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WIU Celebrates Peace Corps' 55th Anniversary

Peace Corps service map. The international organization places volunteers in 62 countries

The Peace Corps sends Americans to 62 countries for two-year volunteer commitments. The international organization got its start in 1961. Today, there are about 7,000 active Peace Corps volunteers and trainees.

Jessica Vig, a regional recruiter for the Peace Corps who's territory includes Western and Northern Illinois, said while the organization has grown over the past 55 years, it has stayed true to its original mission. “Peace Corps is about world peace and friendship and I think we need that more today than ever before,” Vig said.

Western Illinois University offers a Peace Corps Prep Program to undergraduate students interested in serving in the Peace Corps. The program complements a bachelor’s degree and is designed to develop skills relevant to the Peace Corps such as foreign language and leadership abilities.

Karen Mauldin-Curtis leads Western’s Peace Corps programs, which began operating the fall of 1994. She said there are about a dozen students enrolled in the prep program that began in 2014. So far, two students have graduated with the distinction, and both have been accepted into the service.

“One of our students, Alyssa Detrick, is already overseas, she left about two weeks ago and I believe will be serving in South Africa. The other student will be leaving this August,” Mauldin-Curtis said.

Vig said the Peace Corps is experiencing a 40 year application high. She credits that to recent changes to the application process that made it easier and more transparent, and shortened the wait time. Applicants now also have the ability to request a specific destination or area of focus.  

In addition to participating in the prep program, Vig said an applicant can stand out by having relevant volunteer experience, a history of leadership responsibilities, and an ability to speak a foreign language.

Western also works with returning volunteers through its Peace Corps Fellows program, in which they can complete a Master’s degree for free while working in the region. Those returning Peace Corps members will be sharing their experiences at Western’s International Bazaar this Saturday, March 5.

Emily Boyer is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.