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College of Education celebrates Peace Corps ties

August 30, 2011

The United States is celebrating this year the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps, a volunteer program that has sent more than 200,000 Americans around the globe to promote world peace and friendship.

Peace Corps: Reflections on a LifeWhen the Peace Corps was founded in March of 1961, NIU became an early and active advocate for service in the Corps.

Through the help of J. Norman Parmer, a prominent Malayan historian and then-chairman of NIU’s history department, NIU launched the Corps’ first Malaya training program. Among those first trainees was NIU alumnus James Wolter (B.S. Biology, 1960; C.A.S Educational Administration, 1976; Ed.D. Educational Administration, 1980).

In 1961, Wolter was a medical student at Chicago Medical School when he decided to join the Peace Corps. After his training period, he was dispatched to Malaysia, where he spent 4-1/2 years teaching Form V and Form III (essentially equivalent to ninth-grade in the United States) at three different schools throughout the country.

Peace Corps 50 Year Anniversary logoWolter took time last year to reflect on his experience, writing a brief memoir of the time he spent in Malaysia as a member of the Corps.

Reflections on a Life: One Peace Corps Teacher’s Experience” is being shared in installments on the College of Education’s website, with a new section added each Monday.

Filled with detailed descriptions, humorous anecdotes, and bittersweet memories, this retrospective presents a first-hand look at the early operations of the Peace Corps and illustrates how a decision to serve in the Corps changed and enriched one man’s life.

“Although 50 years have gone by, it still seems like it was just yesterday that I was teaching in Malaya, meeting the woman I would marry, and becoming a father. I’ve avoided talking about my Peace Corps experience, especially questions about why I joined and how it was, until now,” Wolter says. “With this historic anniversary of the Corps’ founding, however, it felt like the right time to reflect on what that volunteer service meant to me, how it changed my life and to put it in writing. Words are still inadequate to express what it has meant to me.”

While preparing to serialize his story for the website, college officials discovered several faculty members who were also returned Peace Corps volunteers.

Katherine Brosier (LEPF) served in Zaire from 1984-1986, James Cohen (LTCY) served in Sri Lanka from 1991-1993, Richard Orem (LTCY) served in Tunisia from 1970-1972, and David Walker (ETRA) served in Zaire from 1989-1991 and in Mauritania from 1992-1994.