Brad Merryman ’81, central regional manager for Peace Corps and an Illinois State alum, visited campus March 30 to discuss global engagement as part of the International Studies Seminar Series sponsored by the Office of International Studies and Programs.
Merryman spoke to more than 80 students, faculty, staff, and prospective Peace Corps volunteers about the impact of his Peace Corps experience on himself and his community. Merryman served with the Peace Corps from 2010–2012 in Santa Elena, a remote mountain area in Costa Rica.
Merryman shared eight short stories with topics ranging from the student engagement that spurred President John F. Kennedy to form the Peace Corps in 1961 to Illinois State’s strong partnership with Peace Corps. One story highlighted a Peace Corps volunteer (now the current director of Peace Corps, Carrie Hessler-Radelet) who helped save a life during her service in Samoa. Merryman’s presentation conveyed that an individual’s service with Peace Corps can truly change the world.
“The benefit a volunteer provides to a community in need is felt at the time of their service,” Merryman said, “but it can be passed on for years to come as the people in communities share what they have learned from their volunteer.”
Merryman decided to serve with Peace Corps after 35 years in the IT industry, including executive roles at Sun Microsystems.
“During my time at Sun, I had the opportunity to work on and lead complex projects and programs, made up of diverse teams from around the world,” Merryman said. “These skills and experiences were very applicable to my Peace Corps service.”
“Some of my most beloved and fondest memories of my time in Costa Rica were my daily interactions with the students in a small school,” Merryman said. “Angelica, a student in my class, wanted to grow up to be a veterinarian. She would always talk about her love of animals and how she wanted to help in whatever way she could. It was at this moment that I realized I was making a difference.”
Shaped by Illinois State
During his presentation, Merryman noted the positive impact of Illinois State University on his own career trajectory, as well as the current support for Peace Corps on campus.
With the forthcoming Peace Corps Prep program for undergraduates, Illinois State will be among a handful of U.S. universities that have a three-fold partnership with Peace Corps. Founded in 1994 as the first Coverdell Peace Corps Fellows Program in community and economic development jointly with Western Illinois University, Illinois State University’s Stevenson Center educates the next generation of community and economic development professionals through interdisciplinary, applied graduate programs. The Coverdell Peace Corps Fellows Program allows returned Peace Corps Volunteers to pursue graduate study while serving U.S. communities. 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).
Recently, the Stevenson Center has grown to include master’s degree options in anthropology and kinesiology and recreation, along with applied economics, political science, and sociology. Merryman commented on the Stevenson Center’s continued efforts to champion the Peace Corps vision of global peace and friendship.
Well over 525 Illinois State alums have served as Peace Corps volunteers over the agency’s history. Illinois is also among the top-producing states for volunteers, with 278 Illinois residents currently serving in the Peace Corps. Overall, 8,606 Illinois residents have served since the agency was created in 1961.
With only 4,000 applicants being accepted out of the more than 23,000 applications received in 2015 alone, Peace Corps volunteers are some of the most knowledgeable and dedicated service members in any organization. Merryman noted that Peace Corps volunteers can meet host country needs for skilled professionals in key areas of need, such as education, health, economic development, agriculture, environment, and youth development.
“Volunteers form friendships with colleagues that are long lasting,” Merryman said. “They drink tea with elders, bringing their development knowledge to decision makers in local communities all across the globe. They also learn new skills, how to overcome challenges, and how to live and function in a new culture. It’s a tremendous growth opportunity, regardless of age, life stage, or background.”
Brad Johnson is the Stevenson Center’s public relations intern.