Peace Corps Deputy Director to Speak at Spring Commencement

By Marcia Goodrich | Published

Michigan Tech will honor the achievements of more than 800 degree candidates during Spring Commencement ceremonies Saturday, May 5.

A total of 674 bachelor’s degrees will be awarded, along with 14 associate degrees, 42 doctorates and 94 master of science degrees. In addition, nine Master of Business Administration and two Master of Engineering degrees will be presented.

Josephine “Jody” Olsen, deputy director of the Peace Corps, will give the commencement address and receive an Honorary Doctorate in Sustainable International Development.

Amy Trahey, owner of Great Lakes Engineering Group, in Lansing, and a 1994 graduate of Michigan Tech, will receive the Outstanding Young Alumni Award. Other honorees include Harvard biomedical engineering professor David Edwards, who graduated from Michigan Tech in 1983 and will receive the Melvin Calvin Medal of Distinction; and Pedro Ortega Romero, president of the University of Sonora, in Mexico, who will receive an Honorary Doctorate in Engineering.

As the deputy director of the Peace Corps, Olsen supports several initiatives, including strengthening the recruitment of older volunteers, measuring the impact of the Peace Corps and helping other countries promote volunteerism among their own people.

Olsen started her career with the Peace Corps as a volunteer from 1966 to 1968 in Tunisia, teaching English and developing community health programs. In 1979, she was named the country director for Togo, where she managed programs focused on education, health and agriculture in the West African nation. From 1981 to 1984, she served as regional director in North Africa, the Near East, Asia and the Pacific. As chief of staff from 1989 to 1992, she helped to expand the agency’s work to 25 new countries after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Olsen then served as senior vice president of the Academy for Educational Development, a large international organization, and served as the executive director for the Council for International Exchange of Scholars, the agency responsible for managing the Fulbright Senior Scholar Program. President George W. Bush appointed Olsen deputy director of the Peace Corps in 2002.

Olsen earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Utah and a master's degree in social work and a doctoral degree in education from the University of Maryland, where she founded and directed the Center on Aging.

Michigan Tech professor Blair Orr, coordinator for the university’s Loret Miller Ruppe Master’s International Program in Forestry, first recommended Olsen as commencement speaker.

Michigan Tech is home to the largest Master’s International Peace Corps programs in the country. In addition to the forestry program, the university has three unique master’s international programs, in science education, disaster mitigation and civil and environmental engineering.

The university provides the Peace Corps with a particularly valuable stream of volunteers. “Michigan Tech educates people in what the Peace Corps calls ‘scarce skills’,” Orr said. Volunteers with training in fields such as forestry and engineering are in short supply. “The Peace Corps has said if they could get twice as many foresters to apply, they would take them,” he said.

Amy (Grisdale) Trahey joined the Michigan Department of Transportation after graduating from Michigan Tech with a BS in Civil Engineering and a love of bridges. In 2000, she founded Great Lakes Engineering Group, one of only three engineering firms in the state owned by a woman. The firm specializes in the inspection, design and construction oversight of bridges. In awe of bridges since her youth, Trahey is dedicated to their rehabilitation, preservation and safety.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 60 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.