Hugh Pickens (Peru 1970-73) who started www.peacecorpsonline.org back in the early days of 2001 as a news service to the Peace Corps community has collected the various documents relating to what Aaron Williams should do, now that he is about to be sworn in as the new director. Check out the ideas at:
Archives for Peace Corps staff
A police escort with sirens blaring led our dozen Peace Corps buses in one long continuous caravan through every downtown light in Washington, D.C. It was high noon in the District the summer after the famous postcard had been found on the Ibadan campus and we–the 300 Ethiopia-bound Peace Corps Trainees at Georgetown University–were on our way to meet John F. Kennedy at the White House.
There were other Peace Corps Trainees meeting the President that afternoon. Peace Corps Trainees at Howard, American, Catholic, George Washington universities, and the University of Maryland, over 600 in all, gathered in the August heat and humidity on the great lawn below the Truman Balcony.
Arriving at the White House, I walked with the others up the slope with the Washington Monument behind me and the White House on the slight rise ahead, thinking how small the building was, no bigger than the country club where I had spent my teenage years as a caddie.
I thought, too, of how lean Kennedy looked, standing at a raised podium with his one hand caught in the pocket of his dark suit jacket as he said, “From Georgetown University, 307 secondary school teachers for Ethiopia.” He looked up from the pages and asked, “Perhaps those of you going to Ethiopia could hold up your hands.”
We cheered, thrilled at being recognized by JFK.
We were the Peace Corps, the shiny new creation that Kennedy had proposed in the last days of the 1960 presidential campaign, his experiment in international development that others had called a wacky and dangerous idea. The Daughters of the American Revolution warned of a “yearly drain” of “brains and brawn..for the benefit of backward, underdeveloped countries.” Former President Eisenhower declared it a “juvenile experiment,” and Richard Nixon said it was another form of “draft evasion.” The following year, in 1963, Time magazine noted in a cover story that the Peace Corps was “the greatest single success the Kennedy administration had produced.”
And now we were at the White House and John F. Kennedy was saying, “I hope that you will regard this Peace Corps tour as the first installment in a long life of service, as the most exciting career in the most exciting time, and that is serving this country in the sixties and the seventies.”
Looking again at the old photographs taken that afternoon, I see the President smiling down at the group of young women in bright flowery dresses, and young men with short haircuts, white shirts, narrow ties, and serious dark suits.
“The White House,” Kennedy said, summing up, “belongs to all the people–but I think it particularly belongs to you.”
Kennedy ended his remarks and instead of returning to the White House stepped from the podium and walked down the slope and along the line of Trainees to shake our hands. He asked us where we were going in the Peace Corps and wished us good luck. Finally he stopped and said, “Well, I guess I better get back to work.” He brushed back his hair in that famous gesture we all came to cherish and nodding goodbye walked a few yards towards the Oval Office, but stopped once more and glancing around raised his voice and told us to write, to tell him how it was going. He nodded goodbye, slipped his hand into the jacket pocket, and then, almost as an afterthought, he grinned and added, “But no postcards.”
In the Fall, 1999 issue of the Friends of Nigeria Newsletter, Frank recalls the incident and those early tense days in Ibadan, Nigeria. Murray writes:
The Postcard Affair began October 14, 1961. That was the day Peace Corps Nigeria almost came to an end . . . before it started. And I was in the middle of it all.
Nigeria I had arrived in Ibadan early in October. Volunteers were settling into dormitories at the University of Ibadan (then a part of the University of London and called University College of Ibadan) where they would continue the training started at Harvard.
I was the Western Region Peace Corps Representative. My family and I arrived in September, ahead of any other Regional Representatives and their families. Brent Ashabranner, who left AID to become Nigeria’s first Peace Corps Director, helped us get settled. We had a house in Bodija, a middle-class development between the center of Ibandan and the University. Residents included professionals and senior government officials - not quite the Peace Corps mold - but quite a comfortable area for a family with children aged two and four.
I had nothing to do with Volunteer training. My job was to arrange Volunteer assignments. I would visit a potential location, meet the principal and staff, establish that there was a position for the Volunteer to fill, and check out living conditions. I had not gotten very far by Friday, October 13. But, I was getting to know Volunteers as work assignments were developing.
Volunteers went to class and studied Monday through Saturday mornings. Friday night, October 13, PCV Marjorie Michelmore wrote some letters and picture postcards to folks back home. She mailed them on the way to class Saturday morning. One of the postcards described her first impressions.
