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Posted on Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 11:35 a.m.

University of Michigan top producer of Peace Corps volunteers

By Kellie Woodhouse


John F. Kennedy delivers the speech that launched the Peace Corps on the steps of the Michigan Union on Oct. 14, 1960.

The idea for the Peace Corps was first launched at the University of Michigan and, more than 50 years later, the school continues to be one of the top producers of volunteers.

This year 93 U-M graduates are serving as Peace Corps volunteers, making the school the fourth largest producer of corp volunteers. Last year it was No. 5, according to the Peace Corps.

U-M is tied with the University of Colorado at Boulder for the No. 4 spot.

Since the agency was created in 1961, 2,515 Michigan graduates have served overseas, making U-M the No. 4 all-time producer of Peace Corps volunteers.

In an Oct. 14, 1960, speech outside the Michigan Union in Ann Arbor, presidential candidate John F. Kennedy challenged students to volunteer two years of their lives to help people in developing countries. In March 1961, shortly after assuming office, he signed the executive order creating the Peace Corps.

“How many of you who are going to be doctors are willing to spend your days in Ghana? Technicians or engineers, how many of you are willing to work in the Foreign Service and spend your lives traveling around the world? On your willingness to do that, not merely to serve one year or two years in the service, but on your willingness to contribute part of your life to this country, I think will depend the answer whether a free society can compete," Kennedy said then, according to a transcript of his speech. "I think it can. And I think Americans are willing to contribute. But the effort must be far greater than we have ever made in the past."

Peace Corps volunteers serve in more than 75 countries throughout Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Central and South America, Europe, and the Middle East.

They work with a community overseas for 27 months, providing technical assistance in six program areas — education, youth and community development, health, business and information and communications technology, agriculture, and environment.

Of the 316 Michigan residents currently serving in the Peace Corps, 34 are from Ann Arbor. Ann Arbor ranks No. 4 in the nation among metropolitan areas for producing Peace Corps volunteers per capita.

Overall, 6,866 Michigan residents have served since the agency was created.

Top 5 Peace Corps producers:

  • 1. University of Washington 107
  • 1. University of Florida 107
  • 3. University of Wisconsin-Madison 103
  • 4. University of Colorado Boulder 93
  • 4. University of Michigan 93

Kellie Woodhouse covers higher education for Reach her at or 734-623-4602 and follow her on twitter.



Sun, Feb 10, 2013 : 2:13 a.m.

JFK made this announcement when I was born and about sixteen years before I became an Ann Arbor resident. I discovered this event through the marker placed in the stair at the Michigan Union, near where he stood. Although I never attended Michigan I have been affected by this moment in time. Only now, reading this article, do I learn of the sturdiness in the thousands of students - waiting until 2 am to hear a speech from a Presidential candidate, amazing in itself. I'm also moved in JFK's winging his speech and the follow through of these student petition-signors. The end result for me has been my dipping my civic-engagement toe in many isolated situations while in Ann Arbor and since relocating to California. Since that time I've also been able to work in many other civic engagement opportunities. It's actually turning into a career (not political :). The point is, that this event and the Michigan students supporting our eventual President, touched the life of this and I'm sure many more Ann Arborites, and inspired a lifetime of service, not only internationally but, right here at home as well. Thank you!

Roger Rayle

Fri, Feb 8, 2013 : 6:51 a.m.

There's a back story civics lesson to the Kennedy U-M speech that led to the Peace Corps. Several thousand U-M students waited for JFK for several hours until about 2am that chilly night. Kennedy, although tired from a long campaign day, was so impressed by the numbers of young people greeting him that he eschewed any prepared remarks and instead talked off the cuff about a back burner idea that had been tossed around within his staff... an idea of voluntary foreign service. Without the enthusiastic response from the U-M students that night ... and the grass roots follow-through by a small group of them, the Peace Corps would not have been formed as quickly as it did .. or at all. Remember this happened back before cell phones, the internet and Twitter!

Linda Peck

Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 11:15 p.m.

Another reason to be proud of our University and our City.

Kellie Woodhouse

Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 5:48 p.m.

Here's an audio recording of an excerpt of Kennedy's speech:

Dog Guy

Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 4:47 p.m.

Overall, 6,866 Michigan residents have written their own chapters of Gullible's Travels and greatly benefited from the experience.

Rick Stevens

Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 11:40 p.m.

Huh? Not sure what you mean with your 'Gullible's Travels'. I served in Costa Rica and am still welcomed back some 40+ years later. When Oscar Arias (Nobel Peace Prize winner and then president of Costa Rica) visited A2 in 2002 to speak he asked all Peace Corps Volunteers in the audience to stand up and thanked us. When he discovered I'd been a PCV in Costa Rica he sought me out afterwards and I have a great photo of him with my wife and I on the wall. The project just 5 of us started in 1968 is still there (and much bigger!) and a significant institution in Costa Rica. We made a difference and the people of Costa Rica continue to thank us for our efforts.