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Navy veteran, Peace Corps director and economic strategist to visit UNG as Woodrow Wilson Fellow

Walter P. Blass has a storied career.

After serving in the U.S. Navy, he worked as an assistant foreign aid officer in Laos and Cambodia, a country director for the American Peace Corps in Afghanistan, an economist and strategic planner for AT&T, a professor at Fordham University, and now a visiting professor at international institutions in France, Singapore, Mexico, and Russia.

But none of these compare to his own personal story of being a Holocaust survivor.

From Nov. 13-17, Blass will share his stories on all five of the University of North Georgia (UNG) campuses. The 87-year-old New Jersey man will participate in a weeklong residential program as a Woodrow Wilson Fellow.

One of the purposes of the Fellow program is to create a better understanding of connections between the academic and nonacademic worlds. With his expertise, Blass can speak on a range of topics such as foreign aid, Afghanistan's history and present reality, globalization and technology change, mentoring, and teaching.

Sheila Caldwell, advisor to the president on diversity and director of Complete College Georgia, explained UNG applied for three fellows to visit the campuses. Blass was the top choice because of his experience in the business community, military and his personal story.

"One of the things that was captivating about his profile was him being a Holocaust survivor, his military background, and professional experiences," Caldwell said, noting that it would enrich the entire university community to hear first-hand experiences from a Holocaust survivor.  "To learn from his personal accounts is very powerful, because he is not a figure in a history book. We can engage and ask him questions. His journey is priceless, and that's why he was our No. 1 choice."

Blass is looking forward to visiting UNG, especially since his favorite career has been as a teacher.

"I love the contact that I have with students," he said. "My approach is to respond to what the students say."

Blass' schedule will include a daylong visit to all five campuses, featuring sessions with students, professors and a trip to kindergarten through 12th-grade schools in each city. Caldwell said student groups and professors wishing to hear from Blass may speak with her for a scheduling opportunity.

Blass said he is willing to speak with students or community members, but noted UNG has never had a Holocaust victim speak.

Blass explained he and his family escaped from Nazi Germany and later Belgium as a young boy. At one point, he was separated from his parents for four months while his father was interned as an enemy alien and his mother was in a concentration camp. They were reunited after his father was liberated.

"I can talk about it as a personal experience," he said, pointing out his mother kept letters they wrote to each other while they were apart. "When I read them (as an adult), I burst out crying. It brought the immediacy of the hurt and uncertainty back to life for me."

Blass said it is important for people to share their experiences, but emphasized the Holocaust during World War II was not the only one in history.

"There have been a ton, like what Stalin did and when the Rwandans Hutus slaughtered the Tutsi in the 1990s," he said. "This is a human problem."

His personal challenges, however, are not the only topics up for discussion. He has seen the workings of other countries as a foreign aid officer and Peace Corps director. In fact, he spent two years in Afghanistan with his wife and two young sons.

"When you live overseas and you have to learn the local language," said Blass, who speaks French, German and a little Farsi. "I'm quite interested in the advantages of learning another language and living in another culture … it is marvelous learning about the world."

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