When Volunteers arrived at dormitory dining halls for lunch Saturday, October 14, there was a copy, word for word, of that postcard at each place. Marjorie’s comments described how the average Nigerian lived. While not inaccurate, her comments were not flattering, and to a Nigerian student - especially one concerned about Western imperialism - the comments seemed downright insulting.
God help me!
A couple of Volunteers hitched a ride from the university to bring me the news. Protests were beginning on campus, Volunteers were being ostracized. This was clearly not a training issue. Now, I was in charge, God help me!
I arranged for all of the Volunteers to come to my house while I went to the USIS library to phone Lagos. I didn’t have a phone. I told Ashabranner what I knew. He cabled Peace Corps Washington.
By coincidence, the second-in-command at the American Embassy, the Deputy Chief of Mission, was on his way back to Lagos after a trip up North when the story broke. I met him at a local rest house with Marjorie and we agreed that she should go with him to Lagos. There was an AP stringer at the rest house. He could see that something was up.
I went home to meet with Nigeria I Volunteers. I was totally unprepared for this.
Initially the group felt anger - at Marjorie for getting us into this, at the Nigerians for making such a big deal out of one person’s comments on a postcard and holding us all responsible. Should we issue a statement disassociating ourselves? If so, to whom? How? We got by that quickly and went on to examine how representative these students and their feelings were of the country, and especially of the people with whom we would be working
We knew that Nigeria was newly independent but, in retrospect, I don’t know if we fully absorbed how deeply this influenced the students’ behavior. It had not been very long since independence had been won. The visages of the colonial period were still all around, including and especially white people who symbolized a colonial past. A Nigerian self-image based on new freedom was developing. Nigerians, at least by this group of young intellectuals, demanded respect.
I understood it better after I attended the inauguration ceremonies when the University College of Ibadan became the independent University of Ibadan. Nnamdi Azikiwe (Zeke), the father of independence, was the main attraction. When it was his turn to speak, the excitement - the electricity - in the crowd was palpable. A zzzZZZEKE cheer went wherever he did. They cheered and cried for him and for the event that reaffirmed independence. Zeke insisted that the University of Ibadan was “our” university, free of London’s influence and now part of Nigeria’s development. It was thrilling - the closest I ever came to such intense nationalism.
But on October 14, 1961, most of us had just confronted this intense nationalism for the first time. All of us had experienced student protests in the States. But this was quite different. It was not really about a postcard. We knew there were those who opposed foreigners “invading” their country and those who would use this incident for their own purposes. Some feared that we would not really be able to help Nigerians if that was how we wrote home about them.
We asked many questions. Do we have a choice, or have our chances of success been reduced significantly? Why try to stay where so many don’t want us? Shouldn’t we go somewhere else where we are invited and start fresh? Can we continue to live and train at the University where there is such hostility toward us?
And then the counter arguments came. We know Nigeria needs teachers. We can teach. We are not imperialists, nor CIA agents, nor ugly Americans. We know who we are. We can make a difference.
We were agitated but the discussion was mostly calm, always serious. It was hard work that afternoon. Concensus was a long time in coming. I saw my role as the discussion leader. These were the folks who would be on the firing line. They had to decide for themselves.
We were all young
We were all young. The oldest in that room was 34. We were newly transplanted to a very different culture, confronted with a situation for which none of us had any real preparation. But the Volunteers had spirit and maturity.
We continued to try to answer many questions. What are we doing here? Should we leave, or stay and prove that we have something to give? After many hours we made a decision.
We wanted to stay.
Marjorie’s postcard appeared in all Nigerian newspapers the next day. The story was in the American press, too. There were no directives nor advice from Peace Corps Washington or our Embassy. Only one message came. It was from the State Department asking “Were there really over 256 words on one-half the side of the postcard?”
In coming days and weeks, Volunteers continued to take some meals and sleep in the dormitories, but they were always isolated. One of the Volunteers, Aubry Brown, had training and experience in non-violent resistance. He told the Nigerian students in his dorm that he would not eat if he couldn’t eat with them.
Aubry Brown makes his stand
After a while, the Nigerians saw Aubry meant it. When they brought a dinner tray to his room he refused it. Soon the Nigerians invited him to join them at meals. Other Volunteers and students did the same. A dialogue began between students and the Volunteers - more valuable than if the incident had not taken place.
The Nigerian-American Society, and organization of Nigerians trained in America, also came to our defense in meetings, through letters to the editor, and with friendship. I remember particularly H.A.. Oluwasanmi, who taught agronomy at the University of Ibadan and later was Chancellor of the University of Ife. His support and advice on how to understand the situation was invaluable.
