Peace Corps + graduate degree = meaningful career
Stevenson Center alum and returned Peace Corps Volunteer Michael Hotard has used his applied economics master’s degree to serve the U.S. Department of Labor, the nonprofit Civic Pulse, and Stanford University since graduating from Illinois State ten years ago.
From 2008 to 2011, Hotard was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kazakhstan, in the southern city of Taraz. He worked as a nonprofit consultant for the organization Zhambyl Zhastary. The organization’s mission was to encourage leadership and service among the region’s high school and college students. He assisted Zhambyl Zhastary by organizing leadership camps, teaching English and business courses, writing grant proposals, and supporting a grassroots theater group.
“I enjoyed my time in Kazakhstan and was always appreciative of the kindness and friendship that my colleagues offered,” Hotard said.
After earning his B.A. in economics and sociology in 2007 at the University of Georgia, Hotard came to Illinois State for the Stevenson Center’s Peace Corps Master’s International program. In 2016, Peace Corps retired this historic program, which allowed students to combine graduate study with Peace Corps service. The Stevenson Center for Community and Economic Development continues to offer master’s degrees in anthropology, applied economics, kinesiology and recreation, political science, and sociology for those who have at least a year of public service, often through programs like Peace Corps or AmeriCorps.
“The Stevenson Center program brings together a group of passionate and experienced professionals for an intense two-year experience,” Hotard said. “Because it involves students from multiple disciplines, it really does feel like a center on campus that is set apart from other departments. Because the academic part of the program can be short (just one academic year in my case for applied economics), it is important to dive into the experience.”
Hotard found that the strategies he learned in the community development and nonprofit management courses were relevant to many situations, including his time in Kazakhstan. The support, guidance, and advice Hotard received from the Stevenson Center helped him succeed not only in his studies and Peace Corps service but also throughout his career. He believes that the strongest aspect of the Stevenson Center is the staff and professors that support the students.
“While I was at ISU, the Stevenson Center offices were always a place I could stop by and know that I would receive help and support no matter what the issue was, and this support continued while I was in the Peace Corps as well. The Peace Corps experience can be challenging for most people; however, the support and advice I received from the Stevenson Center during my first year in Kazakhstan helped me get through the challenging times. Throughout my Peace Corps service and subsequent career, the Stevenson Center has provided me support and guidance whenever I have reached out,” he said.
Since graduate school, Hotard’s career has taken him from the U.S. Department of Labor to the Stanford University Immigration Policy Lab.
“In both places, I have continued the Stevenson Center model of combining knowledge with actual service,” he said.
At the Department of Labor, Hotard worked as a grants manager overseeing the government’s investments in job training programs in New England, New York, and New Jersey. He found that his time with the Stevenson Center and Peace Corps helped him maintain perspective on how community organizations operate and gave him insights into the best ways to work with grantees.
As a research program manager at the Immigration Policy Lab, his work has shifted to academic research. The lab is committed to projects that are relevant to both government leaders and nonprofit service providers.
“My general career interests lie in understanding how to use evidence to build effective policies and programs. I want to be part of the conversation with policy makers and practitioners about why evaluation is important and how evidence and social science can be used to strengthen communities,” he said.
Interested in learning more about the Stevenson Center, which also offers the Peace Corps Prep program for undergraduates? Get in touch at 309-438-7090 or StevensonCenter@IllinoisState.edu.
Megan Birk is the Stevenson Center’s public relations intern.