In March 1961, President John F. Kennedy signed Executive Order 10924, creating the Peace Corps – an experimental initiative designed to send American volunteers abroad to provide technical assistance and gain a better understanding of other cultures.
Today, nearly 220,000 Americans have served in 140 countries through the program. Among them have been more than 3,100 Badgers: the second most of any college or university in the United States.
It’s the job of Peace Corps volunteers to work with local communities to develop sustainable solutions in education, health, economic development, agriculture, the environment, and youth development.
It’s Jenna Bushnell’s job to tell their stories.
A 2014 UW-Madison graduate, Bushnell serves as a public affairs specialist in the Peace Corps’s Washington, DC office.
“It’s my job to tell the wonderful stories of Peace Corps volunteers and let Americans know how they can make a difference by serving others,” says Bushnell.
The nation’s capital is familiar turf for Bushnell: she grew up there, surrounded by people who were driven to serve their country and the world.
“I think growing up in DC made it pretty easy to envision how I could do work that would have a positive impact on others,” says Bushnell. “I really can’t imagine a career doing anything else.”
Bushnell’s childhood in Washington laid a foundation for a life of public service, but it was her education at UW-Madison that offered her the opportunities to make it happen.
“I’ve always known that I wanted to do something meaningful with my career and hopefully leave the world a better place – or at least not worse off – than when I found it,” says Bushnell. “I think UW-Madison provided a million opportunities to figure out just how to do that.”
As an undergraduate, Bushnell served as a social media intern at the Morgridge Center for Public Service, while also supporting local literacy efforts and volunteering with Porchlight homeless shelter through Pi Beta Phi sorority.
Bushnell also helped to found Madison’s chapter of She’s the First, an organization dedicated to fundraising for the scholarships for girls around the world who are the first in their families to receive educations.
And in the summer between her sophomore and junior years, Bushnell was offered the opportunity to intern with the Peace Corps back home in DC.
“The Wisconsin Idea was really integrated into every facet of my education and experience at UW-Madison,” says Bushnell. “The university has a learning culture that places a lot of emphasis on envisioning the impact that a great education can have when applied to individuals, communities, and the world.”
A journalism and international-studies double major, Bushnell says her current role as a public affairs specialist is a “natural fusion” of the skills she learned in the classroom at UW-Madison.
“In both fields, I learned to think critically while keeping an open mind – two skills that are at the core of public affairs and international development,” she says.
Bushnell adds that she considers herself fortunate to have learned under “so many profoundly smart, engaging, and enthusiastic faculty members.” She also credits the Morgridge Center for Public Service as being a transformative place for her on campus.
“I’m not sure I’ve met a more inspiring group of people dedicated to both the university and Madison who are so fervently committed to tapping into UW-Madison’s dedicated student body to make a difference,” says Bushnell.
She doesn’t hide her Badger pride when talking about UW-Madison’s standing among Peace Corps volunteers. Last year, the university ranked number two in the number of annual volunteers produced, but Bushnell has her eyes set on Badgers retaking the number one spot this year – a position it held as recently as 2014.
Public service was always in Bushnell’s blood, and now, with a UW-Madison education, public service is her calling and her career. Just like the thousands of Peace Corps volunteers serving around the world, for her, a career in public service is a way to create real, positive change.
“I think public service, either as a career or as volunteer work, is an opportunity to roll up your sleeves and help others. It’s a chance to leave the world a better place than you found it.”