Early in March 1961, President John F. Kennedy issued an executive order that established the Peace Corps (PC), an agency housed within the U.S. Department of State that trains and sends American men and women abroad to work with local communities to enhance social and economic development, tackle international problems, and make connections. For nearly 60 years now, PC volunteers have lived and served in 141 countries across the globe, working on such goals as improving access to technology, protecting the environment, fighting hunger, and preventing and eliminating malaria and HIV/AIDS.

And for as many years as the Peace Corps has existed, Southwestern has graduated a diverse group of 100 alumni who joined the agency to help create positive change; four of them are serving in countries around the world today. 

In this series, we’ll share the stories of just some of our Southwestern alumni who have gone on to serve in the Peace Corps, from a first-wave volunteer to more recent graduates. Their experiences are sometimes hair-raising—I’m not sure I’ve ever heard more anecdotes about illnesses caused by so many types of gastrointestinal parasites, for example. They’re also eye-opening to those of us who have never lived in isolated, hardscrabble villages in far-off lands for years at a stretch without the comforts of electricity and running water. But as different as these alumni are in age, background, and career path, they share a willingness to explore the unknown, a resilience to withstand challenges, and an appreciation for the life-changing experience of the Peace Corps.

Darrel Young '61 Darrel Young ’61, an English major who was planning to attend law school, was inspired by “transcendent charmer” JFK to apply to the new agency. In June 1961, he received a telegram and letter from Robert Sargent Shriver Jr., Kennedy’s brother-in-law as well as the driving force behind and director of the new agency. Young looked up Colombia, South America—where he was being assigned—on a map (“I didn’t have any idea of where Colombia was!” he admits with a laugh) and soon accepted his place among the first wave of PC volunteers.
Erica Houge Gannon Accounting major Erica Hogue Gannon ’00 recalls the chaos of being whisked away by bus from the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire, Africa. A coordinated attack on three nearby cities during an attempted coup in 2002 forced her to end her service three months shy of the conventional 27-month commitment. She would later go on to work as a PC regional recruiter and recruitment coordinator for eight years. 
Kadidiatou (Kadi) Magassa '13 Growing up in New York City as the youngest child of immigrants from Mali, Africa, Kadidiatou (Kadi) Magassa ’13 was drawn to the Peace Corps by her dedication to serving underdeveloped populations and her desire to challenge herself. The international studies and political science double major shares that she certainly learned how to live beyond her comfort zone while working as a preventative health educator in Senegal, on the west coast of Africa. 
Carlie Sulpizio '13 With her bright red hair and alabaster skin, theater and anthropology double major Carlie Sulpizio ’13 wondered and worried about whether she would fit into her intensely rural community in the landlocked country of Burkina Faso, in West Africa. Although she admits that her years of service were often fraught with frustration and fear, she values the lifelong connections she made with fellow PC volunteers, and her service as a community-health development volunteer solidified her career path in global health.
Lindsey Knapton For Lindsey Knapton ’10, the Peace Corps was an opportunity to fulfill her longtime dream of living and learning in Africa. Although her two-year stint in Namibia was filled with challenges, Knapton credits her Southwestern Experience for preparing for her adventures abroad, which included teaching English to seventh- and eighth-graders. The alumna shares her thoughts on the difficulties of transitioning back to life in the U.S. and how her volunteer service opened her eyes to injustice, steering her toward an unexpected career in law.
Zack Nesbit '13 Zack Nesbit ’13 is an adventurer at heart who dedicates his life to pursuing curiosity and his many passions, from marketing and creative writing to outdoor recreation and environmentalism. He says the highlights of his Peace Corps experience in Paraguay were beekeeping and coaching fellow volunteers because he loves connecting people by teaching himself new things and sharing what he learns with others.
 If you’re a Southwestern University student interested in joining the Peace Corps, please contact Brendan Cavanagh, regional recruiter for central Texas.