The director will be the keynote speaker for the 32nd Annual Conference on the Advancement of Women, hosted by Texas Tech’s Women’s Studies Program.
Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet will visit Texas Tech University's campus Friday (April 15) as the keynote speaker for the 32nd Annual Conference on the Advancement of Women.
The conference, which was started in 1984 by the Women's Studies Program, focuses on all things women, including cultural and social construction of gender, exploring history, experiences, contributions of women to society, and studying the influences of gender on the lives of women and men.
“We are honored this year to have the director of the Peace Corps as our keynote speaker,” said Charlotte Dunham, director of the Women's Studies Program and associate professor in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Social Work. “She is a role model for our students for ways to serve the global community, and we are excited she has agreed to come to Texas Tech.”
Coming from a four-generation Peace Corps family, Hessler-Radelet said Peace Corps service has been in her DNA since she was born. She was sworn in as the director of the Peace Corps in 2014, serving as the 19th director for the agency.
When she began her career in international development in 1981, Hessler-Radelet was a Peace Corps volunteer in Western Samoa, teaching secondary school with her husband, Steve Radelet. She continued her career in international development and focused for more than two decades on working in public health, specifically with HIV/AIDS and maternal child health.
“One of the greatest aspects of Peace Corps service is the lasting impact it has on the lives of volunteers, and that was certainly true for me,” Hessler-Radelet said. “As a volunteer in Western Samoa, I found my passion for service and international development, and it was there my career in public health was born. My Peace Corps service led me to my career in health and now back to the agency in my current role as director.”
During her service, she has led historic reforms to modernize and strengthen the Peace Corps to meet the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century. Her dedication to the agency has led to a revitalized effort of recruitment, application and selection processes, resulting in a record-breaking number of applicants in 2015.
“This past year, Peace Corps received nearly 23,000 applications from Americans who want to make a difference through service overseas – a 40-year high in application numbers,” she said.
The Peace Corps was established in 1961 and still serves today as the preeminent international service organization of the United States to tackle the most pressing needs of people around the world. Hessler-Radelet said she is constantly inspired by the work of the Peace Corps volunteers and their community members.
“There really is no typical day as the Peace Corps director, but I do spend time each day working on initiatives that are important to me, such as promoting girls' education through the Let Girls Learn initiative,” she said. “Every single day I meet someone whose life was changed because of the Peace Corps. Today, the agency's legacy continues to be exemplified in countless incredible stories of communities lifted, friendships forged and lives changed forever, including the lives of the Peace Corps volunteers. It is these stories that keep me inspired and fulfilled.”
While Hessler-Radelet is visiting Texas Tech for the conference, she will speak about the work of the Peace Corps' support of the Let Girls Learn initiative, a government-wide effort spearheaded by the Barack Obama Administration to expand access to education for girls around the world.
Hessler-Radelet said through the Let Girls Learn initiative, Peace Corps volunteers are helping to address the range of challenges preventing girls around the world from attending and completing school and realizing their full potential.
When it comes the Peace Corps, she said the agency is so important to our world today because of the development progress it has made in the past 30 years for areas stricken by heart-wrenching poverty, social injustice, political and economical instability and conditions that foster hopelessness and spark conflict.
“Creating a culture of peace begins with creating the conditions for peace,” she said. “People ask me sometimes, when I talk to them about the Peace Corps, why it is that I have so much faith in the impact of our volunteers' service. ‘How much of a difference can one person really make?' they ask. It's simple. Peace Corps volunteers are immersed in their communities, living their projects, day in and day out. They are uniquely positioned to identify windows of opportunity, secure buy-in from community leaders, and work with their communities to find and implement sustainable solutions.
“What their experience shows us is that our greatest potential for impact comes from a foundation built on strong, personal relationships. Our volunteers are most successful when they have earned the trust of the people around them; when there is mutual appreciation and respect for what each partner brings to the relationship.”
For those who want to get involved in the Peace Corps, Hessler-Radelet said the greatest way to make an application stand out is to begin volunteering now.
“I encourage everyone interested in the Peace Corps to get involved on campus and find ways to engage in service right here at home,” she said. “Those experiences will enhance not only your Peace Corps application, but also your campus community. I also encourage interested applicants to attend Peace Corps events and get in touch with their local Peace Corps recruiter.”
One way for Texas Tech students to begin their involvement with the Peace Corps is through the recently-launched Peace Corps Prep program on campus, offered through the Women's Studies Program.
Students of all backgrounds can register for the 15-hour certificate program. Courses include social sciences like anthropology, sociology or political science, language courses and classes that cover a student's area of emphasis: education, agriculture, health or technology.
Dunham and Annette Sobel, associate professor in the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center Department of Medical Education, proposed the program in 2014 and it launched last summer.
The prep program will prepare students who are considering joining the Peace Corps but will benefit students with an interest in international affairs or public health.
“I am very excited about the launch of the Peace Corps Prep program at Texas Tech and appreciate the hard work of Dr. Dunham, Dr. Sobel and other partners who helped make this a reality,” Hessler-Radelet said. “The Peace Corps Prep program offers students a unique combination of undergraduate coursework and community service that prepares them for a career in international development. Students who successfully complete the program make competitive Peace Corps applicants.”
The program concludes with a final project where students will spend time in another country, performing a service-learning project that will give them experience working cooperatively in the field with people of other cultures.
“Red Raiders enrolled in the Peace Corps Prep program will build hands-on experience and leadership skills while completing courses focused on intercultural competence and foreign language,” Hessler-Radelet continued. “After completing the program, students receive a signed certificate of completion from the Peace Corps. At Texas Tech, you say, ‘From here, it's possible.' With this Peace Corps Prep partnership, students can see yet another avenue of what's possible and how they can make a lasting difference in the world.”
Hessler-Radelet's other piece of advice for those interested in the Peace Corps is to “never doubt yourself and be confident in your skills, abilities and what you have to offer the world.”
The conference begins Thursday (April 14) with a film screening of “Get Together Girls,” an award-winning documentary about the community project that has transformed the lives of a group of Kenyan girls.
On Friday (April 15), the conference will continue with a continental breakfast on the upper level of the Student Union Building. Concurrent sessions will be conducted throughout the day, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Hessler-Radelet will speak at 1 p.m. in the Matador Room of the Student Union Building.
Women's Studies also will host a scholarship awards luncheon from noon to 1 p.m. and will recognize the 2016-17 Women's Studies Scholarship Awards recipients in the Matador Room.
For more information about the conference, including the conference program and schedule of events, visit the Women's Studies website.