Twenty-five applicants from IU Bloomington are serving or will serve abroad in 2023. Since the agency’s founding in 1961, more than 1,762 IU alumni have served abroad as Peace Corps volunteers.
Whitney Koelling, a recent graduate of the IU O'Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs, volunteered in the Peace Corps' Education Sector in Samoa. Photo courtesy of Whitney Koelling
“Demand for Peace Corps volunteers is high given setbacks in development progress following the COVID-19 pandemic,” Peace Corps Director Carol Spahn said. “Peace Corps service is the beginning of a lifetime of global connection and purpose for those bold enough to accept the invitation.”
While IU Bloomington has had a tradition of Peace Corps participation for decades, the addition of an on-campus Peace Corps strategic recruiter in 2018 has strengthened that tradition. Vicki Runion has been working through the Walter Career Center since 2018 to connect IU students with Peace Corps pathways.
Runion works alongside an extensive network of students, staff and faculty in the recruitment process. In her position — one that is not found at most universities — she visits classrooms, sets up tables at career fairs and meets with student groups like the Model UN and 21st Century Scholars to spread the word about the opportunities the Peace Corps provides.
Part of that network was David Cholak, an MPA graduate of the IU O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs. Cholak served with the Peace Corps in Gambia, where he implemented a poultry project with a local women’s group that led to an increase in local protein sources for the community. He and Whitney Koelling, another O’Neill grad who taught in Samoa through the Peace Corps, helped Runion with recruitment activities across campus by sharing their experiences until their recent graduation.
“When I first arrived at IU, I was so excited to find out how global-minded our students are,” Runion said. “They are really well versed in things going on outside their own little world. I knew right away that there were great Peace Corps candidates among our student body.”
In addition to Runion’s work, the IU Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies also offers a Global Service and Peace Corps Prep certificate, which gives students academic credit while preparing for possible Peace Corps service.
The program’s curriculum consists of service-learning, cultural competency and global affairs courses, foreign language expertise, and a global service capstone project that showcases the graduates’ community service experience. The program emphasizes leadership development and international engagement and promotes meaningful internship opportunities, domestically and abroad.
In March 2020, the Peace Corps suspended global operations and evacuated more than 7,000 volunteers from more than 60 countries at the onset of the pandemic. This evacuation included 39 IU alumni. Runion said some volunteers had just arrived a month earlier, and many were waiting eagerly to start their service in June 2020.
Three years later, more than 1,400 Peace Corps volunteers have returned to a total of 53 countries around the world. Eleven IU alumni were among the first wave of Peace Corps volunteers to return to overseas service. This was thanks, in large part, to the fact that Runion stayed in contact with applicants who weren’t able to serve because of the pandemic and encouraged them to reapply.
In 2020, the state of Indiana ranked 23rd among all states and territories with the highest number of Peace Corps volunteers since 1961, with more than 3,500 Hoosiers serving.
IU students and alumni interested in serving in the Peace Corps should contact Runion at email@example.com.
IU Bloomington’s tradition of Peace Corps participation supports the IU 2030 strategic plan pillars focused on student success and opportunity as well as service to the state of Indiana, the nation and the world.