'He was a true mentor'

Bob Gaudino’s legacy included a 1966 Peace Corps training

Photos of Professor Gaudino from a Peace Corps in India yearbook.

In 1966, Bob Gaudino was asked to provide training for a cohort of Peace Corps volunteers on their way to a two-year stint in the Applied Nutrition Program in Andhra Pradesh, India. Few members of the Williams community may know of this piece of Gaudino’s legacy; only one of the 67 trainees who descended on Williamstown that summer was a Williams student. But the nine weeks they spent with Gaudino as they prepared for their Peace Corps service were transformative for the members of this group. As trainee Stan Terrell ‘70 explained, “Williams and especially Bob had a profound impact on us. He was a true mentor.”

In fact, that impact was so great that the group, who have largely stayed in contact with each other over the intervening decades, decided to return to Williamstown for a 50th reunion. In September of 2016, they came to campus hoping “to learn more about the Gaudino legacy and share what he meant to us and how our experiential learning influenced our life course,” according to Terrell. During their three-day visit, Gaudino Scholar Lois Banta provided them with a longer presentation on the activities of the Gaudino program today, as well as many of the initiatives spearheaded by the previous 14 Scholars over the past 36 years. Williams College faculty members Anand Swamy and Kim Gutschow spoke with the group about economic development in contemporary India, and about maternal and reproductive issues in India, respectively. In addition to reconnecting with each other, the 28 Peace Corps alumni and their guests had dinner with Williams at Home alums Jon Kravetz, Randy Thomas and Dick Tavelli.

The Peace Corps alumni shared stories of the tripartite training program, including technical training (in poultry/gardening, nursing hygiene, nutrition and child development), language, and a rigorous program of area/cultural studies, all organized and overseen by Gaudino. Although the precise contexts were different, in many ways the descriptions of this training foreshadowed the Williams in India and Williams at Home programs Gaudino went on to develop in the following few years. A key component of the Peace Corps training was a week the trainees spent, in groups of eight, in the neighboring town of Adams.  Although the technical studies and language training continued during this week, the trainees spent most of their time talking to the local residents and helping them in a pre-school nursery. As a leader of this training wrote at the time, “We found that discussion … moved between Adams, the readings, and the trainees’ own varied backgrounds, to focus on substantive issues of social confrontation within the community…[and] the ambiguities and subtleties raised by the trainees’ coming confrontation with quite different themes of power, conflict and change, in village India. The effect, often, was to question our own experience, and it was this process of questioning that was the greatest, and perhaps the most intangible, of our results.”

Gaudino’s own reflections on the Adams project likely also resonate with those who participated later in Williams in India and WAH: “We tried to go beyond textbook knowledge to the experience of and involvement in a community. We wanted to affect the perception of the Trainee, to give him [actually there were women in this cohort as well] the opportunity to reach out and touch a town, not just read and talk about it at a distance. The Adams Project is a part of our whole effort to fuse study and experience, to bring together personal insight and action … In spite of our best intentions, training will probably be the most abstract part of a Peace Corps Volunteer’s experience. It is before anything really different happens. The Trainee remains the same as he was before—he is only being taught new things. He accepts them, but has not absorbed them, not yet felt the transforming nature of his new skills and knowledge. We can never really duplicate the actual feelings, frustrations, joys of the field.  That experience remains unique. The most we can do is prepare.”

Although many of the current Board members were unaware of Gaudino’s involvement in this training program until the Peace Corps alumni reached out to the Gaudino Scholar, it is revealing to see these same sentiments echoed in the reports of the recent Gaudino Fellows, some of which appear later in this newsletter.

The reunion prompted Gaudino Board member Brian Murphy ’67 to share this recollection: “My then-wife (Margaret Murphy) and I were the coordinators for the Adams project for the Peace Corps training program, an element of the project that Bob thought useful in disorienting the volunteers. (The idea being: if you have a hard time figuring out a small American town, maybe you’ll be more humble when approaching an Indian town). The background to Bob being asked to do an unconventional training was the drop-out rate for Indian Peace Corps volunteers, roughly twice that of other nations. My memory of the follow-up study was that the volunteers who completed Bob’s program did twice as well as other cohorts in India. The personal side of this is also significant, if personal: Bob asked us, two undergraduates, from Williams and Bennington, to design and coordinate the Adams program, gave us a tremendous amount of independence and latitude, and was in all ways supportive. He knew I had lived in Afghanistan, disorienting me in life-altering ways, and we had had many conversations about what might better prepare young Americans for India. I had to spend the better part of seven months scouting Adams itself (and renting a boarding house for the Adams program). Rarely have I had a better summer job.”