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Peace Corps chief talks of 'sacred trust'

Stony Brook University junior Charlen Wade has had fleeting thoughts about joining the Peace Corps after she graduates next year.

Friday, the health science major attended a campus event featuring Aaron S. Williams, the agency's director, and was convinced she wants to take that route.

"When you're young and you have no attachments -- this is the time to do it," said Wade, 20, of Brentwood, clutching an application and pamphlets in front of a recruiting table.

She was among some 120 people who heard Williams discuss the work overseas that volunteers do to promote American foreign relations.

Williams said volunteers are in high demand and the agency needs talented graduates willing to work on health, environment and community projects abroad.

"It's a sacred trust," Williams told students, faculty and staff in the Humanities Building. "We do special things in the world."

The event marked the first time the director has visited Stony Brook since a new partnership between the Peace Corps and the State University of New York system was forged last fall.

Under the agreement, SUNY graduate students will earn academic credit for two years of volunteer service overseas through the Peace Corps Masters International program.

The partnership is the first of its kind with a statewide university system. Prospective students must be accepted, separately, to both a master's program and the Peace Corps.

"There's enormous interest here, and it would change their master's experience in many positive ways," said Wolf Schäfer, Stony Brook's associate dean for international academic programs.

Last year, the metropolitan region ranked No. 2 nationally for sending volunteers to the Peace Corps.

The Peace Corps currently has about 9,000 volunteers working in 75 host countries. The agency gets 15,000 applications for 4,500 spots annually, said Vincent Wickes, Peace Corps regional manager.

The program is competitive, but Williams said he doesn't think that has anything to do with the economy.

"It isn't a quick fix to getting a job," Williams said. "It is a long process to apply and it is a big commitment."

Stony Brook now has five alumni serving as Peace Corps volunteers in Armenia, Cambodia, the Philippines and Senegal.

Williams, the fourth director in Peace Corps' history to have served as a volunteer, also spoke about his own experience in the Dominican Republic in the late 1960s.

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