Since the Peace Corps was founded in 1961, over 500 USF alumni have served in the organization—and many have come from the USF College of Public Health (COPH). Currently, 16 USF alumni from a variety of programs across the USF system are volunteering for the Peace Corps in countries around the world.
This is the third consecutive year that USF has ranked among the top 5 graduate schools producing Peace Corps Volunteers. USF takes its place above American University, University of Denver, George Washington University and New York University, among others
For nearly 60 years, the Peace Corps has sent Americans—over 235,000 in all—to communities outside the country. The volunteers, who have a passion for service, address challenges in education, health, economic development, agriculture, the environment and youth development.
“We have a globally minded student body and leadership that believes in our global mission,” said Jesse Casanova, the assistant director of study abroad programs at USF Health. “When this type of zeal meets with partners who have a shared trajectory, such as the Peace Corps, then the outcome is an increased number of students who are committed to global work.”
Who are these students and what kind of global work do they do?
Samantha Santos-DaSilva, who received her MPH in global communicable diseases from the COPH, did her Peace Corps work in Cambodia from 2015 to 2017, after her first year of MPH work.
She served as a health educator assigned to rural health centers and provided education on chronic disease care, maternal/child care, nutrition, immunizations, sanitation and hygiene, among other topics.
“If I had to describe my entire Peace Corps experience with one word,” Santos-DaSilva said, “it would be acceptance. I accepted situations and rolled with the punches. I accepted that I had room to grow. And I accepted that while I wasn’t able to change everyone’s behavior, the ones that I did mattered.”
Today, Santos-DaSilva—who also received her bachelor’s in public health from USF—works with The Carter Center as a technical advisor (TA) for the Guinea Worm Eradication Program in Ethiopia. Guinea Worm Disease is a water-borne tropical disease caused by a certain type of roundworm. It causes painful skin lesions and terrible burning sensations.
“A lot of the staff you find in the public health/international public health field are Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs),” said Santos-DaSilva. “When applying for jobs, they know what work ethic they’ll be receiving from me and how adaptable I am because of my Peace Corps service. The Peace Corps has taught me how to work in any environment and adjust easily to it.”
Shawn Alderman, a COPH MPH student concentrating in epidemiology, joined the Peace Corps in 2015 when he was halfway through his master’s program. He served for two years in Cameroon and was stationed in an HIV treatment center where he worked on creating easier access and adherence to HIV treatment.
Alderman, who got his BA in psychology at USF, also worked on some malaria-education campaigns and developed a farming cooperative for rural Muslim women.
“The Peace Corps challenges you mentally and physically in ways that are hard to explain,” Alderman said. “It changes and shapes you into a better human being. You become better skilled at dealing/interacting with humans and all the human issues that come into play in a society/community. You can take these skills, these ‘soft skills,’ and apply them to every facet of your life, be it personal or professional. The technical skills learned might be modest, but the test of your character—and the refining of it—is what the Peace Corps accomplishes best.”
Today, Alderman is in Puerto Rico doing a cancer research internship with Moffitt Cancer Center. After graduation this summer, he plans on applying for jobs in the U.S. and around the world, “taking the best offer I get in public health.”
Story by Donna Campisano, USF College of Public Health
Tags: Cambodia, Cameroon, Epidemiology, Ethiopia, global communicable disease, guinea worm disease, Jesse Casanova, Moffitt Cancer Center, Peace Corps, Puerto Rico, Samantha Santos-DaSilva, Shawn Alderman, The Carter Center, top ranking