Excellence in Motion

DePaul Magazine looks at advances made in programs we reported on in previous years.

By Marilyn Ferdinand

From time to time, most of us muse about the people we knew in days gone by. It’s interesting to learn what some memorable people from our past have been up to since last we heard about them.

In that spirit, DePaul Magazine is updating readers on two of our most talked-about stories from previous issues: the establishment of the Grace School of Applied Diplomacy in the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences (LAS) and the Multi-Faith Veterans Initiative, operating through the Irwin W. Steans Center’s Egan Office for Urban Education and Community Partnerships.

The Grace School of Applied Diplomacy

The fall 2019 issue of DePaul Magazine announced that LAS had received a very generous, anonymous gift of $20 million to establish the Grace School of Applied Diplomacy. A core feature of the new school’s curriculum was its emphasis on the emerging concept of “transprofessional diplomacy,” a discipline that acknowledges that diplomacy is practiced well beyond the work of official government representatives.

The school’s initial program plan featured four key components:

1. An endowed chair in applied diplomacy
2. Seven endowed professorships in applied diplomacy
3. Expanded experiential learning opportunities
4. Financial support for study abroad

Where are they now? Associate Professor David J. Wellman, director of the Grace School, gives his progress report.

“One of the most prominent outcomes so far is that we have appointed Geoffrey Wiseman as our endowed chair in applied diplomacy,” Wellman says. “I didn’t dream that as a brand-new school, we would have been able to hire somebody on Geoff’s level. He arguably is among the top 10 most important scholars of diplomatic studies globally.”

Geoff Wiseman

Wiseman brings a wealth of experience to his role, having been a professor and director of the Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy at the Australian National University in Canberra. Prior to that, he spent more than eight years at the University of Southern California (USC), serving first as the acting director and then as full-time director of the USC Center on Public Diplomacy, which he helped establish in 2003. Wiseman was associate editor of The Hague Journal of Diplomacy, widely considered to be the premier journal of diplomatic studies in the world, and has written, edited or co-edited five books in the fields of diplomacy and international relations.

“The Grace School’s singular and unique commitment to building bridges between two domains—the official, state-based world of international diplomacy and the unofficial, nonstate world of humanist activism—is impressive,” says Wiseman. “The prospect of working to further its remarkable, philanthropic founding designed to transform diplomatic studies via an applied diplomacy vision made this an attractive community to join.”

The Grace School’s singular and unique commitment to building bridges between two domains—the official, state-based world of international diplomacy and the unofficial, nonstate world of humanist activism—is impressive. –Geoffrey Wiseman

At DePaul, Wiseman’s teaching, research and writing will focus on exploring and elucidating the Grace School’s transprofessional approach to the study and practice of diplomacy. During the pandemic, Wiseman and Wellman co-taught Citizen Diplomacy in the 21st Century at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

In addition, the Grace School appointed Chris Tirres, Vincent de Paul professor of religious studies at DePaul, as its first endowed professor of diplomacy and interreligious engagement. He will be working on the creation of minors and certificate programs in diplomacy and in religious engagement. The school has also appointed three more endowed professorships for 2021 in urban diplomacy, environmental diplomacy and open subject to faculty members Valerie Johnson, Phillip Stalley and Shiera Malik, respectively.

“The wonderful thing about these endowed professorships is that we get to build an intellectual and pedagogical bridge between their respective disciplines and diplomatic studies for the three-year terms of the appointments. As a result, at the end of their term, each of the appointed faculty members will be able to say that they have a subspecialty in diplomaticstudies,” says Wellman.

Virtual conference on transprofessional diplomacy

In October 2020, the school held its first conference, “Transprofessional Diplomacy: Deepening Collaboration Among Governmental and Non-governmental Diplomatic Actors.” “That virtual conference was a wonderful success,” says Wellman. “We had 15 panelists, among which, in my estimation, were some of the most important, cutting-edge scholars in diplomatic studies in the world.” Recordings of the conference proceedings have been made publicly available and are used in classroom discussions.

The school now offers a minor in applied diplomacy, making the program available to many more students, as well as two new concentrations in language and diplomacy at the bachelor’s and master’s levels that were developed by Associate Professor Anna Souchuk and Professor Pascale-Anne Brault of LAS’s Department of Modern Languages. To Wellman, this exciting development says that “the translator and the linguist are themselves diplomats and practitioners of diplomacy, and we value them as such.” The school is also in the process of getting approval for environmental diplomacy concentrations at the BA and MA levels, with anticipated rollout in the fall of 2022.

