Tiara Darnell
Tiara Darnell

After playing “hours and hours” of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? as a child, Tiara Darnell knew exactly what she wanted to do when she grew up — travel the world.

Not long after graduating from this university in 2011, Darnell got her wish; she now serves as a teacher with the Peace Corps in Ouarzazaterf in southern Morocco.

Darnell is one of the 1,144 university alumni who have served with the Peace Corps since the agency was founded in 1961, and earlier this month this university ranked among the top 25 large colleges who produced the most Peace Corps volunteers last year. The university placed 24th on the list with 53 undergraduate alumni currently serving as Peace Corps volunteers in 27 different countries.

Each year, Peace Corps recruiter Molly Douglas visits classes and invites students to attend seminars and workshops spaced throughout the semester. Considering the response she receives from students, Douglas said she is not surprised this university ranked on the top 25 list.

“I think that University of Maryland students are particularly interested in service and have an engaged mindset,” she said. “A lot of it is about wanting to learn and participate in a new culture or language.”

However, Douglas said a number of students had questioned her about incidents in the late 2000s, when stories about mishandled sexual assaults of Peace Corps volunteers erupted in the news. Since then, the Peace Corps made a number of policy reforms to better protect volunteers, including the creation of a victims’ advocacy office. Douglas said she does not believe those stories had turned any students away.

“People wanted to be informed about it,” Douglas said. “I feel like I was able to answer those questions satisfactorily.”

Darnell said while she was aware of the incidents and had followed the case, it did not deter her from applying to the Peace Corps. In Morocco, she now teaches arts and crafts at a school for deaf and mute children, teaches English twice a week at a women’s center and tutors high school-age children for the English portion of their college entrance exams.

“I knew I didn’t want to work a regular 9-to-5 right after college,” Darnell wrote in an email, noting she had wanted to join the Peace Corps since she first learned about it from a middle school teacher. “I wanted to see more of the world and to live in it and have a real experience, not a vacation.”

As a volunteer, Darnell said she also enjoys bridging two cultures and building relationships with members of the community.

“I think fostering cross-cultural communication and understanding between Muslims and non-Muslim Americans on a grassroots level through my service is doing a great service to our country,” she wrote.

Meanwhile in the Dominican Republic, 2007 university alumna Jackie Iloh serves as a Peace Corps community educator with the Accion Callejera nonprofit, teaching reading and life skills to homeless and working youth and coordinating group meetings for local organizations to teach children about healthy relationships, positive self-esteem, sexual health and HIV/AIDS prevention.

Iloh said she “fell in love with serving others” during her time at the university, starting as a tutor and SAT prep coordinator for low-income high school students.

“Since that first experience, I’ve consistently looked for other ways to support youth,” she wrote in an email. “Peace Corps seemed like the perfect opportunity to live far away from family and friends, immerse myself in another culture while learning the local language and serve others.”

Although the experience may be difficult at times, Iloh and Darnell said the rewards outweigh the challenges.

“The Peace Corps really isn’t for everyone. It takes a lot of courage,” Darnell wrote. “I’m doing something I love, the money part will come later on, I hope.”