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Peace Corps honors UO volunteerism.

Byline: Greg Bolt The Register-Guard

The deputy director of the Peace Corps visited the University of Oregon on Tuesday to personally thank school officials for repeating a feat the UO has made something of a habit - producing one of the largest annual classes of Peace Corps volunteers of any college in the country.

Officially, the UO is No. 7 on the 2003 list with 81 graduates serving as volunteers. But Peace Corps Deputy Director Jody Olsen said the university undoubtedly is the nation's top Peace Corps school in terms of the number of volunteers it produces per capita.

All the schools with more volunteers have enrollments at least half again as much as the UO, and several are twice as large. The top school, the University of Wisconsin at Madison with 142 enlistees last year, has an enrollment of almost 42,000.

The UO, with an enrollment of just more than 20,000 this year, has been one of the top producers of Peace Corps volunteers almost since the program was launched by President John F. Kennedy in 1961.

Olsen honored that record by presenting UO President Dave Frohnmayer with a plaque of appreciation and words of praise for the university's long-standing reputation for international programs.

"This is the Mecca of international support in the United States," she said.

"I'm here to say thank you."

Olsen's appearance at a campus luncheon also drew a small group of former volunteers, including Frohnmayer's wife, Lynn, who served from 1964 to 1966 in Ivory Coast. Other past volunteers spanned the full life of the Peace Corps, right up to the new millennium.

Dave Reesor, who served in Senegal from 2000 to 2001 and is now a graduate student at the UO, said he got everything he wanted from his two years in Africa. He not only experienced a vastly different culture and saw the world from a new perspective, he also met his fiance, a fellow Peace Corps volunteer.

Most of the time, Reesor lived in a mud-brick hut and remembers passing many hours drinking tea with his host family. The stark contrast with life in the United States was just what he wanted.

"It was about as extreme as I could have hoped for - in a good way," he said.

Pennie Moblo served in the Polynesian island nation of Tonga in 1971-73 and now works at the UO's Oregon Survey Research Lab.

She describes the experience as a rebirth, "because you are a child in that culture and you have to grow up all over again."

"It was a wonderful growing up time," she said.

Peace Corps volunteers spend two years working at the local level, helping with agriculture projects, teaching, raising environmental awareness and developing business programs among other projects. Most often they work in villages and small towns, where they live with a host family and become part of the community.

It's both rewarding and challenging, said Marc Schlossberg, who served in Fiji from 1995 to 1997 and now is a professor at the university. Volunteers often start with big ideas of changing the world for the better, but soon come to understand that change in the Peace Corps is most often measured in the small ways volunteers can help a single person.

"A lot of people go in with the idea they are really going to change things and influence things very quickly," he said, remembering the laid back lifestyle of remote Fijian islanders. "But what happens is really one on one, it's very personal. You come to the realization that the larger global phenomena are just out of reach."
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Title Annotation:Higher Education
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Mar 3, 2004
Words:601
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