Richard Taiwo, an engineer in one of the Western Region ministries was a likeable, garrulous supporter, praising the Peace Corps everywhere. He and others organized a party for us at one of the very visible clubs in Ibadan. There was plenty of Star beer and lessons in Highlife.
Another outspoken and effective supporter was Tai Solarin, principal of the Mayflower School which he founded and named for our Mayflower. Had it not been for the support and advice from the Nigerian-American group, it would have been far more difficult to weather the storm. We might not have made it.
The Volunteers’ behavior after the tumult of the Postcard Affair was special. PCVs remained calm and were not retaliatory with Nigerians who taunted them. These young men and women balanced individuality and group allegiance, knowing that the issues were not personal. They remained reasonably self-confident and able to listen and learn
I assume that there will be PCV’s going into Nigeria again soon.
I hope they will be as good as Nigeria I volunteers were. They couldn’t be better.
A lot I’d say. Williams is a Chicago kid. He graduated from Chicago State University in 1967 with a B.S. in Education and Geography. Next he was in the DR as a PCV from 1967-70. When he returned home, he worked for the Peace Corps in Chicago and Washington (1970-71) as the Coordinator of Minority Recruitment, then went to the University of Wisconsin for his MBA in Marketing and International Business, graduating in ‘73. He is fluent in Spanish and also speaks French.
He worked in Minneapolis with General Mills before beginning a long USAID career with various positions and stationed in Honduras, Haiti, Costa Rica, Barbados and South Africa. In 1998, he went to Baltimore as the Executive Vice President of the International Youth Foundation.
He has received the USAID Distinguished Career Service Award in 1998, and the Presidential Award for Distinguished Service in 1992 and 1988 for his government service.
A board member of the NPCA since 2006, he is also a member of the Society for International Development among other organizaitons.
In 2002, he went to work for RTI International. The international development side of RTI is (according to their website) “dedicated to improving the human condition in developing countries. With more than 200 international development staff members based around the world, we deliver advisory and training services at the national, sub-national, and local government levels, providing institutional development through the transfer of analytical tools and methods. We often work in multidisciplinary teams that cut across traditional sector boundaries.”
Their clients are: are (of course) the United States Agency for International Development, Asian Development Bank, World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, and several agencies of the United Nations, as well as foundations and other regional and international organizations.
Married to Rosa Maria Williams, they have two sons and live in Reston, Virginia.
Former Senator Harris Wofford, a key architect of the Peace Corps in the days of Sarge Shriver, will introduce Aaron William (Dominican Republic 1967-70) to be the next Director of the Peace Corps this Wednesday afternoon in the Dirksen Senate Office Building. The Hearing will be held at 2:30 PM in Room 419. Senator Chris Dodd (Dominican Republic 1966-68) will preside over the Hearing.
Wofford, who was the CD in Ethiopia (1962-64), then worked in Peace Corps Washington before becoming the founding president of SUNY Old Westbury. From 1970 to 1978 he was president of Bryn Mawr College. Later Wofford chaired the Pennsylvania Democratic State Committee, and in 1991 he became the first Democrat elected to the U.S. Senate from Pennsylvania since 1962.
During most of the Clinton years, Harris headed the Corporation for National Service. An early supporter of President Obama, Wofford campaigned for Obama in Pennsylvania, and introduced Obama at the historic address given by Obama on race relations after Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Jr. comments.
If you have nothing better to do–or if you have something better—what would be best is if you dropped by the Capitol Visitor Center today, Wednesday, July 22, at 2:30 for an hour long reception that the Peace Corps is throwing for the Capital Hill Staff and Interns to try and talk them into joining the Peace Corps (no wonder Congress can’t get anything done; they are always partying in the middle of the day.)
Telling tall tales from when they were PCVs will be Senator Chris Dodd (Dominican Republic 1966-68); and Congressmen: Tom Petri (Somalia 1966-68); Sam Farr (Colombia 1964-66); Mike Honda (El Salvador 1966-67); and Steve Driehaus (Senegal 1988-90).
If you want to contact HQ for details on this reception email:Dwesterhof@peacecorps.gov. The agency expects about 200 (not counting you) to show up.
And if you go, look for Allison Price, who runs the Peace Corps’ Office of Communications, say hello and ask her a difficult question, or just give her a hard time.
