Their example showed him that people can make contributions in their own or in another country. That knowledge set him on a path that led him to the University of Louisville — via the United Nations.
Right after graduating from Carnegie Mellon with an engineering degree, Theodore Druffel, of UofL’s Conn Center for Renewable Energy Research, became a Peace Corps volunteer to Malawi. His time there shaped the course of his career and focused it on renewable energy development.
Cunningham and Druffel are part of a group of UofL faculty and staff, including career advisers and others, that wants students to be aware of the Peace Corps and help them apply for and be accepted as volunteers.
They are starting their efforts with an exhibit in Ekstrom Library about Louisvillians who have served in the Peace Corps — including Justin Mog, assistant to the provost for sustainability, and his wife, Amanda Fuller.
Located on the first floor in the media resources section and in the display cases between the circulation desk and the classrooms, the exhibit includes information panels and memorabilia. Part of a larger exhibit that had been on display at the main branch of the Louisville Free Public Library to commemorate the corps’ 50th anniversary, it will be on display through Aug. 18.
President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps in 1961. According to the Peace Corps website, his idea was to provide volunteers to countries that requested them. The volunteers would help train and educate people, but at the same time, they would promote peace and friendship. Better understanding between Americans and other people would come from them working with and getting to know each other.
That goal is mirrored in Druffel’s experience.
The engineer said he got “lots” from his Peace Corps experience, but “the one [thing] that stands out the most was the ability to reach out and relate to people.
“I lived in a very rural community and was very isolated from the rest of the volunteers that I trained with. I had to reach out to my fellow African compatriots for fellowship and as a result learned more about the culture than I had ever expected.”
Cunningham, who co-founded UofL’s service learning program before becoming director of community engagement, said that his experience with the Peace Corps volunteers came mostly through his own volunteer work.
“What influenced me most was [the Peace Corps volunteers’] dedication to humanity and simply doing something to make a difference in the lives of others in a country other than their own,” he said of the volunteers he met and befriended. …
“I believe that it is important to offer opportunities to others, particularly students, to engage in work that promotes citizen diplomacy and global citizenship,” he said.
“The experience of the Peace Corps never leaves you,” Druffel said.
Since 1961, 188 UofL graduates have been Peace Corps volunteers in 73 countries in all parts of the world. Six UofL grads are in the Peace Corps now.
Students who want to know more can visit the Office of Community Engagement, Room 104, Administrative Annex, Belknap Campus, to get a brochure and set up an appointment with Cunningham or another group member.