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IU Kokomo graduate joins Peace Corps, leaves for Macedonia

September 13, 2013
KOKOMO, Ind. — Jim Willis leaves this month for the adventure of a lifetime. He will spend the next 27 months at Republic of Macedonia as a Peace Corps volunteer, where he hopes to teach some of that country's leaders conflict resolution and organizational skills.

CC0A0964Alumnus Jim Willis

Willis, 69, graduated from Indiana University Kokomo in 1972, where he gained a foundation that prepared him for a successful career and what he expects to be an unforgettable journey.

"The values I learned from the liberal studies program are values I'm fully coming to appreciate," Willis said. "IU Kokomo was small enough to give me a sense of community with the faculty and students. Chancellor Victor Bogle's vision made it a special place to be, and it gave me a clear set of values that could be trusted in the greater world."

Willis will spend 27 months in Macedonia, which was formerly part of Yugoslavia. It is on the central Balkan Peninsula, in southeastern Europe. He will spend the first two months learning the language, culture, and history, before being deployed to his work site. He anticipates working with a non-governmental organization, teaching them skills they need as they petition for the country to become part of the European Union.

"I couldn't be happier with the location or assignment," he said, adding that he will definitely be among the older volunteers. "Most of them are in the 20s and 30s. I'm old enough to remember when President Kennedy started this program."

He added, though, that he is still younger than Lillian Carter, mother of former President Jimmy Carter, who joined in her 80s.

Willis has fond memories of his days as an IU Kokomo student. He moved to Kokomo after graduating from high school in Logansport, and worked at Continental Steel and JC Penney, among other jobs. He studied sciences on the Seiberling Mansion campus.

"I was a poor kid who wanted to go to school," he said. "Looking back, it's romantic, but it was hard at the time."

He attended from 1962 to 1966, and then transferred to Bloomington to complete his degree. However, shortly after, he received his draft notice and could not get a student deferment since he had been in school four years without earning a degree.

He enlisted in the Army to study ground air missile defense, and was sent to Germany – a NATO missile site.

When he returned to IU Kokomo, the campus had moved to its current location on South Washington Street.

After earning his bachelor's degree in liberal studies, he worked in human relations, staff development, and other jobs that involved helping people improve themselves and their skills. Along the way, he earned a Master of Public Affairs degree at IU South Bend, and later a Ph.D. in communication from Purdue University.

He later became interested in Gestalt Counseling Theory, which focuses on here-and-now experiences and personal responsibility. It's objective is to free people from unfinished issues that may impact their lives, and relies on a long relationship between the client and therapist. He trained at the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland, and later used it as the basis of his doctoral dissertation.

He looks forward to additional training at the Gestalt Institute in Skopje while he is in Macedonia, and to sightseeing.

"Macedonia has possibly two of the oldest lakes in the world, that are designated a world heritage site," he said. "Skopje, the capital was the cultural center of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. It's just going to be a smorgasbord of history and culture."

Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.

Last updated: 09/09/2014