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Peace Corps Still Best Bang For Our Buck

When Greg Widmyer entered Stanford Business School last fall, he never imagined his Peace Corps service would be viewed as a liability in getting a job. Yet, when he showed his rsum to a career counselor, she took out her red pen and said: "The first thing you've got to do is get rid of this Peace Corps thing."

The Peace Corps thing, I would argue, is the best preparation for any job in this country. Why? Because it has turned 150,000 Americans into creative problem-solvers who embrace - rather than stifle - differences, and whose world view makes them successful in adapting to our rapidly evolving world.

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When President Clinton recently announced plans to expand the corps by more than 50 percent by the year 2000, attention was focused on the impact it might have on host countries. Yet, the ongoing test of the Peace Corps is what you do with that experience when you come home.

Take Jack McCarthy. Mr. McCarthy is not a well-known Peace Corps veteran like Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, Sen. Chris Dodd, or UNICEF head Carol Bellamy. Nor is he like the legions of returnees who continue their work in the social services in this country. After three years of community development work in the West African nation of Mali, McCarthy came home and decided to try his hand at business.

In less than 15 years, he and his partner have become the No. 1 US distributors of Corian, a material used in kitchen countertops, with offices and outlets throughout the country.

McCarthy attributes his success directly to his Peace Corps experience. When his business was getting off to a precarious start, he deliberately hired and nurtured foreign-born workers. He had been treated well during his time overseas, and he wanted to give something back. In return, these employees worked hard to build up the company.

Jack McCarthy never went to business school. But I bet Stanford could learn something from his and other Peace Corps volunteers' case studies.

* Kitty Thuermer is associate director of publications for the National Association of Independent Schools in Washington. She also was a Peace Corps volunteer in Mali.

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