Derek Conley, a Peace Corps fellow in applied economics through the Stevenson Center for Community and Economic Development, is using his expertise in statistical analysis to help keep McLean County safe.
Conley is serving as a part-time AmeriCorps member under the supervision of Sociology Associate Professor and Stevenson Center Director Frank Beck. Their joint data management project has already helped McLean County in more ways than one.
“Dr. Beck and I provide important statistical data for the McLean County jail to help policymakers formulate well-informed decisions that will ultimately lead to a safer and more just community,” Conley said. “This work has brought to our attention the important role that criminal justice plays in a community and its efforts to remain as safe and accountable as possible.”
Prior to graduate school, Conley served in a rural community in the mountains of Grano de Oro in Costa Rica. Through the Peace Corps, Conley participated in development initiatives that had a tremendous impact on the community members, as well as on himself.
“With community leaders I helped implement projects that would lead to a successful community restaurant, an aqueduct, a much needed addition to the police station, and a remodeled community center. I also helped start a community class for teaching English and tourism,” Conley said. “The students that completed the class received college-level credits, which will really help them out in the future. I also worked with a number of businesses such as a local butterfly garden, an orchid nursery, and a hotel.
“The thing I miss the most about Peace Corps service is the people you meet while you are serving,” Conley said. “In the two years I was there I built lasting friendships with the members of my community, and I will cherish them forever.”
Conley, a Carbondale native and active St. Louis Cardinals fan, came to the Stevenson Center as a Peace Corps fellow. Since 1994, the Peace Corps Paul D. Coverdell Fellows program at Illinois State University has further developed the skills of returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs), preparing the next generation of development specialists. Fellows complete one calendar year of full-time coursework and 11 months of hands-on professional practice with communities or organizations needing the skills and expertise RPCVs possess.
“I think the biggest thing I’ve learned about myself since coming to the Stevenson Center is that I am able to juggle several different projects and tasks at the same time,” Conley said. “My dream job is to work for an economic development council, so I realize the importance of handling many projects at once. I want to help whatever community I’m in to grow economically and socially, and be able to provide a safe environment for its citizens.”
The close partnership with both Peace Corps and AmeriCorps as well as the knowledge of faculty and staff drew Conley to Illinois State and the Stevenson Center.
“The Stevenson Center has programs that gave me the most opportunities to pursue what I am most passionate about: community and economic development,” said Conley. “The Peace Corps Fellows program offers a great practical experience that provides me with a chance to learn how to build communities into safe places that spur business and development actions. Also, the faculty and staff at the Center are amazingly helpful and intelligent people. The amount of quality work that they put forth is extremely impressive.”
Conley is determined to make a lasting impact on the local community, here in McLean County as he finishes his first year, as well as during his 11-month professional practice in his second year.
Visit the Stevenson Center to learn more about the lasting impact a graduate degree from the Stevenson Center can bring to communities in need.
Brad Johnson is the Stevenson Center’s public relations intern.