Stephen E. Darr graduated from the University of Arkansas in 1977, but he has stayed connected ever since whether it’s through Peacework, the nonprofit organization he founded, or through his Arkansas Alumni Association life membership.
Darr proudly said he has been an Alumni Association member since the day he walked off campus as a graduate. “It’s the connection back to the institution that was such an important part of my life. It’s institutional loyalty.”
He discovered new connections when he visited the U of A campus in April as the Alumni Association’s 2015 Johnson Fellow. Darr was the sixth Johnson Fellow, named after Dr. Jeff BA’70 and Marcia Johnson, who endowed the program with the purpose of bringing prominent alumni back to campus to engage and inspire students. Darr interacted with study abroad participants, the Student Alumni Association and students in non-profit management, international relations and sustainability classes.
Growing up in Little Rock as a Razorback fan, it was natural fit for Darr to attend the University of Arkansas. His aunt, Mary Alice Darr, a 1933 graduate who always talked about the university, he said, also influence his decision. He started out as an architecture major but later changed his degree path to psychology.
“I remember distinctly after working in the basement of the architecture building, that this was an enormous opportunity to be here,” Darr said. “Being here, you don’t realize you can do anything. The world is yours. People who came before us have done amazing things. As I walk around campus, I think about how the next Clinton, Hunt or Fulbright could also be walking on campus.”
In addition to his degree from the University of Arkansas, Darr holds a Master of Divinity from Duke University and additional studies at Georgetown University and Virginia Tech. “I’ve always been a bit of a contrarian,” he said. “After Duke, I kept thinking about what students could do to make a difference in the world and applying that.”
The result was Peacework, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last year. Peacework manages partnerships between organizations with unique resources and communities and villages in developing countries, often between academic institutions and corporations in a variety of fields that match local development standards and objectives. The organization seeks to alleviate poverty and economic disparity and build bridges of global cooperation by bringing people in these developing countries together with colleges, universities and corporations. Peacework has partners in 25 countries and has managed projects for departments or programs at more than 60 institutions of higher learning and corporations.
Darr said Peacework has one fundamental aspect – the volunteers don’t go into any community to help. “Our mission is to go into an area and work alongside the community to support resource development,” Darr said. “It’s important to listen to needs and teach people to use the resources.”
“If you help, it’s one and done,” Darr said. “The community provides leadership. Peacework volunteers go in and build schools and gardens; they build curriculum while working alongside the community. We’ve had grad students who’ve come into the program who’ve never been out of their hometown. It makes a difference in their lives and the community.”
Darr is especially proud of his decade-long collaboration with the University of Arkansas and ongoing affiliation with the Office of Study Abroad and International Exchange, including expansion of the Belize program and creation of the Vietnam program for U of A students. Many of the universities look to the University of Arkansas as a role model, Darr said. In July 2012, Peacework and the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service established a fellowship to promote international field service education. The organization’s director of academic engagement is housed in Little Rock at the Clinton School. Half of the 30-member staff of Peacework are U of A alumni, described by Darr as intentional.
“Going to the University of Arkansas was the foundation,” he said. “I couldn’t have done anything else without having gone there. I had so many opportunities beyond the classroom to work with social and global concerns.
“The success of the organization is greatly based on the incredible staff,” Darr said. “They do the on-site planning, evaluation and day-to-day onsite management. I’m their cheerleader and supporter.”