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An Interview with Director of the US Peace Corps Carrie Hessler-Radelet

On Friday, March 18, Director of the United States Peace Corps, Carrie Hessler-Radelet was at Wheelock College to promote Wheelock’s Coverdell Fellows University Partnership with the Peace Corps.

The Coverdell Fellowship is a financial assistance program, often featuring paid internships, for returning Peace Corps volunteers looking to get their Masters degree. Wheelock currently engages with the Coverdell Fellowship in its Department of Special and Elementary Education.

Hessler-Radelet comes from the only four generation Peace Corps family, with her aunt having served in Turkey, her grandparents having served in Malaysia, and nephew in Mozambique.

After completing her undergraduate degree at Boston University, Hessler-Radelet enrolled with her husband as a couple, and served in Western Samoa as a teacher. She was inspired to enter the public health field in HIV/AIDS and women’s health through the close bond she established with her house mother in Western Samoa, who, at the time of Hessler-Radelet’s service, had eight children.

Upon returning to the United States, Hessler-Radelet earned a Master of Science on health policy and management from the Harvard School of Public Health, which she utilized as Vice President of John Snow Inc.. While working at John Snow Inc, a public health consulting firm, Hessler-Radelet oversaw operations in 85 countries across the globe, and was ultimately responsible for a budget of similar proportions to that of the US Peace Corps.

In 2010, Hessler-Radelet received what she described as a phone call from out of the blue from the Obama Administration, asking her if she would act as the deputy director of the US Peace Corps.

“When you’re given such an opportunity, you just don’t look back,” Hessler-Radelet explained. In June of 2014 she became the 19th Acting Director of the US Peace Corps.

Hessler-Radelet articulated that the Coverdell Fellowship would be primarily composed of three elements – academia, service, and scholarship – which can be accessed by any academic background. While particular Coverdell Fellowship university partners may have individual requirements, the program itself does not have a preferred field of undergraduate study.

“We are looking for individuals who are resilient, comfortable with ambiguity, who are highly motivated, and who persevere in adversity, because job specific skills can be learned,” Hessler-Radelet stated.

Hessler-Radelet has observed a diverse range of motivations for entering the Peace Corps, fluctuates between individuals looking to serve humanity, to individuals hoping to use the Peace Corps as a springboard to an international career.

While the process of country and program used to be blind and randomized, as of two years ago, applicants can apply to specific countries or programs within the Peace Corps, or opt for traditional, random placement.

All Peace Corps programs are becoming increasingly competitive, with 2015 seeing the most applicants since 1975, as well as the highest budget in the history of the Peace Corps.

Although many Peace Corps participants choose to enroll after completing college, there is no age limit for volunteers; Alice Carter, at 87, is currently the oldest Peace Corps volunteer.

“At one point in time, the Peace Corps’ largest presence was in Honduras, currently, for security purposes, we do not feel safe placing volunteers in the country,” Hessler-Radelet said in regards to the Peace Corps presence in Honduras after he recent murder of indigenous land rights’ activist Berta Caceres in Intibuca. “The safety of our volunteers is one of our primary concerns.”

“For instance, our volunteers in Colombia tend to be placed on the rural Northern coast, and are taught to follow an immersion model in order to create strong connections with their neighbors to enhance their security.” Hessler-Radelet said.

Also of concern to the region of Latin America has been the emergence of the Zika virus. The Peace Corps is working to instruct volunteers to provide community education resources and media coverage; however due to the behavioral nature of the particular species of mosquito that carries the virus, there is little other supportive work that can be done in communities until a vaccine is developed.

In regards to the Mediterranean refugee crisis, the Peace Corps has similarly decreased their presence due to the violence of the crisis.

The Peace Corps is inactive in Greece as well, due instead to the relatively high Human Development Index score of the country, despite its current economic and population crisis. Instead, efforts have been focused in Macedonia and Kosovo, where short term, emergency programs have been put in place to help secure fewer violations against human rights in refugee movement.

Emmanuel College, as an institution that endeavors to stimulate community initiatives toward social justice, has a particular ideological connection with the goals of the Peace Corps. Hessler-Radelet spoke comprehensively on the Peace Corps’ goal to promote international social justice.

“The Peace Corps strives to provide the world with a better understanding of Americans, and Americans with a better understanding of the world,” Hessler-Radelet continued. “Hopelessness, anger, and fear breed terrorism, as individuals are faced with two distinct options in their times of crisis: to take action or flee. We try to support the creation of stable, prosperous countries that encourage socioeconomic development at the community level. In this way we attempt to incite change toward social justice through nurturing the potential of individuals through the strong, trust-based personal relationships our volunteers are able to create in their communities.”

Devon Wright ’17 is a Staff Writer for The Hub. She can be contacted at wrightd2@emmanuel.edu

Posted by on April 14, 2016. Filed under Around Campus,Colleges of the Fenway. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.