Alumna upholds family, UChicago traditions of serving in Peace Corps

For the third straight year, the University of Chicago has placed on the Peace Corps’ annual list of the top volunteer-producing midsized colleges and universities across the country. The school ranks 25th with 13 alumni currently serving overseas as Peace Corps volunteers.


Since the agency was created in 1961, 762 UChicago graduates have served as Peace Corps volunteers, including Abigail Pershing, AB’14, who has been helping in Senegal as a health volunteer since May 2015.

Pershing answered a few questions about her experience abroad.

What are your main volunteer projects and secondary projects?

I’m working on two main projects. The first is an initiative to train one person knowledgeable about health-related issues in every village under the auspices of my health post. The second is a plan to help people save money during the relatively prosperous months of January through March so they will be able to pay for medical consultation fees and medication during the parts of the year when money is particularly tight, thereby decreasing the number of people who forego medical care for financial reasons.

How did your alma mater help prepare you for international service, or lead you to Peace Corps?

The public policy required course “Problems of Public Policy Implementation” was particularly useful in my work here. In the course, students study various international development efforts and the disastrous unintended consequences of seemingly reasonable policies. That course, combined with the ethnographic techniques I learned through my sociological studies, put me ahead of the curve in terms of understanding the potentially negative outcomes that can occur if we don’t take the time to thoroughly study problems from multiple perspectives or to engage community members.

What/who inspired you to serve in the Peace Corps?

My mother served in Mali in the 1980s, and my grandmother served in Burkina Faso from 2010-2012. I’ve heard about Peace Corps all my life, and was lucky enough to actually visit my grandmother while she was working in Burkina, which cemented my desire to join Peace Corps. I was therefore particularly pleased to receive an invitation to serve in a West African country!

What are your career aspirations?

Eventually, I’d like to work on policy issues related to many facets of poverty and inequality.

What’s been your favorite part of service?

Getting to know the people in my village and learning from them. It’s truly amazing to feel so at home in a culture that is entirely different from the one I grew up with.