The Multi-Faith Veterans Initiative

The winter 2015 DePaul Magazine reported on a new initiative in DePaul’s Egan Office for Urban Education and Community Partnerships at the Irwin W. Steans Center—the Multi-Faith Veterans Support Project. The project is designed to enhance the quality of life for veterans and their families by empowering communities to support veterans and their families through local community engagement, education and training, and by helping them make connections with faith communities and behavioral health and social service resources.

Where are they now? The project has transitioned into the Multi-Faith Veterans Initiative (MVI) with an expanded mission and nine community-site partners (A Just Harvest, Jesus Name Apostolic Church/JIC Community Development Corporation, Arthur Lockhart Resource Institute, Mt. Carmel Baptist Church, Church of the Good Shepherd, Atonement Covenant Church, Christ Universal Temple, Habilitative Systems and Breakthrough Ministries). MVI also works with groups affliated with the Egan Office.

Walidah Bennett and Egan Office Director John Zeigler work to connect faith leaders and health professionals to support veterans struggling with moral injury.

Walidah Bennett, the director of MVI, says, “We started with two community, church-based sites—one in Austin on the West Side and the other in Woodlawn-Kenwood on the South Side—to create spaces for veterans and their families and improve the accessibility of services. Today, the community sites spread throughout Chicago and in Waukegan collectively serve more than 500 veterans,” says Bennett. 

In keeping with the original model, the initiative does not provide direct services. Instead, MVI continues to work within the communities to co-create safe spaces where veterans and their families come together to support each other as they navigate the ongoing transition from military life to civilian life. MVI takes an asset-based community development approach that organizes community hubs involving veterans as both providers and recipients of services. “Our site partners have a directory of services that are accessible to veterans in their community,” Bennett says.

The original impetus behind MVI was the suicide of Bennett’s son, a U.S. Army veteran. Bennett reflected on her conversations with him and his struggle with moral injury. Although the concept of moral injury—the separation of an individual from the core values they hold—was and still is relatively new, it continues to inform MVI’s suicide prevention efforts. 

As a member of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) suicide prevention task force, Bennett says, “Veteran suicide is still an issue, with an estimated 20 incidents daily; we are working collaboratively to develop strategies that engage communities in reducing these negative outcomes through enhancing community awareness and providing service opportunities for veterans within their respective communities.

“Veterans are assets in the community,” Bennett continues, “and many want to be of service.” 

MVI’s Veterans Read helps address this desire. Bennett says, “It began as a Veterans Day celebration four years ago at Charles R. Henderson Elementary in Englewood, one of the schools that partners with the Egan Office.

“Veterans are assets in the community, and many want to be of service.” –Walidah Bennett

Our community veteran coordinator engaged second- and third-graders in reading activities. The children were so enthusiastic, and the veteran coordinator was so energetic, that an hour-and-a-half activity ended up lasting half a day! The principal was enthralled, so we designed the in-school project, recruiting veterans to mentor fourth- to eighth-graders one hour a week in collaboration with the nonprofit Family Focus afterschool program.” 

The Veterans Read curriculum was designed by Professor Christopher Worthman and Associate Professor Roxanne Owens in DePaul’s College of Education. George Rohde (CMN ’16, MA ’17, MEd ’20), assistant to Walidah Bennett, says, “The professors worked with the veteran mentors to provide the necessary training, coaching and strategies for cultivating positive mentor student relationships throughout the 17-week session.”

It was a true partnership between the College of Education and MVI’s Veterans Read program. 

During the pandemic shutdown, Rohde says, “We moved the program to an online platform, our veteran mentors met virtually with more than a dozen students weekly and it was very successful. We’re working on recruitment of more mentors and hope to
grow by double in the next year.”

Another MVI program is the Women’s Wellness project. Rohde says, “Women are the fastest-growing veteran group. They constitute about 10% of the women living in the U.S. and nearly 20% of new military recruits. About 280,000 women have served post-9/11 in Afghanistan and Iraq. However, we have discovered that women veterans are an underserved population. The research on engaging them holistically appears limited. The VA and the Department of Defense are struggling to provide gender-specific peer support.” 

MVI is a trendsetter in the movement to better serve women veterans, particularly those transitioning from military service. Through community circles, it allows these veterans to connect, creating a peer support group. For example, one of MVI’s partner organizations, Christ Universal Temple (CUT) on Chicago’s Far South Side, has been at the forefront of the Women’s Wellness project. Rohde says that CUT “had an initial engagement goal of 60 women veterans but has engaged close to 180 women. As that number continues to increase, MVI is committed to ensuring that the necessary support is provided for all women veterans that our partnerships serve.” 

Thee MVI model provides an opportunity to develop community spaces that support transitioning veterans. The hope is that MVI will provide them with opportunities to become transformational change agents within their communities. 

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