Amy Panikowski
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Amy Panikowski

Head of the CLAS

Even amid the buzz of activity and the press of the crowd at the 50th Anniversary Celebration of the Peace Corps, it was hard to miss Amy Panikowski.

As curious students mingled with Peace Corps volunteers from the 70s and 80s, it was evident that Panikowski’s sunny demeanor and unflagging energy fueled excitement in the tent. Directing interns, talking to press, and chatting with past corps members, the University of Florida’s Peace Corps recruiter seemed to be everywhere.

Faculty acknowledge Panikowski’s unrelenting drive as instrumental to the success of the Peace Corps at the University of Florida, identified in March as being the second largest volunteering campus in the nation. In 2010, 97 undergraduates and 20 graduate students volunteered for the organization.

Panikowski, who has served as the university recruiter since 2005, said that openness is key to the size of the program. She makes herself available to talk to students at any time about volunteering.

“Trust is really important when you’re about to commit 27 months of your life to something,” she said. “I think it helps that I’ve been here a long time.”

Panikowski cited the strength of the university’s student organizations and the nature of the student body as reasons for the campus being a strong recruiting ground.

“UF attracts students that are highly ambitious go-getters that are perfect for the Peace Corps,” she said. Panikowski pointed out that Peace Corps volunteers often take on work outside their duties to the corps. For example, one young woman in South Africa is working on creating a scholarship fund for the education of girls, while a former competitive volleyball player from UF is working on raising funds to build volleyball courts for schools in Indonesia.

Panikowski is no stranger to oversees service. As a Peace Corps volunteer, she worked in Malawi from 2001 to 2002. In addition to doing work that coincided with her undergraduate degree in biology and wildlife conservation, Panikowski also volunteered in a number of varied areas, including resource management, health education, English tutoring, girls’ empowerment, life skills, and agriculture work.

Panikowski’s experiences in Malawi led her to decide on a future career in development and to continue her education by pursuing a Ph.D. in geography.

“I like that geography helps you look beyond a particular scope, not just the social, environmental, or economic aspects of development,” she said.

Panikowski recommends the corps as an excellent opportunity for students to find their passion and to truly connect with people that the fast-paced American culture sometimes doesn’t allow for.

“Peace Corps gives you a chance for a life education and time to reflect on what you’ve done and where you want to go,” she said.

Credits

Writer

Aubrey Seigel and Jeff Stevens, Communications and Outreach

Photo

Courtesy Amy Panikowski

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