The large photo above the headline shows Tristan Yerkes '16 on Peace Corps assignment in Vanuatu. Below left are some of his young neighbors there, with flags of the U.S. and Vanuatu, or below that, Tristan with friends. (photos courtesy of Peace Corps)
Peace Corps announced today that Saint Michael’s College ranked No.15 among small-size schools on the agency’s list of top volunteer-producing colleges and universities in 2019. Ten Saint Michael’s alumni currently are volunteering in countries around the world.
Saint Michael’s returns to the list of top volunteer-producing colleges after a brief absence. In 2016, Saint Michael’s ranked No. 11 among small schools. Since the Peace Corps’ founding in 1961, almost 200 alumni have served abroad as volunteers. Vermont ranks No. 2 among states with the highest number of Peace Corps volunteers per capita, with 43 volunteers currently serving worldwide.
Jeffrey Trumbower, interim vice president for academic affairs and dean at Saint Michael’s, said, “This recognition from the Peace Corps confirms what we here already know: that Saint Michael's College is particularly good at producing graduates who think and care deeply about global issues, and who will spend productive lives at the forefront of creative problem-solving.”
By having 10 graduates currently serving as Peace Corps volunteers, Saint Michael's ties with Skidmore, Union, Occidental, Whitworth, Furman, University of Mary Washington and Cornell College for the No. 15 spot on this year's small-size schools list.
Peace Corps Director Jody Olsen said, “We have seen time and again that the colleges and universities that produce the most Peace Corps volunteers focus on cultivating global citizens in addition to promoting scholarship. I am proud that so many graduates of these esteemed institutions leverage their educations to make the world a better place. They bring critical skills to communities around the world and gain hands-on, life-changing experience along the way.”
Tristan Yerkes graduated from Saint Michael’s in 2016 and is serving as an education volunteer in Vanuatu - a South Pacific Ocean nation made up of roughly 80 islands that stretch more than 800 miles. “Saint Michael's offered me a curriculum which broadened my worldview, fostered a sense of responsibility to that world, and gave me the courage to act on that responsibility. I think it does this for a lot of alumni, and Peace Corps is the logical next step,” Yerkes said.
A native of Stonington, CT, Yerkes earned his bachelor’s in psychology from Saint Michael’s in 2016, and while a student was active as a peer tutor as well as being an avid skier and musician. In Vanuatu presently he is implementing project-based learning in the classroom while helping to improve the school library and a new technology center. He also is doing teacher-training in grammar and phonics.
“Critical thinking has been the most important tool during my service, and I think St. Mike's helped me to refine my critical thinking skills during the four years I spent there,” Yerkes said. “My philosophy professor, Alison Kuklok, helped me see some of the fundamental responsibilities of a human being living in a society. This was a big part of my inspiration to join the Peace Corps.”
Yerkes would like to pursue a career in the Foreign Service after his Peace Corps service.
His favorite part of his service, Yerkes said, has been having to confront the inevitable moments of “abject failure" -- "It has taught me more about myself and about Vanuatu than I could have learned otherwise," he said.
Peace Corps Prep program at St. Mike’s
The Peace Corps in 2016 awarded a Certificate of Completion of the Peace Corps Prep program to Conor Floyd ’16, who was the first graduate of the Saint Michael’s Peace Corps Prep program that was instituted at the College in Fall 2015. While most students would work on the program requirements over the course of 2-4 years of undergraduate study, Floyd entered the program having already met the requirements through his previous course work, as well as extensive experience living and working abroad. He had volunteered as a teacher in Uganda for more than 100 hours, spent a semester abroad in India and Nepal, and done research on English language learners among the local refugee community around Saint Michael’s.
The Peace Corps Prep program is a selection of course work and co-curricular projects that are designed to provide prospective Peace Corps volunteers (PCVs) with a solid background that will help prepare them for international service should they decide to become Peace Corps volunteers after graduation. Studies and experience in foreign language, intercultural intelligence, and in a specific sector -- such as education, business, health and nutrition or the environment -- are required in the program.
Dan Evans of the Saint Michael’s Applied Linguistics Department, who directs the program on campus, said that after Conor Floyd finished two years ago, “we have had six students who have completed the Peace Corps Prep Program and one more graduating this spring. There are approximately 20 students currently in the program”
The Peace Corps ranks its top volunteer-producing colleges and universities annually according to the size of the student body. Rankings are calculated based on fiscal year 2018 data as of September 30, 2018, as self-reported by Peace Corps volunteers.
About the Peace Corps: The Peace Corps sends Americans with a passion for service abroad on behalf of the United States to work with communities and create lasting change. Volunteers develop sustainable solutions to address challenges in education, health, community economic development, agriculture, the environment and youth development.