects.

Denney noted that her years of teaching contributed to her successful Peace Corps service, but that students who wish to apply for Peace Corps immediately after graduation should not be deterred by a lack of professional experience. College graduates who serve in Peace Corps can benefit from still being in “college learning mode,” Denney said. This means that a student who has recently graduated is still thinking about problems before them, analyzing the problems and looking for solutions.

According to their website, 38 percent of Peace Corps volunteers are involved in education but Denney encourages anyone interested in service to not be discouraged if they are not an education major.

“Regardless of your major, if you have the desire to be an effective volunteering and you put a lot of work into your training then you will be an effective volunteer,” Denney said.

Benefits from Peace Corps service include soft skills such as intercultural communication, adaptability, perseverance and independence.

In addition to these soft skills, returned volunteers benefit from student loan forgiveness, graduate school fellowships and noncompetitive eligibility for federal government jobs.

“I really can’t say enough good things about Peace Corps. That’s why I’m so excited to have this job because… this is an institution that I really really believe in. I think they do a lot of good work abroad and I think they do a lot of good work for the people that serve through them,” Denney said.

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