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Peace Corps first stop for new grad

Jessica Penetar: “A lot of things led me to my decision to join the Peace Corps, but one of the biggest factors was my enjoyment of volunteer work.”

Click here for low-resolution video of UD’s 156th Commencement

Click here for high-resolution video of UD’s 156th Commencement

Click here for low-resolution video of Jeff Shaara's address

Click here for high-resolution video of Jeff Shaara's address

Click here for Commencement 2005 photo album

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About UD’s 156th Commencement

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7 p.m., May 28, 2005--By the summer of her junior year, Jessica Penetar, a senior from Northborough, Mass., had plenty of opportunities ahead of her. With a summer internship, hours of chemical engineering courses and more than a decade of volunteer work to her credit, her schedule--and plenty of promising job offers--were bound to open up to her after graduation.

But, far from settling for the standard dream of a comfortable career with predictable hours and compensation, the chemical engineering major said she did some soul-searching, considered her dearest interests and opted for the Peace Corps.

Toward the end of an internship last summer, after taking stock of her interests in volunteer work, travel and the Spanish language, Penetar made contact with the Mid-Atlantic Peace Corps recruiting office in Washington, D.C., went through the grueling process of applications and interviews and made a commitment to spend two years and three months after her graduation from UD working for social improvement in an underdeveloped region of Latin America.

“A lot of things led me to my decision to join the Peace Corps,” Penetar said, “but one of the biggest factors was my enjoyment of volunteer work.”

Involved with the Girl Scouts for 10 years and active with Circle K (UD’s student division of the Kiwanis Club) throughout college, Penetar put her resolve to the test during a Winter Session study abroad trip to Costa Rica. When she returned, she said, her mind was made up.

After a brief internship in June with Hydroqual, an environmental engineering company in Mahwah, N.J., Penetar will leave for a yet-to-be-determined location in Latin America to live for three months with a host family before embarking on a two-year assignment assisting the Peace Corps with water sanitation projects.

“I don’t know where I’ll be going yet. I’ll know that when I receive the invitation in June,” Penetar said. “But, I do know that I’ll be posted somewhere in Latin America and will be staying with a family for the first three months to get acclimatized to the culture and become fluent with the language.”

After the homestay, Penetar will receive free housing and the equivalent of a “middle class” salary in the country in which she is posted, which will cover her living expenses. She also will receive free transportation to Latin America and back, as well as a round-trip flight for one trip home during her two-year post. Additionally, when her two years are up, the Peace Corps will offer Penetar job placement assistance, a relocation stipend of $3,000 and access to a support group designed to ease the culture shock often encountered by Peace Corps volunteers returning to the United States.

“It’s not a lot in terms of money,” Penetar said, “but I’m not doing this for money! This is an experience you can only do once, and I’m really excited about the opportunity. I knew after my sophomore year that this is what I wanted to do, and my semester in Costa Rica only confirmed that. I might find out after two years that I even want to stay.”

Penetar said that her family and friends support her decision, and that her mother even considered joining her until the plan proved to be infeasible.

“My mom wanted to go with me, my dad is really excited for me and two of my best friends from home are already planning to come visit me,” Penetar said. “But, I’ll be over there all alone in a completely new environment, and this is going to be a really exciting challenge.”

Article by Becca Hutchinson
Photo by Kathy Atkinson

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