Peace Corps at 60

In a difficult year, it’s always helpful to share the good things that are happening.

One example is UW-Madison’s ranking as the #1 producer of Peace Corps volunteers in 2020, for the fourth year in a row. Of course, 2020 was no ordinary year; the 79 Badgers placed in 40 nations were evacuated last March, but a number of them will return as national borders re-open.

Equally impressive is our #2 ranking among U.S. universities (UC-Berkeley has a slight edge on us) in all-time Peace Corps participation. Nearly 3,400 Badgers have served.

On March 1, the Peace Corps’ 60th anniversary, we convened a virtual meeting of nearly 700 people from all over Wisconsin, the U.S., and the world – along with all 11 living former national Peace Corps directors – to mark this anniversary and celebrate UW-Madison’s strong connection to this uniquely American institution.

That connection traces back to the earliest days of the Peace Corps when Joseph Kauffman, one of the Corps’ chief architects in the Kennedy Administration, left Washington to become our Dean of Students (the first of his many leadership roles on this campus). He also was on the faculty in our School of Education.

Dean Kauffman believed strongly that a liberal arts education should include international experiences. These connections have remained through the years. Forty years later, alum Aaron Williams served as Peace Corps director under President Obama and is now part of our International Division’s External Advisory Board. Aaron has inspired hundreds of Badgers to serve in the Peace Corps.

Kauffman started a tradition that has brought UW-Madison knowledge and innovations to the world and has helped to build our campus into a truly global community  UW-Madison is now #4 among all U.S. universities – public and private – for participation in semester abroad. We are a destination for students from more than 120 nations around the world.

COVID-19 has had a profound impact on our international engagement. Bringing these programs back quickly must be a top priority – not only because our research and education demand it, but also because our mission of public service (what we call the Wisconsin Idea) is even more urgent today than it was in the moment when John F. Kennedy spoke these words in a speech announcing the creation of the Peace Corps:

“The university is not maintained by its alumni, or by the state, merely to help its graduates have an economic advantage in the life struggle,” he said. “There is a greater purpose.”

Here at UW, we have long recognized that greater purpose. It will continue to guide us as we design our post-pandemic future.

Send us your stories:

One thing we don’t know is how many current faculty and staff are returned Peace Corps volunteers, and how that experience has shaped their lives.  We hope to find out this year. If you have a Peace Corps story to tell, please consider sharing it at:

For those of you inspired to explore global service through the Peace Corps, I encourage you to reach out to our campus recruiter.