Peace Corps and Cornell renew, expand relationship

April 5, 2013

Peace Corps Acting Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet visited Cornell on April 5 to talk about relationships: bonds between volunteers and the people in their host countries, and partnerships between the Peace Corps and Cornell.

While on campus Hessler-Radelet met with deans and leaders of all the colleges at Cornell to expand and strengthen the Peace Corps program university-wide; she also participated in a symposium highlighting the many years of collaboration between the Peace Corps and the university.

Hessler-Radelet and President David Skorton signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) for a new Peace Corps/Cornell Paul D. Coverdell Fellowship for returned Peace Corps volunteers seeking a master of professional studies degree in the field of global development in International Programs in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (IP-CALS). The new MOA joins the one established in 2008 for Master of Regional Planning Program in the AAP‘s Department of City and Regional Planning.

“The core strength of our volunteers is the relationships they build within the communities they serve,” she told an audience at the City and Regional Planning Colloquium in Milstein Hall.

Hessler-Radelet explained that her own call to service sprang from a question her grandmother asked her: “What are you going to do with your one life?” The answer to that question has led her to a lifetime of public service, starting as a Peace Corps volunteer and now serving as the acting director. Through her service, Hessler-Radelet has seen firsthand how important relationships are in the work of Peace Corps volunteers. “The best-intentioned plans will not work,” she said, “if our volunteers do not cultivate meaningful relationships in the communities where they serve.”

The benefits of these relationships are not only felt within the communities but also reverberate within the life of the volunteer. “Serving in the Peace Corps is a transformative experience. Living in another country creates a unique perspective for the Peace Corps volunteer. It is this enriched perspective of other cultures that is very necessary in today’s world,” Hessler-Radelet said.

The relationship between Cornell and the Peace Corps started 50 years ago when 18 Cornell alumni became Peace Corps volunteers. Since then nearly 1,600 Cornell alumni have served in the Peace Corps. With the signing of the MOA, the partnership of IP-CALS and the Peace Corps continues to grow with the expansion of the Paul D. Coverdell Fellows Program to CALS. In this program, a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) attends graduate school to pursue a masters of professional studies followed by an internship in a local New York community.

The program between the Peace Corps and IP-CALS and CRP allows Cornell to attract the best RPCV’s and international development students. “Having a university like Cornell make such a commitment to the Peace Corps is a strong endorsement of the academic value of real-world experience,” said Marshall McCormick (M.R.P. ’13), Cornell Peace Corps Coordinator and a RPCV.

Also recognizing the importance of relationships cultivated during his service, McCormick said, “The work that I did in Peace Corps allowed me to reassess the ways that I measure the changes I can have in our world and encouraged me to focus on finding ways to create an impact based on the relationships that I build with others.”

Looking toward the future, Hessler-Radelet emphasized the value of the relationships that Peace Corps volunteers accumulate and how those experiences continue to reap rewards. “Returned Peace Corps Volunteers give so much back to the United States when they return from service. In many ways, their service doesn’t end when they come home. Our country needs people that speak different languages and understand different cultures to help solve the most intractable global problems. Peace Corps volunteers help everyone work together as one united humanity.”

By John Bakum, IP-CALS

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