Editorial: Graduates’ service rate speaks well of region

Washington universities hit a rare trifecta Tuesday, one that reflects well not only on the institutions, but on the state and region as well.

The Peace Corps released its annual list of universities with the most graduates accepted into the ranks of its volunteers. Since its creation by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, the agency’s work has helped improve the lives of the world’s poor and enhanced the image of the United States.

Acting director Carrie Hessler-Radelet traveled to Seattle to draw attention to the contributions Washington campuses and students will make to the corps’s success in 2013.

Gonzaga University, with 24 graduates, will lead schools with fewer than 5,000 undergraduates in the number of corps recruits. Western Washington University’s 73 graduates earned the Bellingham campus first place among schools with fewer than 15,000 undergraduates, and the University of Washington led all universities with 107 graduates, although that honor will be shared with the University of Florida.

It is the first time one state has swept all size categories. Remarkable, but it does not tell the whole story.

Five other Washington schools were also among the top 25 small schools: Seattle University, fifth; University of Puget Sound, Whitman College and Evergreen State College, tied for eighth; and Pacific Lutheran University, 18th.

Add Lewis and Clark College and Willamette University in Oregon, and eight of the top 25 are located in the Northwest. The universities of Idaho and Montana, and Montana State University were ranked among the midsized schools, and the University of Oregon was eighth among big schools.

Hessler-Radelet attributes the region’s outstanding record to several factors – skill sets for one. Agriculture, education, health and forestry/environment are among the corps’s six focus areas, and the Northwest economy and universities are excellent matches.

Washington in particular is also a hub for international businesses such as Boeing Co. and Microsoft Corp. that create an awareness of global issues, she says, and rely on collaborative, multicultural relationships like those the corps tries to develop.

In the case of an institution like Gonzaga, the emphasis on Catholic social service ethic also corresponds with the agency’s mission, Hessler-Radelet adds.

University President Thayne McCulloh credits “the commitment of Gonzaga’s graduates to work toward a world of peace, justice and greater understanding among people around the world.”

And not just the world. Many of those same students, and those from the area’s other universities, also volunteer for many local causes and organizations that improve life here. The Peace Corps is not the only measure of service performed by the Northwest’s young adults.

The corps accepts only one out of three applicants. The success of Washington, Western Washington and Gonzaga students testifies to their character and their abilities.

“It’s really an amazing accomplishment,” says Hessler-Radelet.

We could not agree more.

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