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Trump to nominate Marylander Josephine Olsen to lead Peace Corps

A visiting professor at the University of Maryland School of Social Work who is a veteran official at the Peace Corps will be named to lead the organization of global volunteers, the White House said Wednesday.

Josephine Olsen of Silver Spring has taught at the University of Maryland, Baltimore for eight years and is the director of the school’s Center for Global Education Initiatives. She served as the Peace Corp’s acting director during the first months of the Obama administration.

Her nomination comes at a challenging time for the Peace Corps, created by President John F. Kennedy in 1961 to promote democracy during the Cold War. President Donald J. Trump has proposed cuts to the program — along with the rest of the government — despite its history of bipartisan support.

Olsen, who served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Tunisia in the 1960s, took several high-profile positions with the organization throughout her career. She was the program’s chief of staff under President George H.W. Bush and worked as deputy director from 2002 through 2009 under President George W. Bush.

Richard Barth, dean of the University of Maryland School of Social Work, said he believes Olsen has an interest in expanding the diversity of Peace Corps volunteers, which numbered nearly 7,400 last year. Part of that effort could involve encouraging volunteers to return to the organization to lead missions or to take other responsibilities later in their career.

“She was incredibly skilled at reentering academia and helping this campus to be more effective in its global work,” Barth said.

Olsen has taken part in four student summer research projects in Malawi, according to the school’s website, and also has led student trips to Central America and South Asia.

Olsen declined to comment, as is common for presidential nominees. Once the Trump administration formally nominates Olsen, she will receive a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland is the top-ranking Democrat on that committee.

Olsen was confirmed unanimously for the deputy director position in 2002.

The Peace Corps declined to comment.

The White House declined to comment beyond a single, mostly biographical paragraph it issued announcing her appointment.

“She has taught on issues of international health and social services, and has authored numerous articles and spoken frequently at academic conferences on teaching and studying abroad,” the announcement read.

Olsen, a Utah native, received a doctorate degree from the University of Maryland in 1979 and a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Utah in 1965. She has traveled to over 90 countries, according her bio posted on the School of Social Work’s website.

If Congress approved the reductions to the Peace Corps that Trump has proposed, it would amount to a roughly 15 percent cut — part of a larger move by the administration to reduce U.S. involvement abroad. In the most recent fiscal year, Congress set aside $410 million for the Peace Corps.

More than 230,000 Americans have volunteered in the Peace Corps in more than 140 host countries. The average age of a volunteer is 28.

Glenn Blumhorst, the president and CEO of the National Peace Corps Association, applauded Trump for nominating Olsen and encouraged the Senate to move quickly to confirm her.

“America and the world need the Peace Corps now more than ever,” Blumhorst said in a statement. “We're excited Jody has the opportunity to lead it."

john.fritze@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jfritze

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