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Peace Corps Vies for the Best : Recruiters Strike It Rich on Campuses in State

February 27, 1986|BOB SIPCHEN

It hardly seemed the time or place to talk someone into shoveling manure on a Gabonese goat farm.

Most of the employment recruiters attending the UC Irvine Graduate School of Management's reception at the University Club last month were dangling the kinds of jobs that lead to BMWs and refrigerators full of Brie. The students, dressed for success, nibbling hors d'oeuvres from silver platters and sipping white wine, had the distinct look of aspiring "Y-word" types (as Michael Doonesbury calls a certain youthful, upwardly mobile and terribly over-publicized segment of the baby-boom generation).

But there, rubbing elbows with his counterparts from Rockwell International, Bank of America, Peat Marwick and New York Life, was Terry Ratigan, 27, of the U.S. Peace Corps. Despite the fact that the jobs he was peddling offer no pay in the traditional sense and decidedly unconventional perks, when Ratigan made his pitch the emerging MBA's were attentive.

25th Anniversary Saturday

Saturday is the 25th anniversary of the day President John F. Kennedy signed the Executive Order creating the Peace Corps--a quasi-government organization that sends American volunteers to help the people of developing nations. Although Peace Corps recruiters in Southern California concede that a lot has changed since that era when everyone was asking not what their country could do for them but . . ., they say that the Peace Corps remains a competitive recruiter of post-Me Generation graduates.

Last year, 15,000 people sent in applications for about 3,200 positions, and more than 6,000 volunteers of all ages are at work on projects of every description in 62 countries, Peace Corps literature points out. In fact, according to the November-December '85 issue of Black Collegian magazine, the Peace Corps is the single largest "employer" of recent college graduates in the country. California campuses are by far the most fertile grounds for harvesting new recruits, Peace Corps staff members said.

Ratigan and other recruiters in the San Diego and Los Angeles offices, whose turf runs from the Mexican border to San Luis Obispo and throughout Arizona, offered a variety of reasons why a recent college graduate might want to make the commitment to a minimum of 27 months in the Peace Corps. (An Illinois man, Odilon Long, 83, has the longevity record, having served for more than 15 years in the African countries of Gabon, Togo, Sierra Leone, Upper Volta, and Burkina Faso. He is now in Haiti.)

Perhaps the main criteria and incentive for a good volunteer are that he "wants to go out and help people," Ratigan said. He and other recruiters agreed that with recent media attention on hunger in Africa, altruism is again becoming fashionable.

They added, though, that today's volunteers tend to be more pragmatic than their counterparts were in the idealistic '60s.

Ratigan said: "In the last two years I've noticed more people are asking, 'What really is being done about hunger? Is it reasonable to assume that I can go and do something that will make a difference?' "

Most volunteers' altruism is tempered with careerism, recruiters said. The Peace Corps, in turn, has been emphasizing what a stint with the organization can do for a person's resume.

For instance, recruiters are quick to point out that "Peace Corps positions are very responsible, much more so than those most other recent college graduates are given," Ratigan said. "Also, because you've worked overseas, there's a tremendous amount of credibility that goes with being a Peace Corps volunteer. It shows you're flexible." And then there are the language skills Peace Corps volunteers acquire.

Served in Sierra Leone

These are all things that impress employers, said Ratigan, who spent his 27-month tour as a volunteer in the West African country of Sierra Leone, helping farmers develop new methods of rice farming.

But the less tangible rewards of the job are probably what persuade most people to make the big decision, said the recruiters, all of whom are "returned volunteers."

"Word of mouth is our most effective tool," Ratigan explained, adding that testimonials don't come only from people who are paid to seek out new talent.

For instance, when a young woman at the UCI function expressed interest in the Peace Corps, Ratigan steered her over to Rick Passo, who had spent 27 months in the Philippines as a volunteer.

Although his job description in the Philippines was "local development administration"--which translated mostly to data gathering--Passo explained that, like most volunteers, he also worked with people on the basic level. He said, for example, that introducing the local population to a simple, efficient type of cooking stove was particularly satisfying.

'Important Life Experience'

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