follow me on facebook

Support the Award!

Women of Peace Corps Legacy

Women of Peace Corps Legacy


Member Biographies

Lee Lacy’s  love of Peace Corps began in 1971 when she volunteered as a teacher in Western Samoa. Her 18-year association with Peace Corps has included serving as the wife of a country director in Nepal and as country director in Armenia. At headquarters Lee served as the Director of Special Services, Chief of Operations for the Asia and Pacific Region, and as Chief of the Field Assistance Division. The Peace Corps experience has shaped both her personal life and her career. In addition to her work with Peace Corps, she has worked for the Foreign Service Institute, the Corporation for Community and National Service, and USAID. She holds a M.S. degree in Organizational Learning from George Mason Universtiy and an M.A. degree in education from Stanford University. Lee has two children and two grandchildren.


Jody Olsen,  PhD, MSW, is completing her fifth year as Visiting Professor at the University of Maryland-Baltimore School of Social Work. She is also director of the campus Center for Global Education Initiatives, and co-chair of the campus Global Health Interprofessional Council. She teaches international social work and issues in Women and Children’s Global Health and is strengthening international opportunities for students and faculty throughout the health science campus. She is currently a member of the Council on Global Learning, Research and Practice of CSWE and on the Boards for Kalamazoo College, Health Volunteers Overseas (HVO), and InterMedia. Before joining the faculty, she was Acting Director and Deputy Director of U.S. Peace Corps, 2001 - 2009. She began as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Tunisia, and returned to Peace Corp three other times before becoming Deputy Director: country director in Togo, regional director for North Africa, the Near East, Asia, and the Pacific, and agency chief of staff. Between her Peace Corps work she was senior vice president of AED, a large international development organization, executive director of for CIES, the organization managing the Fulbright Senior Scholar Program, and Vice President at YFU, a student exchange organization. Jody Olsen has traveled to over 90 countries for work and has given over 1,000 speeches nationally and internationally. She received both her MSW and PhD from the University of Maryland and has an honorary doctorate from Michigan Technological University.

Betsi Shays  spent 27 years teaching 1st - 10th graders, including two years in the Fiji Islands as a Peace Corps Volunteer with her husband, Chris. Along the way she earned a masters and masters of education degrees in educational leadership and administration at Columbia University, Teachers College. She worked at the Peace Corps from 1998-2007, running Peace Corp's global education program for U.S. kids and teachers and then served as Director for the Center for Field Assistance and Applied research. The Center supported programming and training at over 70 posts around the world. She worked at the U.S. Department of Education in the Office of Postsecondary Education as Director of President Bush's National Security Language Initiative – a joint effort among the departments of Education, State, Defense, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to dramatically increase the number and proficiency level of Americans speaking critical foreign languages. While working in the Alexandria City Public Schools, Alexandria, Virginia, she was Executive Director of the Alliance for Learning and Leading and was responsible for district-wide professional learning for 1,200 teachers. She spent a year working full time on the Shays for U.S. Senate campaign in Connecticut. This capped a 35 year partnership in the political arena with husband, Chris, who devoted most of his life to public service in the Connecticut State House and the Congress of the United States. The Shays have one amazing daughter, Jeramy, who lives in Washington, DC, and works on renewable energy policy. She loves worthy missions and those who sign up for them! Her new business, Worthy Missions, offers individuals, teams, and small enterprises help in solving problems, designing solutions, and figuring out ‘what’s next’.


Helen Lowman has served in various roles within Peace Corps.  Prior to joining the Peace Corps staff, Ms. Lowman was employed by AFS Intercultural Programs/USA. As vice president of intercultural education and quality, Ms. Lowman was responsible for a team of 30 staff members and approximately 3,000 volunteers working on global intercultural education, participant support, program data monitoring, orientations and training, budget management, international partner relations, strategic planning, technical assistance, and resource development for 2,600 foreign exchange participants in the U.S. and 1,000 Americans in more than 50 countries. Ms. Lowman also worked with the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, currently known as the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. She managed a staff of 20 and coordinated environmental events and education initiatives statewide, including environmental education K-12. Ms. Lowman completed her undergraduate studies at Austin College in Sherman, Texas, receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree in international studies and Spanish, and obtained a Master’s degree in international studies from the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies.  Ms. Lowman is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from Thailand. 


Lesley Duncan  returned to the US in 2013 after 11 years living overseas, and is working as the Chief Operating Officer of the Inter-American Foundation. Born in Thailand during her parent's Peace Corps service, Lesley also served as a beekeeping Volunteer in Paraguay, as Country Director in Bulgaria, Administrative Officer in Thailand and as USAID's Regional Education Advisor for Central Asia (based in Kazakhstan) as well as consulting tours in Nigeria, Bangladesh, East Timor, Sri Lanka, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan. She has a Master’s in Public Administration and is a Fellow of the National Center for State Courts. Lesley is a mother to two Third Culture Kids – now college students, both of whom grew up overseas.

Laara Manler  currently serves as the EEO Manager for Peace Corps’ Office of Civil Rights and Diversity. As EEO Manager, she manages EEO complaints and Diversity and Inclusion initiatives, which includes managing Peace Corps’ five employee resource groups. Previously, she served as Diversity and Outreach Specialist where she managed minority higher education partnerships and developed and implanted strategies for diversity recruitment. Prior to working at Peace Corps, Ms. Manler worked as a Management Analyst at the Agency for Housing & Urban Development. In this capacity, she managed homeless prevention and urban development grants and worked with grantees on best practices. Ms. Manler has also worked in the conservation field, first with Conservation International in Washington DC and later with The World Conservation Union in Switzerland. In addition to her work in Switzerland, Ms. Manler has worked internationally as a Peace Corps Volunteer, first in Burkina Faso from 2001-2002 and later in Paraguay from 2008-2010. Ms. Manler completed her undergraduate studies at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, FL, receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree in history and political science, and obtained a Master’s degree in intercultural service, leadership, and management from SIT Graduate Institute in Brattleboro, VT.


Justine Desmarais   served as a Peace Corps volunteer in rural El Salvador following that nation’s decade-long civil war. She currently works with the Women, Girls and Population team at the United Nations Foundation in Washington, D.C., and has over 15 years of experience in domestic and global public health and human rights. She holds a B.A. in sociology and women’s studies from Smith College, and an MPH in global health from Yale University.


Syd Merz has over 10 years of interdisciplinary education experiences as a classroom and university teacher, researcher, trainer, and coach both internationally and domestically. She is a Nebraskan native who served two tours with the United States Peace Corps in Armenia (2006-08) and the Philippines (2008-10) as a teacher and teacher educator. Syd received her Ph.D. in Education from George Mason University, and currently serves as the Learning and Evaluation Director for City Year Cleveland, an education-focused non profit.

Laverne Webb is Founder and CEO of The Webb Alliance, LLC, and is specialized in leadership and executive coaching, career transitions, and multicultural leadership development. She has worked in international development for 30 years, starting in Africa with Catholic Relief Services, followed by a 5-year tour at Peace Corps, where she was the first director of the Office of Volunteer Services. She co-founded and served as CEO of EnCompass LLC for 16 years where she developed and led global leadership and training services. Laverne is a founding member of Women of Peace Corps Legacy and was an Executive Producer of the film, Women of Peace Corps Legacy: Advancing Our Legacy, 2014. She helped WPCL to establish The Deborah Harding Women of Achievement Award in 2016. Laverne is an ICF-certified executive and career coach and holds an MPA from Harvard University.