A couple of Nigeria I Volunteers hitched a ride from the University College of Ibadan to APCD Murray Frank’s home with the news about the postcard. Protests were beginning on campus they told Murray; Volunteers were being ostracized. This was clearly not a training issue, and now Murray Frank was in charge of what to do next.
Frank had arrived in Ibadan early in October. While Volunteers were settling into dormitories at the University of Ibadan (then part of the University of London and called University College of Ibadan) to continue the training started at Harvard, he was arranging for Volunteer assignments. This meant Murray would visit a potential location, meet the principal and staff, establish that there was a position for the Volunteer to fill, and check out living conditions. By Friday, October 13, he was just getting started with this work, and also learning who the new Volunteers were back on campus at the University College of Ibadan.
The day after the postcard was found, Volunteers went into their college dormitory dining halls for lunch and found copy–word for word–of that postcard at each place. According to Murray, “Marjorie’s comments described how the average Nigerian lived. While not inaccurate, her comments were not flattering, and to a Nigerian student - especially one concerned about Western imperialism - the comments seemed downright insulting.”
When Frank learned what had happened on campus from the Volunteers who had hitched a ride to his place, he immediately arranged for all the Volunteers to come to my home that night for a meeting. He then went to the USIS library to phone Lagos–Frank did not have a phone in his home–to speak with Brent Ashabranner, Nigeria’s first Peace Corps Director. Brent Ashabranner cabled Peace Corps Washington with the news.
By coincidence, the second-in-command at the American Embassy, the Deputy Chief of Mission, was on his way back to Lagos after a trip up North. Murray and Marjorie met him at a local rest house and they all agreed Marjorie should go with the DCM back to Lagos. It was while at the rest house that Murray spotted an AP stringer staying there and he quickly realized the reporter would be onto what had happened with the Peace Corps Volunteer at the university. Murray knew the postcard incident would be on the AP the next day, and he was right. By Monday morning, the news of PCV Marjorie Michelmore and the infamous postcard was a headline in every daily newspaper in America.
A number of people have emailed me to ask about my mentioning of the “Marjorie Michelmore Peace Corps Postcard.” What was that, they asked, having never heard of it. Well, here’s the full story, in 10 blogs.
Marjorie Michelmore was a twenty-three-year-old magna cum laude graduate of Smith College in 1961 when she became one of the first people to apply to the new Peace Corps. She was an attractive, funny, and smart woman who was selected to go to Nigeria. After seven weeks of training at Harvard, her group flew to Nigeria. There she was to complete the second phase of teacher training at University College at Ibadan, fifty miles north of the capital of Lagos. By all accounts, she was an outstanding Trainee.
Then on the evening of October 13, 1961, she wrote a postcard to a boyfriend in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Here is what she had to say:
Dear Bobbo: Don’t be furious at getting a postcard. I promise a letter next time. I wanted you to see the incredible and fascinating city we were in. With all the training we had, we really were not prepared for the squalor and absolutely primitive living conditions rampant both in the city and in the bush. We had no ideas what “underdeveloped” meant. It really is a revelation and after we got over the initial horrified shock, a very rewarding experience. Everyone except us lives on the streets, cooks in the streets, sells in the streets, and even goes to the bathroom in the street. Please writer. Marge.
P.S. We are excessively cut off from the rest of the world.
The postcard never was mailed. It is said that it was found on the grounds of University College at Ibadan near Marjorie’s dormitory, Queen Elizabeth Hall. The finder was a Nigerian student at the college. Copies of the postcard were made and distributed. Volunteers were immediately denounced as “agents of imperialism” and “members of America’s international spy ring.”
The protest made front-page news in Nigeria and it sparked a minor international incident. As the Nigerian Ambassador to the United States put it, “No one likes to be called primitive.”
Smack in the middle of this “international incident” was Murray Frank, the thirty-four-year-old Western Regional Director of the Peace Corps in Nigeria, who had arrived in-country only weeks before the Trainees and was busy developing sites for the Volunteers when the infamous postcard was found.
Step # 10:Ten Steps For The Next Peace Corps Director To Take To Save Money, Improve The Agency, and Make All PCVs & RPCVs Happy!
Step # 10: Ten Steps For The Next Peace Corps Director To Take To Save Money, Improve The Agency, and Make All PCVs & RPCVs Happy!
There is a story told that when Sarge Shriver was first presented with an organization chart of the new agency, he turned it upside down, placing the PCVs at the top and told his staff that in the Peace Corps everyone worked for the Volunteers.
