Allison Hannel’s “proudest accomplishment” while serving as a business development volunteer with the Peace Corps in San Juancito, Honduras, was establishing the first restaurant in the agrarian village of 3,000 people. The humble venture consisted of only four picnic tables and a menu of eight variations on a rice-beans-tortillas theme, yet it thrived.
“My measure of success for the project was that just three months after we opened, two or three other restaurants opened, serving the same type of meals,” says Hannel, who earned a Bachelor’s degree in marketing from SMU in 2004.
Hannel and other members of the University community shared their memories and accomplishments during SMU’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps January 31. Approximately 40 returned volunteers now living in North Texas attended the event.
Michael McKay ’87, who holds a Master’s degree in public administration from SMU, manages the Peace Corps’ 10-state Southwest region. Of the more than 200,000 people who have served in 139 host countries, 111 are SMU alumni, he says.
Hannel’s service in the Peace Corps quenched a thirst for “living abroad and the experience of being immersed in another culture.” As a student and varsity volleyball player, her rigorous schedule left no time for study overseas, so she applied for the Peace Corps and was accepted a year after graduating.
In addition to opening the restaurant in San Juancito, Hannel assisted village artisans in marketing and distributing their handmade products, taught English and basic accounting, and helped start a high school computer center.
“Now all these kids I taught to use a mouse are my friends on Facebook,” she says.
After returning to Texas in 2007, Hannel found that “the combination of SMU and the Peace Corps set me apart from the pack” when she was exploring career options. She was hired into the AT&T leadership program and now serves as a senior brand manager for the company.
Likewise, David Metcalf ’99 feels his term in the Dominican Republic (1993-95), coupled with an international finance degree, opened doors upon his return to the States. “My Peace Corps experience complemented the solid academic foundation I already had,” he says.
Assigned to Partido, a town of approximately 10,000 in the northwest corner of the country near the Haitian border, Metcalf used his finance background as a banking and small business consultant. He also learned to speak Spanish and gained insights into another culture that only come from becoming a part of it.
“The more you give, the more you get. It’s a chance to make a difference unlike any other,” says Metcalf, a manager with the Federal Reserve Bank in Dallas.
Several faculty and staff members found their experiences in bridging cultural chasms with a common language of peace and hope to be truly life-changing.
Thomas Tunks, professor of music education in Meadows School of the Arts, served in Colombia, South America (1968-69). “Every day, what I do is affected by those short years and what I learned,” he says. “You get so much more out of it than you give.”
Susan Kress, director of SMU Engaged Learning, served in Malaysia in Southeast Asia (1975-76). At the event, she thanked the Peace Corps for providing the opportunity “to become a citizen of the world.”
Dennis Cordell, professor of history in Dedman College, entered the Peace Corps in 1968 and volunteered in the central African nation of Chad until 1970. “If you’re thinking about what to do next, I urge you to consider the possibilities of the Peace Corps,” he said. “You very well may end up with the hardest job you ever loved.”
Jane Albritton ’67, ’71, a writer, editor and former lecturer in English at SMU, served in India (1967-69) and was instrumental in creating a lasting legacy to the first half-century of the Peace Corps. Albritton signed copies of the anthology she edited, Even the Smallest Crab Has Teeth: 50 Years of Amazing Peace Corps Stories, at the SMU Barnes and Noble bookstore February 4.
Among the 9,000 volunteers now serving in 75 countries are eight SMU alumni, according to McKay. Among them are Robin and Woody Al-Haddad. Robin ’04, a cultural anthropology major, and Woody ’96, an engineer, live in rural Mpumalanga, South Africa, and teach English and math in three schools. They chronicle the progress of various projects – from raising funds for high school textbooks to showing youngsters how to use toothbrushes – in a blog, “Rhino & Springbok’s Excellent Adventure in South Africa.”
In a recent posting, Robin recounted her high school students’ experiences as pen pals with seventh-grade students in Farmers Branch, Texas. Although designed to help the South African students improve their writing skills in English, the exercise also “opened their eyes to some of the similarities and differences between themselves and American kids,” she wrote. “It’s pretty universal that most teenagers love to talk about music, sports and animals. But when it comes to food – well, that’s a different story. I found myself trying to explain more than once what fajitas and sushi are.”