Peace Corps Master’s International student Matthew Tomlin traveled a long way to walk across the stage and receive his master’s degree in political science this December. Tomlin has been working as an urban agriculture extension agent in Senegal since November 2014. Along with hosting training sessions on organic agriculture techniques, Tomlin also represents the people of the United States to the local community.
Stevenson Center graduate students placed hundreds or thousands of miles away from Illinois State are rarely able to return for commencement. Because of the great distance, students receive their diplomas via standard mail services, without the formal ceremony. Having also received a bachelor’s degree in renewable energy from Illinois State in 2012, Tomlin was excited to make the journey back to campus to celebrate with family and friends.
“Illinois State University has been a second home for me. I have been a student and/or employee of the University since the fall semester of 2008,” Tomlin said. “Wherever I go after Peace Corps service, Bloomington-Normal will always be close to my heart. I will remember these last six years at ISU as a time when I discovered my interests, developed my talents, formed deep friendships, and grew into a more well-rounded person.”
Thanks to the Stevenson Center’s experienced staff and generous financial support, graduate students like Tomlin are able to experience community and economic development at its most intimate level without some of the stresses associated with graduate study.
“This is a life-changing program,” Tomlin commented. “Being a Master’s International student in the Stevenson Center allowed me to study development on three continents while rendering three years of national service (nine months of AmeriCorps, 27 months of Peace Corps) in pursuit of my degree. Since tuition is waived and assistantships are included, I didn’t have to go into debt to do it either.”
During his year on campus with the Stevenson Center, Tomlin served as an AmeriCorps Member with the United Way of McLean County: he was a key researcher and writer for the organization’s 2014 community assessment. During the summer of 2014, Tomlin participated in Dr. Carlos Parodi’s month-long exploration of human rights and community development in Peru. Then for his professional practice, Peace Corps placed Tomlin in Senegal, where he puts his academic training from the applied community and economic development (ACED) sequence into practice.
“As a Volunteer in Peace Corps Senegal, I gained hands-on experience in agricultural development, applying concepts learned on campus, such as capacity building, to the real world,” Tomlin said. “Working with community leaders, I have facilitated trainings in improved agricultural techniques such as composting, grafting, and mulching. When these techniques are adopted by farmers and gardeners, the community builds the capacity to meet its food security needs.”
In addition to the other December graduates like Tomlin, in August 2015 eight students completed the various programs offered by the Center:
• Margaret Anderson, Peace Corps Master’s International in political science
• Joanna Bossi, ACED Fellow in political science
• Ashley Conrad, Peace Corps Master’s International in sociology
• Christina Davila, ACED Fellow in sociology
• Brett Michaelson, Peace Corps Fellow in applied economics
• Katie Raynor, ACED Fellow in sociology
• Dan Sheets-Poling, ACED Fellow in applied economics
• Katie Simpson, Peace Corps Fellow in political science
The Peace Corps Master’s International Program at Illinois State combines graduate study with Peace Corps service to prepare students for an effective career in community and economic development. The Stevenson Center is home to the first Peace Corps Master’s International Programs in applied economics and sociology, and the oldest in political science. Illinois State University is regularly ranked in the top 10 Master’s International Programs in the country.
“The Stevenson Center challenges students to reflect on the meaning and responsibilities of citizenship. It is about far more than voting every four years. It is about being involved in determining the character and direction of the community one lives in,” Tomlin commented.
If you are interested in learning more about the Stevenson Center’s graduate study options and ways to serve communities in need, visit the Stevenson Center today!