It has been a long time since the Peace Corps has been run this was. We have come, too, a long way from when Shriver ran the agency from the fifth floor of the old Maitatico Building drawing to him the best and the brightest of the young and talented arriving in Washington with John F. Kennedy’s administration, men and women like Harris Wofford, Warren Wiggins, Charlie Peters, Bill Josephson, Bill Haddad, Franklin Williams, Betty Harris, George Carter, Nan McEvoy, Dick Ottinger, Nancy Gore, Sally Bowles, Doug Kiker, Glenn Ferguson, and, of course, Bill Moyers. These were the best and the brightest and they would go on to become senators, ambassadors, congressmen, novelists, corporate executives, college presidents, television journalists, political operatives, non-profit executives, and to start award winning magazines of their own.
The list of pioneers is long, and there are many more names I could add. I could add the names of the first Volunteers who joined the agency in those early years when no one knew if serving in the Peace Corps might be a black mark on their careers for the rest of their lives.
The “Peace Corps” was so new in the early Sixties, so untested, so revolutionary (yes, children, in its day, it truly was) that these Volunteers were pinning their lives and ambitions on an idea that was scorned by many, laughed at by people who ‘knew better,’ the subject of cartoons in newspapers, and made a joke of on Jack Parr’s late night television show.
My wife, Judy, who never was a PCV (Forgive me, Farther, but yes, I did marry outside the Peace Corps) has over the years listened endlessly to my long ago Shriver stories, but she had never met the man.
Then she had her first exposure to Sarge at a fund raising dinner for the forerunner of the NPCA, a dinner organized by Tim Carroll (Nigeria 1964-66) and Maureen Orth (Colombia 1964-66), and attended by just about every famous RPCV from Paul Theroux (Malawi 1963-65) to Kinky Friedman (Borneo 1967-69) and when Shriver spoke to the crowd she, too, was caught up, as we were all once again, with his charm and good humor and his way of looking at the world as a place where change happens, where we all could make a difference with what we did with our lives.
That night in Washington when we stood to cheer Sarge, and, in truth, to cheer our ‘better angels,” Judy turned to me and nodded knowingly that now she understood how all of us in the Sixties were swept up by this man’s personality and would follow him to the ends of the earth as Peace Corps Volunteers.
Obama has given us hope again and a glimpse of what it was like once in the time of Kennedy’s Camelot, the thousand days of the New Frontier. What Obama needs now, what we need now for the Peace Corps, is someone who can turn around the tide of apathy towards the agency in Congress, who can bring back to Washington the spark that lit a thousand fires in the villages of the world, someone who can make the Peace Corps matter.
Let me close my list of 10 Steps with a story told and retold in the old days of Peace Corps/Washington and then committed to paper in Coates Redmon (PW/Staff 1961-65 ) charming history of the early days of the agency, Come As You Are.
The story goes this way.
Tom Mathews was at a ski resort in Utah in February 1961, sitting in the lodge’s bar after a late day run. He ordered a drink, then glanced around the room, looking for a familiar face. He spotted instead the newly famous figure of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, also in ski clothes. It was odd, Mathews thought, that McNamara would be in the bar. The New Frontier was known to be notoriously workaholic, so what was President Kennedy’s top Pentagon man during in Utah two months after the historic inauguration?
The telephone behind the bar rang and the bartender answered it casually, then began nodding earnestly, suddenly turning and announcing, “Washington is calling.”
McNamara rose immediately and reached across the bar to take the call.
“No, I’m sorry, Mr. Secretary,” explained the bartender. “It’s not for you. It’s for Tom.”
Tom Mathews took the phone, baffled as who might be wanting him. He didn’t know anyone in Washington or with the new administration.
A voice full of energy and impatience rang across the phone line. “Tom, this is Sarge Shriver calling from the Peace Corps in Washington. I’ve heard a lot of great things about you, and I want you to come work with us and help put this new thing together. How soon can you get here? What about tomorrow?”
“Well,” said the utterly flummoxed Mathews, “I’m on vacation and I have nothing but ski clothes and a bad sunburn.”
“That’s fine, Tom. Come as you are. Seeya tomorrow.” Click.
The next day, Tom Mathews arrived on the fifth floor of the Maitatico Building. He was still in his ski clothes and he went to work for the Peace Corps as deputy director of Public Information.
Let President Obama, on this the 175thDay since his own inauguration, appoint another Sarge Shriver to run the Peace Corps and the best and the brightest of this generation will come as they are to change the world.
I received an email today that I’d like to share with you. Dave Berlew, the Peace Corps CD in Ethiopia (1965-68), was in his professional life a PhD from Harvard in behavioral science and a management consultant in his career. He wrote to say what he thought of my Step #9 for the Peace Corps. Take a look.
