A Half-Century of Service

by Becky Ham | Images courtesy of Peace Corps and volunteers

SF State volunteers continue to answer John F. Kennedy's call to live and work in developing countries. 

Photo from Peace Corps members abroad
Photo from Peace Corps members abroad
Photo from Peace Corps members abroad
Picture of Peace Corps logo


Ann Johnston (B.A., '64) was already receiving letters from around the world as she finished her teaching credential at SF State in 1965. Campus friends, inspired by President John F. Kennedy's inaugural address, had joined the Peace Corps ahead of her, and she was ready to follow.

"John Kennedy's message of service really resonated with me, and I wanted to do something to give back," she says. As a Peace Corps volunteer from 1965 to 1967, Johnston trained teachers in English at six elementary schools in southern Iran, "an absolutely life-changing experience" that she draws on today as the mayor of Stockton, California.

"This was entirely new to me. I was not an international traveler, I was pretty much a California girl," the mayor recalls with a chuckle. "I think the environment and the very cosmopolitan atmosphere at San Francisco State really prepared me for what I did in Iran. It was the perfect melting pot for preparing volunteers for living and working in another country."

Johnston is one of many to come out of the melting pot, as the University and the Peace Corps have shared a special synergy over the Corps' half-century of service. SF State ranks 20th among colleges producing Peace Corps volunteers; 1,317 alumni have served in the agency since 1961. Today, 41 undergraduates and nine graduate alumni are active volunteers. In 2008, the University received an award from the Corps in recognition of its long-term relationship. "We've always had a great set of applicants from SF State," says Jennifer Clowers, a Peace Corps recruiter who worked on campus from 2010 to 2012. "Their skill sets are great, and there's a level of professionalism and knowledge about what will be expected of them."

Clowers noted that many SF State applicants come to the Corps after receiving valuable hands-on teaching and volunteering experiences through the University.

"I had a wide range of students, from physicists to journalists to anthropologists," says Scott Webb (M.A., '05), who worked as a part-time recruiter on campus after serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Niger from 1997 to 2001. "There were suburban types and inner-city kids. It was pretty diverse."

Webb now works as a program officer at International Relief & Development, a Washington, D.C. nongovernmental organization with programs worldwide. His master's degree in international relations from SF State came after his Corps service and was a necessary step for moving into an international development career, he says. Like many others, he found the University welcoming to former volunteers.

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