CSU and the Peace Corps: An Enduring Legacy

By Ann Gill (M.A., ’76)

Service is in our DNA. An 1877 Colorado statute required Aggie students to contribute manual labor to the College each day; most worked on the College Farm. The faculty and Board of Agriculture modified the mandatory service requirement in 1901 and eventually eliminated it, but service remains central to who we are. Current students and alumni participate in many service activities in their various communities. Some have served as Peace Corps volunteers.

Adel Uhlarik in Senegal

Adel Uhlarik in Senegal

Colorado State University’s connection to the Peace Corps predates its formation. A 1960 feasibility study of a youth service corps was conducted for Congress by CSU civil engineering professor Maury Albertson (L.H.D.,’06) and researchers Pauline Birky-Kreutzer and Andrew Rice; it became the blueprint for the Peace Corps. Immediately upon its creation, the University began training Peace Corps volunteers. The first 28 volunteers went to Pakistan in December of 1961.

Our connection to the Peace Corps continues to this day. Each of the last four years, CSU has ranked in the top 10 volunteer-producing colleges and universities. In 2018, 58 CSU alumni are serving in the Peace Corps, which is an all-time high. One of the things that sets volunteers from CSU apart is that many of them possess “scarce skills,” that is, practical knowledge and experience in agriculture, civil engineering, and related fields that reflect the University’s legacy as a land-grant institution.

Thomas Pickering in Malawi

Thomas Pickering in Malawi

Adel Uhlarik (M.Agr., ’15) was one such volunteer. She enrolled in the Peace Corps Master’s International Program at CSU and, during the program, served in Senegal, working in sustainable agriculture. Uhlarik says of her experience: “My village taught me how to be genuinely generous, how to love a community, and how to serve, even when it hurts.”

Matt Donovan (B.A., ’15; B.S., ’15) was a double major in biological science and Spanish. He served as a Community Health Promoter in Nicaragua. While there, Matt described his experiences: “Every day I draw on the knowledge I gained at CSU, whether I’m teaching boys about gender equity, working with parents on having ‘the talk’ with their teenagers, or holding outdoor science classes for elementary students.”

Prior to enrolling in a Ph.D. program in ecology at CSU, Tomas Pickering joined the Peace Corps, serving as a volunteer in Malawi, Africa. He worked in public health and included an agriculture-based incentive system in his work, using otherwise difficult-to-obtain fruit trees as payment to locals for attending HIV-prevention training.

Serving as a Peace Corps volunteer is a long way from working on the College Farm, but it is part of the ethic of service established in those early years at our alma mater. Our continuing connection to the Peace Corps also is one of the many things that makes us “proud to be a CSU Ram.”