Sandra McCormick, MSSW ’72, A Career Focused on International Work 

Soviet Leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, thanking alum Sandy McCormick for her work with World Services, La Crosse – photo taken in La Crosse. They are behind a podium, hugging, in front of a red curtain.
Soviet Leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, thanking alum Sandy McCormick for her work with World Services, La Crosse. Photo taken in La Crosse.

For most of her career, Sandra McCormick developed programs to improve the health, human services, and quality of life for many citizens of Russia, the Ukraine, and numerous other countries.  While serving in a leadership role at La Crosse, Wisconsin’s Gundersen Health System in the early 1990’s, she led local efforts to build a partnership including two La Crosse health care organizations, city and county health officials, and members of La Crosse’s Sister City program with Dubna, Russia.  

In 2001, as a continuation of her work as vice-president of community and regional services at Gundersen Health System, she founded World Services of La Crosse. A non-profit organization, it initially operated with funding secured from the Library of Congress to launch the Open World Program, which supported professional exchange programs in former Soviet countries. Sandra also secured funding from the USAID (The United States Agency for International Development), which was interested in developing ties with the opening of Russia to the west. World Services, primarily with the support of volunteers from some 20 U.S. states, expanded through international professional exchange and technical assistance programs, to become a leader in providing real-life experiences and sustainable services in the countries it serves.  

City leaders of Dubna sought to adopt many of the recommendations developed by the visits, consultation, and education provided by wide range of health care and human service professionals from the La Crosse area, including a diabetes, cardio rehab, domestic violence, and alcohol and other drug abuse programs. The Russian government required that that they meet with national health care leaders in Moscow for program approvals. As Moscow’s health officials saw the success of these programs, they gradually facilitated their adoption in several other Russian cities. A front-page article on December 31, 2000, New York Times described the success of the partnership between La Crosse and Dubna and documented the substantial health and other benefits to the community. 

Over the years, World Services of La Crosse expanded program development, consultation, and educational resources to 16 countries while facilitating visits of more than 1,100 international visitors to more than 20 U.S. cities. In reflecting on more than 30 years of international work, Sandra is particularly proud of both the services provided to host countries and the opportunities provided hundreds of La Crosse professionals and other citizens to experience and learn from other cultures. Sandra is a wonderful example of how a professional can take an idea and opportunity to facilitate an impressive impact on the countries it served and the people who provided those services.