Graduates from Illinois State’s Stevenson Center for Community and Economic Development are making a difference all over the country and abroad. Thanks to rigorous and relevant coursework combined with real-world experience, alumni take their expertise in community and economic development to organizations as varied as they are. Receiving degrees in applied economics, political science, sociology, and the newly formed options in anthropology and in kinesiology and recreation, alumni hold an array of jobs.
Graduates from the Stevenson Center work for institutions that create change at local, regional, national, and international levels across many sectors. Recent alumni surveys show that 86 percent of respondents were employed within six months of graduation.
“The Stevenson Center provided me with a unique opportunity to grow academically, professionally, and personally,” said former Applied Community and Economic Development Fellow in political science Casandra Fritzsche ’07, M.S. ’10. “The coursework and professional practice gave me real-world training that easily translated to a career in non-profit management. Working with a cohort of like-minded, yet diverse students challenged my way of thinking and encouraged me to pursue a career in public service.”
After graduation in 2010, Fritzsche worked as the executive director of the Northeast West Virginia chapter of the American Red Cross where she developed a diverse board of directors and engaged with community partners to spread awareness of local Red Cross programming. Currently, Fritzsche is a learning and development consultant with the Gallup Organization in Chicago where she trains clients on leadership and engagement strategies.
Bunmi Akinnusotu’s experiences at Illinois State set her on a journey in nonprofit and government management, from the YWCA and United Way in Chicago, to her current role as special assistant at the Environmental Protection Agency. Reflecting on her 2007 master’s in sociology, Akinnusotu said the field experiences and the relationships stand out.
“I would absolutely recommend the Stevenson Center to others. I found the practical learning approach to be extremely helpful to my career. I gained an appreciation for how to unpack tough questions, and bring a more critical lens to research that can actually help change or influence conclusions. When I sit in meetings or when things come up, I listen differently because of what I know about how communities operate and what tools are at my disposal to address problems.”
“The Stevenson Center was life changing for me,” noted former Peace Corps Fellow and 2013 political science graduate Nancy Ouedraogo. “Even having done the Peace Corps in one of the most challenging places in the world (Burkina Faso), and then 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 was I was capable of. 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.”
Through the Stevenson Center, Ouedraogo served with Habitat for Humanity and then the City of Bloomington as an AmeriCorps member. Building on intensive data work during her professional practice, Ouedraogo is now an international data management specialist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where she is working to implement a new information system that will help the university better serve its international population.
Also employed in academia is former Peace Corps Master’s International student Dustin Stoltz. Having finished his master’s degree in 2014, Stoltz is currently a Ph.D. candidate in the department of sociology at the University of Notre Dame where he is active as a research assistant monitoring the latest developments in cognitive science, cultural sociology, and social network analysis.
“It is safe to say without exaggeration, if not for the Stevenson Center, I would not be where I am today,” Stoltz noted. “Very few master’s programs provide interdisciplinary coursework and an opportunity to do international research, while also maintaining a constant dialogue between theory and real-world practice. Most importantly, the faculty and staff were some of the most supportive I’ve encountered in my academic career.”
As part of his master’s degree at the Stevenson Center, 2012 Peace Corps Fellow in applied economics Lloyd Banwart spent 11 months working with the Land O’Lakes International Development Division. During this professional practice experience, Banwart’s primary responsibility was to organize and analyze baseline data for the Cooperative Development Project.
“Not a day of my fellowship went by that I was not challenged by the project or given the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to the project,” he said.
Banwart feels his experience as a Peace Corps Fellow at Illinois State enhanced his professional growth due to this balance between learning and responsibility.
Prior to his graduate work, Banwart served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines, where he worked with livelihood cooperatives. He also worked as a Business Manager for a Minnesota nonprofit providing mentorship and artistic opportunities to at-risk youth. Currently, Banwart is an economist for TANGO International and leads quantitative and qualitative data collection activities across resource-scarce settings in South Asia, Southeast Asia, and Africa.
“My Stevenson Center fellowship shaped my career and future life. The Stevenson Center has a lifelong advocate in me,” Banwart said.
To hear from current students, visit the student spotlight site created by current Applied Community and Economic Development Fellow in anthropology Cecilia Montesdeoca!