As an alum of AmeriCorps and Illinois State University’s Stevenson Center, Bunmi Akinnusotu’s experiences at ISU 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 master’s in sociology, Akinnusotu says the field experiences and relationships gained at the Stevenson Center for Community and Economic Development stand out.
“I would absolutely recommend the Stevenson Center to others,” Akinnusotu said. “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.
“Studying at ISU was demanding but it was a very supportive environment,” Akinnusotu added. “I always enjoyed the small classroom sizes and accessibility of each professor. The Stevenson Center was a home away from home where I felt included and appreciated.”
Becoming a community development professional
For AmeriCorps alum Ramya Kumaran, the transition from AmeriCorps to the Stevenson Center ACED Fellows Program, and then a job in community development proved seamless.
“During my time with AmeriCorps, I realized my passion for serving high-need communities,” Kumaran said. “The Stevenson Center’s heavy emphasis on community and economic development supports my experiences with City Year and has added deeper context to my year of service. AmeriCorps alumni are prepared to succeed at the Stevenson Center, because they have a foundation based on community development fieldwork.
“Because of the emphasis on both theoretical and professional practice, the Stevenson Center has prepared me to succeed professionally,” Kumaran added. “In addition, the community of students and faculty that the Stevenson Center fosters has provided me the opportunity to learn and be challenged by perspectives from different disciplines and backgrounds.”
The Stevenson Center’s ACED Fellows Program has three key qualities that could jumpstart your professional development:
- A truly integrated classroom. Students come together in core courses to share their full range of perspectives and backgrounds with faculty.
- Real-world experience. Community projects are woven into coursework. ACED Fellows spend one intensive year on campus, followed by an 11-month paid field internship.
- Personalized support. The Stevenson Center is small by design, ensuring individual attention and interactive seminars with faculty.
The Stevenson Center offers comprehensive educational opportunities. Master’s degrees are available in anthropology, applied economics, kinesiology and recreation, political science, and sociology.
Within each degree program, the ACED sequence covers topics such as community project design and management, grant writing, and economic development. In and out of the classroom, each student also pursues a personal research agenda in areas like sustainable development, food systems, public health, and housing.
Learn and apply community development theories
AmeriCorps VISTA alum Caleb Griffin is pursuing a master’s degree in political science at Illinois State.
The opportunity to stay involved in service while simultaneously gaining the academic background needed to more deeply understand social issues was a major factor in Griffin’s decision to enroll at the Stevenson Center.
“I have learned not only the theoretical concepts behind community development, but have had the opportunity to personally work with local programs in the community doing this work,” Griffin said. “It has been a blast, and I highly recommend this program.”
Learning to see the bigger picture
After serving with AmeriCorps NCCC and later with AmeriCorps VISTA, alum Amanda Breitenstein chose to pursue a master’s degree in sociology at Illinois State’s Stevenson Center.
Breitenstein’s decision was driven by the desire to develop her knowledge of local and international development:
“Through my experience serving with AmeriCorps, I realized the local issues I dealt with were just a small part of the big picture,” Breitenstein said. “This, in combination with my experience in and out of the classroom as a student in the Stevenson Center, has allowed me to develop a praxis that understands global issues and initiatives. This program was the perfect transition for me to broaden the scope of my interests and community development work.”
If you are interested in learning more about the Stevenson Center’s graduate study options and ways to serve communities in need, including through Peace Corps service, visit the Stevenson Center today!