Invest Aurora helps Stevenson Center Fellows strengthen their skills and gain real-world understanding of local economic development. For the third year, this public-private partnership has benefited from a Fellow’s graduate training to advance its mission while providing a rich professional development experience in return.
After one year of interdisciplinary graduate work on campus, Peace Corps Fellows and Applied Community and Economic Development (ACED) Fellows complete 11 months of paid professional practice with a variety of host organizations. The intensive field experience in communities across the U.S. allows for the practical application of what is learned in the classroom. This kind of win-win arrangement is exemplified in the Stevenson Center’s relationship with Invest Aurora.
Invest Aurora focuses on economic growth in the Aurora community by attracting and retaining different types of development including commercial, industrial, retail, and mixed-use. The second largest city in Illinois, Aurora is 40 miles west of Chicago. The local chamber of commerce initially formed Seize The Future Development Foundation, which merged with the city’s economic development agency in 2012 to establish Invest Aurora.
“Invest Aurora works to make the city stronger by leveraging partnerships between public and private sectors to attract and expand business ventures that stimulate the economy, create jobs, and strengthen our community for Aurora residents,” explained President/CEO of Invest Aurora Dave Hulseberg. “Invest Aurora assists businesses by providing community data, land and building availability, financing resources, and other initiatives.”
Each Stevenson Center student has acquired practical, transferable knowledge by working with Hulseberg and his team.
“ISU has been a great partner. The students from the Stevenson Center bring enthusiasm and excitement. They want to participate and learn. They are like sponges. No task is too great or too small,” Hulseberg said.
Like Brett Michaelson before him, Peace Corps Fellow Derek Conley served with Invest Aurora for his 11-month internship and was subsequently hired. As an economic development specialist, Conley is dedicated to attracting businesses or developers to Aurora and keeping them in the city. Conley refers to choosing the Stevenson Center for graduate school as one of the best decisions of his life. For him, the shift from the classroom to the field was smooth.
“The second year being a professional practice is one of the most attractive aspects of the programs,” Conley said. “While the first year was great, the second-year professional practice is what sets the program apart from other programs. My internship also turned into a full-time position which fulfilled my personal end goal.”
ACED Fellow Jonathan Monsma is studying applied economics and started his professional practice at Invest Aurora in August. Monsma is learning about all aspects of Invest Aurora. He is involved in marketing, including managing Invest Aurora’s website and social media. He collects data on area real estate, performs critical research, and aids with event planning.
During his professional practice, Monsma is serving as an AmeriCorps member. His work at Invest Aurora is helping AmeriCorps meet its goal of increasing economic opportunity and building capacity in Illinois.
“The transition has been interesting, because in the classroom you learn a lot of theory, but in the office you see how things operate in the real world. I think that both are valuable learning experiences and that the classroom provided a lot of good background,” said Monsma.
Monsma acknowledged that there are benefits to a traditional master’s program, with the second year in the classroom. But the structure of the Stevenson Center’s Fellows programs, with the second year in the field, is more appealing to him.
“For me, I think that it is more valuable to have the second year as professional practice,” noted Monsma. “I’m looking to gain professional experience and I may want to continue in the economic development field after this year. And I’m gaining some universal skills that could be transferred to other career fields as well.”
Fellows completing their professional practice work nearly full time for the duration of the 11 months in exchange for a stipend. They become part of the team at the host organization, with meaningful work and networking opportunities that can lead to future employment. Students stay connected to the Stevenson Center throughout this time, sending work samples and reports on a regular basis. Fellows are currently serving in Illinois, Montana, Texas, and Washington, D.C.
While host organizations do a lot for the Stevenson Center Fellows, the Fellows do a lot for the communities they serve. Fellows graduate knowing that they are not the only ones who benefited from earning their master’s degrees: Their host organizations benefited, too.
Sarah Aten is the Stevenson Center’s public relations intern.