The Stevenson Center for Community and Economic Development welcomed back an illustrious alumna on October 23 to speak to current graduate students who hope to follow in her footsteps.
Nancy Esarey Ouedraogo graduated from Illinois State in 2013 with a master’s degree in political science and the applied community development subplan. Her passion for service gave her the courage and determination to push through the hectic years of graduate study and professional practice, which also coincided with starting a family.
“Working through the rigorous graduate fellowship whilst being a mother, I still found that the environment and staff at the center facilitated me going above and beyond what I thought I was capable of,” Nancy said. “They supported me in times of duress and success. I completed the program with a very strong base of confidence taking me forward into my future professional life.”
During her time with the students, Nancy spoke of both the joys and challenges of graduate study. Being a recent graduate of the Stevenson Center’s Peace Corps Fellows program, she knows exactly what students are experiencing, in terms of their work load and the high academic expectations.
“I know some of you are very tired,” she said to the group of 18 graduate students. “Some are very excited, and some of you are losing steam. I’m just here to tell you that it will be worth it in the end, even if you can’t quite see the end. This is your time to reset, your time to start new and really make something of your time and experience here, because what you’re doing today in class impacts others.”
Those in attendance listened eagerly to Nancy and her retelling of her Peace Corps experience in Burkina Faso, a small landlocked country in West Africa that showed her the simplicity of service and also her future husband.
“I met Ibrahim while I was working with the local communities in Burkina,” Nancy said as she introduced her “dynamo” and father of her two children. “He was working as the technical director for a communication development company so he didn’t have time for me; he was constantly running around trying to project movies for the people. He cared so much about his hometown and really brought that non-western perspective to my work there.”
Aside from her work in West Africa, Nancy discussed her professional practice as an AmeriCorps Member with the City of Bloomington Fire Department, where she managed data and helped implement a new system for tracking emergency response times.
“This was a really great move for me,” Nancy told the students. “I was able to implement real change, and I learned to overcome the challenges that come with conflicting ideals in the government sphere.”
Nancy now works for the University of Illinois as an International Data Management Specialist focusing on international employees and students at that institution.
“In my current position, I’m once again finding that people will not always be on board with your initiatives,” she commented about some of the problems she finds with her cases. “What’s important to keep in mind is: how can you be the one to continually blaze the trail? Why should these people listen to you and what you have to say? It comes down to being confident in yourself and getting done the things you know you must do.”
“In order to help people in other countries, you have to be willing to treat challenges and positives as the same thing,” Nancy said about her work. “Because challenges create the opportunity for excellence, and excellence can be lifesaving.”
Nancy finds that what she loves is what she finds the most challenging in her life. One challenge Nancy recently overcame was the devastating flooding that hit Burkina Faso, particularly the village of Fada N’Gourma. She launched a fundraising campaign to help the community.
“This relief project was a team effort. There was such a fantastic system of checks and balances in place that Ibrahim and I were able to do a lot of work from the states,” Nancy said regarding the floods that left more than 3,700 people homeless nationwide. “We were fortunate enough to work with city officials and local elders who truly cared about their home and the people in need of help.”
Students were able to talk with Nancy after her presentation about tips and tricks she found useful for getting through grad school. Derek Conley—a first year applied economics Peace Corps Fellow at the Stevenson Center—cherished this opportunity to relate to someone who has been through the rigorous program.
“I’m so happy that I got the chance to meet and talk with Nancy,” said Conley. “It was a great opportunity for me and the entire 2015 Stevenson Center cohort to see a glimpse into the future.”
The Stevenson Center at Illinois State is passionate about training the next generation of development specialists. To learn more about program options and other opportunities for service, visit www.stevensoncenter.org.