UF leads nation in Peace Corps recruits


Amy Panikowski, a former University of Florida Peace Corps recruiter, says it's bittersweet that UF ranked first in recruits nationwide.

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Published: Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 3:09 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 3:09 p.m.

The University of Florida is tops in Peace Corps college recruitment for the first time, but it might be difficult to keep the lofty position because a full-time recruiter is no longer on campus.

UF is tied with the University of Washington in undergraduate recruits at 107 in rankings released Tuesday by the Peace Corps. UF is No. 1 in graduate student recruits at 26.

"We are really excited — this is the first year (UF) is ranked No. 1 at graduate and undergraduate," said Peace Corps regional spokeswoman Alethea Parker. "The campus recruiter who was on campus ... did an excellent job of building networks and speaking with people interested in Peace Corps. We definitely think she had a good presence on campus to get those numbers up."

But that recruiter, Amy Panikowski, left the job late last year because of changes in the way the position was funded.

Panikowski said Tuesday she has bittersweet feelings about the ranking — proud that UF is tops but sad she no longer is doing the job.

"All of those (107) people, I recruited during my tenure. I'm humbled and very proud of these kids and what I did here," said Panikowski, a UF grad student and former Peace Corps volunteer. "I'm glad to go out knowing that UF is No. 1. But I'm sad we don't have a recruiter here now. I think the numbers reflect the need."

A recruiter who covers Northeast Florida will make periodic trips to UF, Parker said.

For the past seven years, except 2006, Panikowski has been among the top 25 undergraduate recruiters at colleges and universities with student bodies larger than 15,000, and top five in the past few years.

In 2011, UF was No. 4 on the list with 101 volunteers and No. 1 for graduate students with 30 volunteers.

The Peace Corps last year changed the way it selects and pays college recruiters, instituting a system in which each university applies for money.

After weeks of trying to work within the new rules, UF's International Center withdrew its bid. Officials decided that even if they had won the bid, they could not pay for everything Panikowski needs because of UF's budget cuts.

Parker said the Peace Corps still will have a recruiting presence at UF.

"We do have a recruiter who goes to UF. He's actually an alum of the University of Florida and will try to go there two to three times a semester," Parker said. "He's an alum, and he is really dedicated to working with people."

Jessica Childers, who works at UF's International Center, was recruited into the Peace Corps by Panikowski and served in the Republic of Georgia in eastern Europe. Her stint as an English teacher was interrupted by a war, and the work was hard, but overall the experience was worthwhile, she said.

"I'm really happy for Amy and the numbers that came out. There is no better way for her to go out than a No. 1 ranking across the board," Childers said. "The hardest part about (starting an assignment as a Peace Corps volunteer) was actually getting on the plane. Once you get past that, everything else is just a roller coaster that is well worth it."

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