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Peace Corps Fellow takes advantage of AmeriCorps opportunities

Doug Gass with a friend on a boat on the Nile River.

Doug Gass boating across the Nile River.

Doug Gass is focused on service, whether through his past work as a Peace Corps Volunteer or in his current work with AmeriCorps through the Stevenson Center.

Gass grew up on a farm in Iowa and was always interested being outdoors. Encouraged by the farming and hunting environment in which he was raised, Gass went on to obtain a bachelor’s degree in wildlife ecology and habitat conversation from Northwest Missouri State University.

Doug Gass with friends at the equator in Uganda.

Gass with other Peace Corps Volunteers in Uganda.

Gass traveled frequently for work upon graduation, a practice he said is common among recent ecology graduates. Within the span of six years, Gass worked in Arkansas, Iowa, Maine, Nebraska, Florida, Minnesota, Oregon, and Virginia.

Gass was drawn to Peace Corps as a way to put his skills to use among people who needed them.

“I wanted to stop traveling around. I knew that I kind of wanted to settle down and get a permanent position, stop moving, and considered Peace Corps to be kind of a last hurrah to that type of lifestyle of moving around. I’d been traveling around the states, I wanted to get international,” said Gass.

Gass served in Uganda as an economic development volunteer from 2010 to 2012. He worked in western Uganda at the Toro-Semliki Wildlife Reserve, assisting the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Uganda Wildlife Authority. In addition to his eco-tourism efforts, he also engaged with the local community in their small business enterprises.

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While Gass experienced many differences between Uganda and the United States, he also found similarities.

“You can quickly identify a lot of the common themes that exist between here and there. [I] got to see a lot of different things but also got to experience how things are kind of the same wherever you go,” said Gass.

Upon returning from service, Gass became interested in deepening his education through graduate school. As a returned Peace Corps Volunteer, Gass qualified for the Coverdell Fellows Program, which includes financial support and opportunities to serve U.S. communities. At the Stevenson Center, he was able to take classes in different fields, which enhanced his education as he pursued his master’s degree in kinesiology and recreation.

“[I] had the opportunity to learn a lot . . . [through] the sort of interdisciplinary nature of these programs,” Gass said.  Fellows pursue master’s degrees in anthropology, applied economics, kinesiology and recreation, political science, and sociology, each with a sequence of classes in applied community and economic development.  Fellows study on campus for one year and then complete an 11-month paid internship in the second year.

A woman in Uganda is recruiting basket makers.

Gass helped with local business ventures in Uganda, including basket making.

“[I] just really appreciated the opportunity to really expand my horizons . . . as opposed to if I’d gone to another school [and] focused strictly on recreation,” noted Gass.

Gass was part of AmeriCorps briefly in college, once on a trail crew with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and then in Massachusetts on a prescribed fire crew. Through his professional practice with the Stevenson Center, he is serving with AmeriCorps again this year.

“I’ve always had a focus on service in everything, whether it was the biology work, the agriculture work, the Peace Corps work. Knowing that I’ve wanted to, sort of dedicate myself in my career to service, and that’s what AmeriCorps is all about . . . it’s a pretty natural fit and they provide a lot of opportunities for somebody looking to either gain that experience or, in my case, try to expand upon the experiences that I already have,” said Gass.

The placement of Gass with the ECIAAA is made possible in part through a Pohlmann Family Development Grant.  Vern Pohlmann, emeritus professor of sociology, and the late Elsie D. Pohlmann endowed the Pohlmann Family Development Grants and the Pohlmann Resource and Conference Room in the Stevenson Center. Their donation furthers the center’s commitment to involving students and faculty in and out of the classroom in a blend of academic scholarship, community volunteerism, research, and development. In fulfillment of Pohlmann’s vision, while at the ECIAAA Gass will conduct research that benefits McLean County.

His professional practice and AmeriCorps work is with the East Central Illinois Area on Aging (ECIAAA), which serves 16 counties. There, Gass is improving outreach to senior citizens. He is devising a training program that will be used for new employees at senior service agencies, in order to provide optimum resources for seniors.

“I’m also updating the agency’s disaster plan. That’s one thing AmeriCorps wants every AmeriCorps member to do is at least look at their agency’s, their host organization’s, master plan. The agency has expressed a desire for me to really hop in and make some significant changes to their disaster plan, so I’m working on that right now,” said Gass.

At the ECIAAA, Gass is learning about program development, assessment, and grant administration, among other topics. After graduation, Gass sees himself in the public sector, focusing on environment or agriculture outreach.

AmeriCorps offers a variety of intensive service opportunities across the United States, attracting 80,000 members each year. Focus areas include:  disaster services, economic opportunity, education, environmental stewardship, healthy futures, and veterans and military families.

Students currently participating in AmeriCorps through the Stevenson Center include:

  • Page Buschman – Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning (on campus)
  • Alyssa Cooper – City of Bloomington
  • Doug Gass – East Central Illinois Area Agency on Aging
  • Jon Monsma – Invest Aurora
  • Austin Moser – Stevenson Center (on campus)
  • Hunter Ryan – Stevenson Center (on campus)
  • Juan Zamarripa – Stevenson Center (on campus)

Along with AmeriCorps members across the state, they will all be attending National Service Recognition Day on October 12 in Springfield.

Sarah Aten is the Stevenson Center’s public relations intern.