In the fall, the Stevenson Center will welcome a new cohort of students pursuing master’s degrees in applied economics, political science, sociology, anthropology, or kinesiology and recreation with an emphasis on community and economic development. Three of the incoming Peace Corps Fellows bring unique experiences to Illinois State.
Hannah Gdalman is pursuing a master’s in sociology. Finding herself drawn to the only undergraduate Peace Corps preparatory program at the time, Gdalman attended Knox College. She double majored in Spanish and anthropology/sociology, partly to meet the preparatory program requirements and partly out of a genuine interest in the subjects.
Gdalman served in Peace Corps in northern Guatemala from 2010 to 2012, fulfilling a longtime dream.
“I was probably 11 or 12 years old when I decided I wanted to do Peace Corps,” Gdalman said. “I knew I wanted to travel and live in a remote area, and I knew that Peace Corps would give me that.”
As a youth promoter in Guatemala, Gdalman incorporated life-skills curriculum into rural middle schools. The sessions highlighted HIV and AIDS awareness, sex education, self-esteem, study habits, and career planning. She also worked on women’s empowerment projects.
Gdalman is passionate about yoga, having earned her 20-hour teaching certificate in India. She teaches regular yoga classes in Chicago.
“I love the mind-body connection that yoga practice fosters, and it helps me cope with stress,” said Gdalman.
The Chicago Area Peace Corps Association introduced Gdalman to the Stevenson Center. While earning her master’s degree, she hopes to learn skills that can be used in her future work, including research and grant writing.
Casey Peterson will pursue a master’s in political science. Peterson earned a bachelor’s in history, with an emphasis on the Middle East, from San Francisco State University and finds a close connection between current events and the past.
Although interested in pursuing graduate studies, Peterson decided to explore other options and gain experience first. He volunteered as an ESL teacher at the Sacramento Food Bank and as a refugee vocational ESL teacher for the International Refugee Committee. He also worked as a technology instructor for Tesla Motors/Solar City. From 2016 to 2018, Peterson served in Peace Corps in Ukraine with his wife. As a TEFL teacher, he taught 20 English lessons a week to students from third to eleventh grade.
“I chose to study at Illinois State through the Stevenson Center because of its track record of producing career-ready graduates in addition to its built-in community,” Peterson said. “The staff and website were by far the most helpful of any programs I applied to.”
Peterson wants to establish lasting professional relationships while at the Stevenson Center.
“I hope that by the time I graduate, I will be in a better position to make positive change in my future community,” Peterson said.
Peterson’s hobbies include cooking, barbering, auto-detailing, basketball, strongman, and board games.
Peace Corps Fellow Ryan Arnold graduated from George Mason University with a bachelor’s in global affairs focusing on international development. A summer trip to Djibouti while an undergraduate spurred an interest in community development.
“I was drawn to service because I wanted international experience, and I wanted to get on the ground doing work that has measurable impact,” said Arnold. “I was drawn to the Peace Corps because of its excellent approach to community engagement and development.”
From 2011 to 2013, Arnold served in Peace Corps as a youth development coordinator in Cameroon. His work involved teaching life skills and leadership, HIV awareness, sexual reproductive health, and more.
“I absolutely loved the diversity of work and I was inspired by the passion and creativity of community leaders I was partnered with,” Arnold said.
Starting in 2014, Arnold worked as the African operations director for CARE for AIDS in Limuru, Kenya. He earned a certificate in social innovation management in 2016 from the Amani Institute in Nairobi.
“I’m expecting a challenging and rewarding academic experience that will help shape the next phase of my career. I’m excited about the practical nature of the professional practice, and the community that I will build with the other students in the program,” Arnold said.
Arnold reads often and plays the piano and guitar.
The Stevenson Center offers a similar Fellows program for those who have served with AmeriCorps or other public sector organizations, as well as a Peace Corps Prep program for undergraduate students.
Sarah Aten is the Stevenson Center’s public relations intern.