Alumni share Peace Corps experiences during Homecoming panel
Illinois State alumna Alana McGinty ’10 was the type of student to fully immerse herself in everything she did.
As a double major in political science and sociology at Illinois State, McGinty was involved in various leadership groups on campus. She was president of Phi Sigma Sigma, participated in LeaderShape, and worked out of what was then the Leadership and Service Office. She also served as a team lead on Alternative Breaks trips.
McGinty joined the Peace Corps following graduation, volunteering in South Africa from 2011–2013 as part of an HIV/Aids outreach program. That experience led her to her current role as a grants and contracts associate at DAI Global in the Washington, D.C., area.
While always seeking a life of leadership, McGinty found that her time in South Africa made her the professional she is today. She returned to campus during Homecoming week to discuss opportunities abroad and how Redbirds can foster a career of service.
“It really showed me who I was as a person,” McGinty said. “I really appreciated that as a learning experience.”
Randy Gibson, M.A. ’96, joined McGinty for the alumni panel discussion “Peace Corps: Then and Now” held October 25 at Stevenson Hall. Gibson served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Tehran, Iran, from 1973–1974. He retired in 2017 from his position as a branch chief in planning and performance management with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency, also in Washington, D.C.
More than 555 Redbirds have served with the Peace Corps. In 1994 Illinois State also launched the first Peace Corps Fellows program in community and economic development for returned Peace Corps Volunteers. Gibson was the first recruit of the program. In 2016 the Stevenson Center added the Peace Corps Prep program, which is designed for students interested in Peace Corps or careers in public service after graduation.
Gibson told prospective applicants present to take the initiative and embrace the experience. While he gained valuable networking opportunities that led him to a career in rural development in the U.S., Gibson said it was important to develop relationships with people from different cultures.
“The people, we can connect,” he said. “There are good people there and good people here. You can kind of get away from some of the politics. We’ve got a lot in common and a whole lot to share.”
In most cases, Peace Corps participants are thrust into a situation vastly different from what they are used to. Volunteers just have to understand frustrations will happen in trying to assimilate to a new culture, said Beverly Beyer, M.S. ’03, senior associate director of the Stevenson Center. She encouraged volunteers to keep pressing and remember why they are involved.
“It is people to people,” Beyer said. “That is how we are going to be able to sustain ourselves going forward in this world.”
McGinty encouraged current Illinois State students interested in joining the Peace Corps to get involved around campus and to take advantage of service trips and organizations that will provide intangible skills moving forward.
Joining the Peace Corps, an idea that really solidified at Illinois State, gave her the tools to spring onward in her career of service.
“I remember coming back thinking I could literally do any job that anybody needed me to do at any point,” McGinty said. “I think it really does teach you a lot about resilience, a lot about taking initiative, and patience.”