The College is ranked No. 8 nationally for the number of alumni who volunteer in communities across the world.

By Kris Dreessen

In Kuli Kunda, The Gambia, families tend to their gardens with hand tools, and donkeys pull the plows. Everyone in the village knows each other. 

Peace Corps volunteer Declan Dwyer-McNulty ’17 served as an agriculture volunteer there, assisting with gardening techniques, tree-planting workshops and other community needs, from organizing libraries to distributing malaria-preventing mosquito nets. An anthropology major with a minor in German, Dwyer-McNulty was drawn to the Peace Corps to learn about subsistence farming and local food.

Declan Dwyer-McNulty '17 in the Gambia talking to a woman

Declan Dwyer-McNulty ’17 with a resident in his village in The Gambia. /Photo provided by Declan Dwyer-McNulty ’17

“It was unknown but exciting, and I was interested in living in a different cultural context than I had,” says Dwyer-McNulty, who first studied abroad in Germany. “I was interested in all of it.”

In his village, Dwyer-McNulty says, individual achievement doesn’t matter as much as relationships and your ability to get along with others and show you appreciate them. It felt different than the United States, he says, where individual achievement is prized.

“I found it such a comfort to be connected to my neighbors,” he says. “I appreciate both ways of thinking, and I’d like to think I’m a more open-minded person from my experience. I am eternally grateful for that.”

Dwyer-McNulty was one of 18 Geneseo alumni volunteers serving in agriculture, education, health, community economic development and youth development sectors before the Peace Corps evacuated volunteers in early 2020 due to COVID-19.

So far, 310 Geneseo alumni have served in the Peace Corps since its creation in 1961 — in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, the Caribbean and Central America. It is a long and consistent tradition of global service with a distinction: Geneseo is ranked eighth among medium-sized schools nationwide for the number of alumni who have been active in the Peace Corps. That number is even more impressive when you look at the competition in the size category, which includes higher-education institutions with 5,000 to 15,000 students. Geneseo, with 5,500 students, is one of the smallest colleges in its category.

The ranking does not surprise Peace Corps alumna Danielle Ellingston ’97, who was a small enterprise development expert in Ghana and now works as a senior analyst at the U.S. Government Accountability Office in Seattle. (Read her Peace Corps memories.)

“Geneseo students are driven to test out ideas learned in the classroom, and getting out into the world and interacting with people from different places and cultures is an important part of that,” she says. “I am proud that so many Geneseo alumni continue to serve in the Peace Corps, and I believe it has an impact on their future career choices and desire to serve in a variety of ways.” 

Danielle Ellingston '97 with a family in Ghana.

Danielle Ellingston ’97 saved this photo from when she was a small enterprise development expert in Ghana. /Photo provided by Danielle Ellingston ’97

Ellingston’s experience of collaboration with and immersion in another culture was shared by many Geneseo alumni volunteers: it confirmed people’s similarities rather than their differences, highlighted what brings people together, gave them confidence, and provided vital abilities to adapt and collaborate for a greater goal.

Volunteers also often say they were inspired to join the Peace Corps by their college experiences studying abroad or service-learning.

Sean Mahoney ’19 is one such volunteer. A psychology major now earning a master’s in public policy at the University of Maryland, Mahoney explored Humanities I in Spain and later spent a semester in Cape Town, South Africa. He applied for the Peace Corps three weeks after he returned from Africa and left for his post in Panama right after graduation.

“Studying at the University of Cape Town was a turning point for me. It definitely opened my eyes to how much of a bubble I lived in, and about inequalities,” he says. “It made me want to work in international development and with more of a global perspective.”

Mahoney was a water sanitation and hygiene volunteer in Bocas Del Toro, an indigenous community with no electricity located an hour’s hike from the nearest road. He’s.

“It was awesome and a different experience from what I could have imagined,” he says. “With technology, every country is connected, and there is a lot to learn from other places. Leaving what you know is important to open your mind and have a more global perspective.”