Creating and Leading Projects for Peace
Dr. Philip O. Geier is the co-founder of Projects for Peace, with Kathryn W. Davis, and served as the Director of the program from 2007-2021. Below is a letter he penned for the 2021 Annual Viewbook reflecting on his 14 years at the helm of Projects for Peace.
The founding force behind the Projects for Peace initiative was internationalist Kathryn W. Davis who, on the eve of her 100th birthday, asked me to design a program for college students that would, in her words, “bring about a mindset of preparing for peace, instead of preparing for war.” Kathryn gave an initial $1 million that we divided into a hundred $10,000 summer grants for which students at our partner schools of the Davis United World College Scholars Program competed. That was in 2007, and Kathryn found the results so promising that she made philanthropic provisions for funding ongoing annual competitions and grants for winning Projects for Peace to continue long after she passed away in 2013 at the age of 106. Her vision and her legacy remain very much alive, and I have been extremely privileged to lead the program in her spirit.
Kathryn and I were aligned that we would not define “peace” for prospective grantees, and instead intentionally challenge and empower today’s motivated students to think deeply and define for themselves what that word means and how, with a summer grant, they might advance that concept in meaningful ways. Projects for Peace is above all an educational exercise that can lead to real and achievable goals.
At the heart of our collective thinking about peace — and however that term pertains to everything from interpersonal to geopolitical issues — is the belief that conflict is inherently a part of the human condition, and the best we can do is to learn how to constructively engage with conflict. Kathryn and I felt our own generations had failed to significantly advance the cause of peace. We wanted to challenge younger generations with their own opportunities to grapple with that reality. We hoped that Projects for Peace would provide a discovery process and the development of lifelong skills that would, in one way or another, contribute to peacebuilding in the 21st century.
Now in its 14th year, Projects for Peace has awarded 1,800 grants. Projects have been undertaken in 139 countries by students from more than 100 partner institutions. Middlebury College has been one of those partner institutions of Projects for Peace since its inception, as well as serving as the headquarters of the Davis United World College Scholars Program since 2005. This affiliation has deepened over the intervening years, during which time I have become profoundly impressed by Middlebury’s unique global reach and educational programming. That impression has led to fruitful discussions with its president, Laurie Patton, about how Projects for Peace might thrive over its next many years as part of Middlebury, further establishing its status as a locus among its peer institutions for advancing experiential learning for new generations of students.
President Patton and I have agreed on a new structure enabling Middlebury to integrate Projects for Peace thoroughly into its extensive global ecosystem, maximize the potential of Projects for Peace through its considerable alumni network and its dedicated liaisons on the campuses of partner institutions across the U.S. The program will become part of Middlebury’s Center for Community Engagement and led by Betsy Vegso, who brings more than 15 years of domestic and international programming in intercultural competence. At this exciting point of transition, I remain deeply appreciative of Kathryn’s vision and of the ongoing Davis family philanthropy which makes Projects for Peace, in its many manifestations—past, present, and future—possible. I am confident that Middlebury will enhance the possibilities of Projects for Peace and inspire a growing cohort of young peacemakers to realize their greatest potential, sparked by their own projects.
With gratitude and hope,
Philip O. Geier, Ph.D.
Co-creator and Director of Projects for Peace, 2007–2021
Executive Director and Co-founder, Davis United World College Scholars Program