The test battery was only one phase of the selection process.
Selection began when an applicant filled out the questionnaire and returned it to the Peace Corps. This process of volunteering represented a kind of “self-selection” and it was in no small part responsible, or so Peace Corps/Washington thought, “for the generally high calibre of Peace Corps applicants in those early days.” Further “self-selection” occurred when and applicant was offered an invitation to train for a specific project and was free to accept or decline the invitation.
Potential Volunteers listed various references on the questionnaire and they were contacted. What was learned (and this surprised the Peace Corps selection staff) was that the attention paid to the recommendations by referents provided a “valuable tool for selection.” [In later years, when doing studies on how ‘successful’ PCVs were overseas, the Peace Corps found that the evaluations by PCV’s mothers proved to be the most accurate of all on how their sons and daughters would do overseas.]
However, no matter how scientific the pre-selection process, it was still a second-hand view of the candidate. The Peace Corps therefore decided to continue selection throughout the training program. This enabled the Peace Corps to form a first-hand opinion of the candidate’s qualification to serve overseas. Selection was also aided by the full background check of each Volunteer conducted by the Civil Service Commission.
The first 750 background checks were conducted for the Peace Corps by the FBI. These were given top priority by the Bureau and enabled the Peace Corps to move ahead quickly. Without the cooperation by the F.B.I. the Peace Corps start up would have been considerably delayed, and endangered.
As a result of the continuing assessment throughout training, an average of 15 percent of all Trainees were de-selected, as the process became known. Some of the reasons were medical, some psychological, some academic, and some personal.
By June 15, 1962, a total of 1,247 candidates entered Training and, of these, 1,051 were selected as Volunteers.
Two underlying factors guided the entire selection process. The Trainee’s personality characteristics must be such that he (or she) can make a successful adjustment to the Third World, and his technical skill much be matched with the technical requirements of the job to be performed overseas. [Talk about dreaming!]
Selection decisions also took into account a series of “important personality characteristics,” which were: emotional maturity, effectiveness in inter-personal relations, character, motivation, and the absence of ethnocentric attitudes. Also important were: education, work experience, participation in volunteer activities in one’s community, language facility or aptitude, outdoor activities, knowledge of U.S. history and institutions and, where possible, experience abroad.
I am not sure if I possessed any of those qualifications when I went to Training in the summer of 1962 at Georgetown University for the first group to Ethiopia. I do remember having one interview with a shrink (of some sort) and often in the late afternoon on the quadrangle we would spot a handful of ‘suits’ clustered together in conversation. Not sure if they were watching us lounging on the lawn or not.
However, these were the days of those terms, “High Risk/Low Gain; and Low Risk/High Gain, and everything in between. More about that later. But next, we’ll look at Training in the Peace Corps at Day One!