In March 1961, R. Sargent Shriver contacted Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C. to ask for his help in establishing a program for the Peace Corps: a new agency President John F. Kennedy had just established. Father Hesburgh, in partnership with the Indiana Conference on Higher Education, organized for 45 young volunteers to come to Notre Dame’s campus for a 10-week training before traveling to Chile to serve in rural communities. The Peace Corps Act was passed by Congress in September 1961; shortly after the young cohort arrived in Chile, making them among the first 100 volunteers to serve in the Peace Corps. Since then, more than 240,000 Americans have followed in their footsteps.
Thomas Scanlon '60 was among the 45 volunteers who traveled to Chile on that first mission. Cited by President John F. Kennedy for his service and commitment to the goals of the Peace Corps, Tom is now the President of an international consulting and advocacy firm. His memoir, Waiting for the Snow, recounts his Peace Corps experience.
On Friday, November 5, the Pulte Institute hosted a special showing of the documentary A Towering Task: The Story of the Peace Corps at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center. Prior to the film, we played a video interview between Tom and Jaclyn Biedronski, a program coordinator at the University of Notre Dame's Pulte Institute for Global Development and a graduate of the Keough School of Global Affair's master of global affairs program. Jaclyn served in the Peace Corps as an education specialist in Mozambique from 2016-2018. Together, Jaclyn and Tom shared their experiences of the Peace Corps and Notre Dame.
Danice Brown Guzmán, associate director of the Pulte Institute's Evidence and Learning Division, also has fond memories of Fr. Hesburgh. "I remember talking with Fr. Ted at my service send-off dinner, the year I graduated from Notre Dame. I told him I was going to serve in the Peace Corps and he shared some stories of this cohort in Chile. He then opened the dinner with a prayer for peace in Spanish, that he said he learned when he was in Chile with the first Peace Corps cohort. At the time I was not aware of Fr. Ted's role in the beginnings of the Peace Corps. It's so great to learn more about that time from this interview."
The mission of the Peace Corps is close to the hearts of us at the Pulte Institute and the Keough School. The idea that we can make an impact on the ground to help reduce poverty and inequality in global communities is something we aspire to in our research and programmatic activities. Many of our Pulte Institute and Keough school colleagues are returned Peace Corps volunteers and have used those experiences to inform the work they do today in global development.
Jennifer Krauser, senior program manager with the Pulte Institute's Education and Entrepreneurship Division, says that her Peace Corps experience taught her that the best international development is when the end beneficiaries are part of the project from ideation to project evaluation. "When I served in Uganda as a Peace Corps Volunteer from 2008-2011, I had to rely on my knowledge, experience, and abilities like never before. It truly was the hardest job I've ever loved and allowed me to work hard to learn new cultures and improve the lives of others."
"My experience as a Youth Development volunteer in Morocco from 2007 to 2009 directly led to my career in international development research. Through my time in Morocco, I learned a lot about how local projects can succeed, and also how they can fail. This has helped me avoid potential roadblocks in our work at the Pulte Institute," said Guzmán. "Working in a culture that was so different from my own, I also learned about the importance of locally-led development. Lastly, I began to develop my passion for investigating and measuring the impact of international development projects."