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Today we at the University of Colorado Boulder are celebrating our No. 1 national ranking for graduates serving in the Peace Corps in 2011.

The Peace Corps made the announcement yesterday and it comes nearly 50 years to the day that President John F. Kennedy signed an executive order creating an organization of volunteers willing to train and work under challenging conditions for the social and economic development of global communities.

Volunteers work abroad for two years with governments, schools and humanitarian organizations in the areas of health, education, agriculture, information technology and environmental preservation.

At CU 117 graduates are working in the Peace Corps this year and 2,269 have volunteered since its inception in 1961.

What does this say about CU? It says that our civically engaged students go on to become service-oriented citizens. They take the civic ideals they learned at CU and carry them forward with an ethos of service throughout their lives.

Take Julie Fast, a 2008 graduate in integrative physiology who is a community health volunteer in rural Peru. Her work ranges from teaching hygiene and erecting latrines to building advanced wood-burning cook stoves that improve respiratory health and conserve fuel in a community that’s a two-hour hike up a rocky slope. She says that her undergraduate courses in nutrition, psychology and physiology have helped her tremendously in this work.

Then there’s 77-year old Ellie Vaughter, a 1991 theatre graduate and former Sigma Alpha Epsilon housemother. She soon leaves for Kazakhstan in Central Asia for two years to teach English in a remote mountain village.

Chelsea Komlo is headed to Africa after she graduates in May, likely to work in health education. She thinks the leadership experience she gained in the President’s Leadership Class, and in campus leadership roles, has well prepared her for Peace Corps work.

Our top national ranking in Peace Corps participation did not happen overnight. Since 2004 CU-Boulder has been ranked among the top three schools in the nation for Peace Corps volunteers.

That’s because the ethic of service is intertwined in the fabric of our university. More than 13,000 students annually participate in 360,000 hours of community service — the equivalent of 178 people working full time for a year.

They work in local homeless shelters, soup kitchens and community gardens. They rebuild homes in hurricane-ravaged areas, open orphanages in Uganda, set up medical clinics in Honduras, and design and build water treatment tanks in Rwanda.

“There’s definitely something about CU that motivates people to serve,” said Kevin Wheeler, who graduated with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering and served in the Dominican Republic for two years.

The word “contribute” is among those etched in flagstone in high traffic pedestrian areas of campus. Clearly it takes on meaning for students.

Our No. 1 Peace Corps ranking is tangible evidence of something we have always known: Our students and graduates are service oriented and down-to-earth, working tirelessly to benefit communities around the globe.

And as a university community, we are living up to the pledge made in our Flagship 2030 strategic plan to pursue knowledge in service to the world.

Philip P. DiStefano is chancellor at the University of Colorado Boulder.

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