John, your list qualities for CD (Country Director) candidates, while on the one hand humorous, is also pretty close to the mark if you look at it as a Gestalt rather than item by item. But there are more systematic ways of approaching the CD assessment problem.
In late 1964 I traveled to Washington to interview with Shriver for the Director of Selection position. When I got there he told me had filled the position the day before with the head selection guy at Exxon Corporation. When he offered me the job as Deputy Director of Selection, being young and full of oats (or something else), I told him I wasn’t interested in being a number two. A few months later he called and offered me a CD job. I concluded that Shriver was a genius at recognizing talent and didn’t need a new approach for selecting CDs. But he is no longer head of the PC, and now we do.
The Country Director Job
When I was a CD I found most of my time taken up by three core challenges or tasks. The first was engaging PC values in volunteers and trying to keep them salient. In the Sixties, we had PCVs who joined the PC to avoid Vietnam, many of whom were openly cynical. Bringing to the surface their latent values related to serving the less fortunate was the primary leadership task. This task requires leadership and communication skills. Even today, I’m sure there are many PC recruits whose primary motivation isn’t service
A second focus was creating a culture where PCVs felt reasonably secure, recognized as individuals, and above all, challenged. As a CD I spent 50% of my time doing the work of a dean of students, a job requiring interpersonal skills such as listening, guiding and occasionally tough love. Perhaps with older volunteers now, that isn’t as important, but I somehow doubt it.
The third core task was dealing with Ministries, the US Embassy and PC/Washington. This can’t be done effectively by someone who is either intimidated by authority or whose first impulse is to push back.
Some may wonder why I didn’t list management as a core task. I didn’t find managing a 600 volunteer program particularly challenging; it’s a relatively simple organization and you don’t have to make a profit. And with a Deputy Director and Administrative Officer, I had lots of help.
A Systematic Selection Process
What I have described above is only a cursory analysis of a CD’s job requirements over 40 years ago. I believe the importance of the CD position requires a more scientific approach to selection. Such an approach would involve three key tasks.
Job Analysis: The first step is to identify the demands of the CD job. What kind of environment will a CD be operating in? What problem and issues will he or she confront? What kind of experience, skills, and personal skills will the CD need to excel? When, in the early 1950s, AT&T realized it had to dramatically change its corporate culture to continue to be successful, a high level task force spent a year visualizing the business and social climate 20 years hence, and then identifying the skills, values and other personal attributes required to lead and manage successfully in that environment. Example: No bias against women or minorities.
Selecting/Designing Assessment Tools: The second step, best done by psychologists, consists of identifying the best way to measure the critical skills, values and other attributes a CD will need to excel at the challenges and key tasks identified in the first step. This should include a variety of assessment tools, such as personality tests, individual and group tasks, individual and small group simulations and carefully structured interviews. Example: A simulation in which a candidate must influence someone they believe to be a high level Foreign Embassy and/or Peace Corps official.
Candidate Assessment: The third step is the actual assessment of CD candidates. This is best done using an assessment center approach where a group of 8-10 CD (or APCD) candidates and a trained cadre of PC Staff and assessment psychologists are brought together for three or four days in a residential setting. This arrangement makes possible the use of realistic small group tasks and simulations, with or without competition, as well as the opportunity for the staff to interact informally with the candidates and watch them interact with each other. Using the assessment tools selected in Step 2, the staff develops a profile of each candidate’s attributes which can then be compared with the profile of job challenges and tasks developed in Step 1. The best assessment centers spend the last half day giving extensive feedback to each candidates so those who are successful can see where they will have to focus extra effort to succeed in one or more aspects of their new job, and unsuccessful candidates will come away viewing it as a valuable learning experience. Example: Candidate depends too heavily on logical persuasion as an influence technique. Is uncomfortable being assertive, is not good at drawing other people out, and lacks charisma.
The methodology I have described was first used to select Professional Luftwaffe Officers, and in WWII was adapted by the OSS to select agents. A modification of this approach is now used by many US and international corporations. My oldest son went through a selection process before becoming a Foreign Service Officer which, according to him, included a number of simulations and group tasks.
In the past, the PC has spent much more effort and money selecting PCVs than CDs. I think it’s time to reverse that ratio.
About John Coyne Babbles
John Coyne Babbles is a collection of comments, opinions, musings, and outrages from this RPCV who served with the first group (1962-64) in Ethiopia.
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