March 7th marked yet another special day at Brandeis for me personally, and it was simply a great day for both The Heller School and the Peace Corps community in general. This year marks the Peace Corps’ 50th Anniversary and there have been, and will continue to be, celebrations all over the world. The U.S. Peace Corps held an official event on March 5th at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum, and Boston University will host an event on April 15th, but March 7th was truly our day! This ball was set in motion (at least) three semesters ago when The Heller School for Social Policy & Management decided it wanted to commit tremendous time and resources toward celebrating its long-running relationship with the Peace Corps.
Since the founding of the Peace Corps in 1961, Brandeis alumni have served as both Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) and Staff, as have Brandeis faculty. Additionally, many Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) have come to Brandeis as graduate students, staff, and faculty. It is no secret that The Heller School has long sought out and attracted RPCVs. I applied to Brandeis’ Heller School, while serving as a PCV in the Kingdom of Lesotho, after having heard that it was a “Peace Corps friendly school.” Upon my arrival to campus in 2008, I was so surprised to see how many graduate students, staff, and faculty shared the label of RPCV: the fact that so many undergrads knew of the Peace Corps and expressed interest and enthusiasm was just an added bonus.
All this being said, the powers that be (namely the Associate Dean of Admissions and Recruitment Tom Broussard as well as Assistant Director Margaret Haley) felt strongly that this was worth the investment. When all would be said and done, there would be so many people to thank, chief amongst them being Dean Lisa Lynch. After months and months of planning, it was decided that there would be a cocktail reception followed by guest-speakers, and then a panel discussion.
The event kicked off on March 7th at 5:30pm with the thirty-minute reception… so many people passed through and enjoyed the terrific food, drinks, and light conversation. Immediately following the reception, the program began by Dean Lynch calling everyone to order and, before introducing our new President Fred Lawrence as the first speaker, she shared some very exciting news with the audience. The Heller School had JUST been selected (by Peace Corps) to become the newest Peace Corps Fellows/USA program. Fellows/USA “is a graduate fellowship program that offers financial assistance to Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. All Fellows complete internships in underserved American communities, allowing them to bring home, and expand upon, the skills they learned as Volunteers. These skills in adapting to new cultures, developing and managing projects, dealing with language barriers, and leveraging limited resources attract the attention of prospective schools” (http://heller.brandeis.edu/pc50/partnership/index.html). While there are many universities across the U.S. that share the title of Fellows/USA partner, Brandeis is now one of only two schools in the State of Massachusetts!
After the great news was both delivered and applauded, President Lawrence took over and was absolutely marvelous: it was thrilling to have him in Heller’s very own Zinner Auditorium! Following President Lawrence, Dean Lynch introduced special guest Peter Redmond to the podium. Redmond is both an RPCV and currently Deputy Associate Director of Global Operations at the U.S. Peace Corps. He truly honored us with his presence and it was so nice of him to fly in from Washington, D.C. to be with us on such an occasion. He delivered the keynote address and put a special emphasis on Peace Corps’ excitement about this new formal partnership with Brandeis University and its Heller School.
The final part of the evening consisted of a panel discussion that was introduced by Dean Lynch. I had the honor of moderating, and the panel consisted of four people including: RPCV-South Korea (’74-’76) and Professor of American Studies at Brandeis Tom Doherty, RPCV-Lesotho (’01-’03) and Heller PhD candidate Tom Mackie, RPCV-South Korea (’68-’71) and Director of Pre-Health Advising at Brandeis Judith Hudson and, last but not least, Murray Frank. Frank, amongst many other accomplishments, was the Peace Corps Director of Western Nigeria (’61-’64) and later obtained a PhD from The Heller School in 1974. Presently, Murray is a member of the Heller Alumni Association Board and he received an exciting and lengthy mention in Stanley Meisler’s new book titled When the World Calls: The Inside Story of the Peace Corps and Its First Fifty Years. The panel discussion lasted an hour and was filled with both personal experiences in and opinions of the Peace Corps, plus thorough responses to questions posed by the moderator and guests in the audience!
The night was a big success and an appropriately loud way to usher in a new era of Brandeis/Peace Corps partnership. Also, the evening was an important way to recall and honor the life of the late Jim Sabourin. Jim was an RPCV as well as the long-standing Director of International Admissions at The Heller School. He passed away unexpectedly in 2009 and Dean Lynch used this occasion to announce that “Heller has created the James Sabourin Scholarship for Sustainable International Development (SID). Each year the scholarship will be awarded to a young professional from an African country applying to the Master of Arts in Sustainable International Development program.” On a side note, I called Brandeis from Lesotho in 2007 and Jim was the very first person I spoke with. He was beyond encouraging and helpful and I give him much credit for my successful application to The Heller School.
I am sad that this event has now come and gone, but I am already looking forward to Brandeis University’s celebration of Peace Corps’ 100th Anniversary!
For more information about this event and Brandeis’ relationship with the Peace Corps, you may also wish to read:
- Heller honors Peace Corps (Brandeis Hoot)
- Brandeis, Peace Corps to celebrate 50 years of growing together (Brandeis NOW)
- In honor of the Peace Corps’ 50 Anniversary (Global Brandeis 2.0 Blog)
- ‘The toughest job I ever loved:’ Cambridge resident reflects on Peace Corps experience (Wicked Local)
Update: June 12, 2011: Read also: What I brought back from the Peace Corps (Boston Globe)