Illinois State University’s Stevenson Center for Community and Economic Development is celebrating its 20th anniversary throughout the 2014–2015 year.

Founded in 1994 as the first Coverdell Peace Corps Fellows Program in community and economic development in partnership with Western Illinois University, the Stevenson Center educates the next generation of community and economic development professionals through interdisciplinary, applied graduate programs. Political Science Professor Emeritus Bob Hunt brought the Peace Corps Fellows Program, which allows returned Peace Corps volunteers to pursue graduate study while serving U.S. communities, to Illinois State. The University then added the Peace Corps Master’s International Program (for those going into Peace Corps) and an Applied Community and Economic Development Fellows Program (for those with other kinds of service experiences, like AmeriCorps).

Partnering initially with the Department of Politics and Government and the Department of Economics, the center expanded to the Department of Sociology and Anthropology and recently began working with the School of Kinesiology and Recreation. Over 160 alumni have served organizations in Bloomington-Normal, across Illinois, and around the world.

To mark the occasion, students, staff, faculty, and their families have taken part in several events recognizing the importance of Peace Corps and AmeriCorps. Alumni Day was the first celebratory event on October 4, 2014. Tessa Zevallos, a 2011 Peace Corps Fellow in sociology, came back to campus to share her experiences with students. Stevenson Center students enjoyed a presentation on her Peace Corps service and current job as the grants manager and evaluation director at Mikva Challenge in Chicago. At Mikva, Zevallos pursues her passion for involving youth in community development while putting into practice the skills she learned at Illinois State.

January’s anniversary celebration included a day of service. Students, faculty, and staff volunteered on Martin Luther King Jr. Day at Ewing Manor with maintenance, organization, and restoration work in the hayloft, which will be transformed into a classroom. AmeriCorps Member Julia Neaves, an Applied Community and Economic Development Fellow in political science, organized the event and the anniversary reception that followed.

The final anniversary celebration took place March 25, 2015, as part of the International Studies Seminar Series sponsored by the Office of International Studies and Programs. A panel of Stevenson Center students and alumni who recently served with Peace Corps addressed the themes of leadership, social responsibility, and global engagement. The session was moderated by Stevenson Center staff and the speakers included:

  • Ashley Conrad, Peace Corps Master’s International student in sociology and youth development facilitator in the Philippines (2012–2014)
  • Jared Dellinger, Peace Corps Fellows alum in applied economics and agriculture enterprise advisor in Vanuatu (2007–2009)
  • Lauren Karplus, Peace Corps Master’s International alum in political science and HIV/AIDS community health educator in Swaziland (2012–2014 )

Illinois State is the only university in the state to offer both Peace Corps graduate programs, and the university ranks No. 9 on Peace Corps’ list of the top Master’s International schools nationwide. The ACED Fellows Program is one of just four AmeriCorps Alums Premium Match Programs in the country.