Whitney Arey studied abroad three times as a Duke student before graduating in 2012. Now she's abroad again, this time as a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa.
She's not alone. The Peace Corps announced Tuesday that Duke is back on its list of "top volunteer-producing colleges and universities." Duke currently has 18 alumni serving as volunteers worldwide, placing it No. 16 on the federal agency's list for "medium schools." It last appeared on the list in 2011, at No. 25. Since the Peace Corps was established in 1961, 706 Duke graduates have served among more than 215,000 Americans as volunteers in 139 countries worldwide.
"To learn that Duke is being recognized as a top volunteer-producing school is great news," said Margaret Riley, president of the North Carolina Peace Corps Association, who recently retired as the head of Duke's global education office. "This is certainly in keeping with Duke's mission of educating global citizens for the 21st century."
Arey, a cultural anthropology and German studies major from Salisbury, N.C., studied in England and Germany as a Duke undergraduate before enrolling in a summer program at the University of Legon in Accra, Ghana. She's returned to that West African nation as a community health educator, teaching topics ranging from HIV/AIDS awareness to malaria prevention.
"I had an amazing education at Duke, filled with opportunities to go abroad, meet remarkable people and learn anything and everything," she said. "All of these experiences made me into a person who could live for two years in a small village in southern Ghana.
Now far from Durham, she is drawing on her studies at Duke, where her senior honors thesis dealt with HIV testing. "My primary adviser taught a course on global health inequalities, which sparked my interest in the impacts of Western global health programs abroad. I wanted to work in global health, but I wanted to do so in a way that allowed me to learn the needs of the people I was helping, and design interventions that were both effective and culturally sensitive."
William Wright-Swadel, the head of Duke's career center, said Arey and others who join the Peace Corps illustrate "the commitment of Duke students to service." The university's strong record of producing volunteers "is also a reflection of the working partnership between the Peace Corps and the career centers of Duke," he said.
Writing in an e-mail message from Ghana, Arey says she and other Duke graduates who have joined the Peace Corps are experiencing "a completely different life than they have ever imagined for themselves. Most seniors are worried about the search for the best possible job or internship to start a career, but the Peace Corps gives you a different option than that. It will teach of the world you likely know nothing about. You'll get to meet people who you'd never have a chance to in the United States, and most importantly you'll learn about yourself.
"With the fast-paced corporate society of America and all the stress that comes with it, the Peace Corps is a rare opportunity to slow down and actually see the world around you in a way that vacations for two weeks abroad never show you. I'm now a little bit American and a little bit Ghanaian, and I think that perspective has made me a better and certainly more interesting person."
[David Jarmul, associate vice president for news and communications at Duke, served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal.]