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Peace Corps Volunteer Michael Anstirman serves in Dominican Republic

Michael Anstirman with one of his English classes, ages 10 to 16, playing hangman. They meet twice a week at his house.

Several months into his Peace Corps training and service in the Dominican Republic, Master’s International student Michael Anstirman is adjusting to his new role as an agribusiness advisor. Anstirman came to Illinois State with bachelor’s degrees in economics and Mandarin and the goal of earning a master’s degree in applied economics through the Stevenson Center.

“I have never been a part of a program that was so dedicated to its students like the ACED program at ISU.”—Michael Anstirman

Deciding to volunteer for two years in a foreign country is not an easy decision. Anstirman first considered the Peace Corps when he was only 17 years old. “I knew I wanted to live in another country after I finished my degree, learn another language, and acquire a job that allows me to work alongside people,” he said. The Peace Corps offered this and even more.

Anstirman came to Illinois State to prepare for Peace Corps through the classes and experiences offered by the Department of Economics and the Stevenson Center’s applied community and economic development sequence. Anstirman’s graduate assistantship during his year on campus allowed him to use his data skills to help the local United Way, resulting in his capstone research project, “The Determinants of the High School Graduation Rate in McLean County.”

Anstirman was then placed in the Dominican Republic to work with three groups in a rural community. His main priority is the women’s marmalade group, which produces mango marmalade from excess, overripe fruit harvested by the fruit farmers’ cooperative. Their product is then sold at fairs through ADETDA, a community economic development organization. Anstirman works with all three groups on a day-to-day basis, assisting them with anything they need.

The Fruit Farmer's Cooperative discussing the aid process on obtaining machinery that removes pulp from mangoes.

The fruit farmers’ cooperative discusses the process for obtaining machinery that removes pulp from mangoes.

Even though he had been considering the Peace Corps for years, the transition was not a smooth one. “For the first few months on-site I really had to adjust from a crazy busy lifestyle from back home, to an almost completely free schedule,” Anstirman said. “I didn’t have a grasp on what there was to do or go to in my community.”

It is safe to say that he has now found his place in the community. His work involves regular meetings with the women’s marmalade and fruit farmers’ cooperatives. Anstirman is working with the women’s group on getting its registro sanitario so the members can sell their product in the markets. He is also helping the farmers in the process of requesting a grant for machinery. His days also include household chores, exercising, and hanging out with friends.

“As of right now, I feel very passionate about the issues I see on a daily basis: health, education, and equality,” Anstirman said. “Living on the border (between the Dominican Republic and Haiti), I see all sorts of problems including, but not limited to, nutrition deficiency, racism, and illiteracy.”

Michael Anstirman (center) with neighbors building a table for his house.

Michael Anstirman (center) with neighbors building a table for his house.

Many students involved with the Stevenson Center share his passions. Along with the Master’s International program, graduate students can choose the Peace Corps Fellows or the Applied Community and Economic Development (ACED) Fellows programs. While Peace Corps is retiring the Master’s International program nationwide this year, the Stevenson Center has partnered with Peace Corps to introduce Peace Corps Prep for undergraduate students and to host a campus recruiter.

“I have never been a part of a program that was so dedicated to its students like the ACED program at ISU,” Anstirman said. “The staff put in so much effort to get to know their students and help them from start to finish.”

The following Stevenson Center students and alumni are serving in the Peace Corps:

  • Amanda Breitenstein, Ukraine
  • Caleb Griffin, Morocco
  • Courtney Johnson, Mozambique
  • Calvin LeSueur, Paraguay
  • Carolyn Moe, Botswana
  • Bethan Owen, Morocco
  • Matthew Tomlin, Senegal
  • Rachelle Wilson, Morocco

Learn more about Stevenson Center programs for master’s students and Peace Corps Prep!  Or connect with Peace Corps campus recruiter Vanessa Soto.

Kaitlin Pavsner is the Stevenson Center’s public relations intern.