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Stevenson Center’s first Peace Corps Fellow returns to celebrate 25th anniversary

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Randy Gibson '96.

This year, the Stevenson Center for Community and Economic Development not only celebrates its 25th anniversary but also the return of the very first Peace Corps Fellow recruited, Randy Gibson ’96.

Gibson will share his experiences on Friday, October 25:

  • Peace Corps, Then and Now at 10 a.m. in Stevenson 401: Gibson and Alana McGinty ’10 will participate in a panel conveying how Peace Corps has changed while remaining true to its mission.
  • Alumni Day Presentation at 2:30 p.m. in Stevenson 132: Gibson will reflect on the theme of service in his career path, from Peace Corps to Illinois State and his professional practice with the Community and Economic Development Foundation of Ford County and then his experience with United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Gibson’s career was well underway when he came to Illinois State to study political science. After graduating in 1972 from LaVerne College in California with a bachelor’s degree in performing arts, he served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Tehran, Iran. He worked on a community-based income-generating project to design, produce, and market handcrafts, and he taught art as well.

Gibson seated

Randy Gibson serving with Peace Corps in Iran in 1973.

After Peace Corps, Gibson built on his background in handcrafts through SERRV, a nonprofit retailer that now works with over 25 countries and 8,000 artisans and farmers. After SERRV, he took a regional coordinator position with the Salvation Army World Service Office in Washington D.C., where he oversaw development projects in Pakistan and Bangladesh, negotiated grant agreements, and provided technical assistance to field staff. Three years later, he became director of development with International Voluntary Services, a nonprofit organization that was essentially a precursor to the Peace Corps.

In 1994, Illinois State University partnered with Peace Corps and Western Illinois University to establish the first Peace Corps Fellows program in community and economic development in the nation. At that time, the two universities shared the required classes, and Illinois State students could pursue master’s degrees in applied economics or political science. All Fellows’ internships were in rural Illinois.

Gibson arrived on campus from Washington D.C. with a whopping 20 years of experience in international and domestic community development. His professional practice was with the Community and Economic Development Foundation of Ford County. He directed this newly formed public-private partnership in (funnily enough) Gibson City.

After graduating, Gibson went on to several other roles, most recently with the USDA. He spent six years as a rural development specialist; most recently he was branch chief of the Farm Service Agency. Gibson retired in 2017.

In his retirement, Gibson’s original love for handcrafts shines through. He spends much of his time building decks, sheds, gardens, fences, and more for his family and his neighbors. As his wife, Julia, has not yet retired, he manages much of the household work. With an interest in conservation, Gibson also makes his house more energy efficient with insulation and solar panels. He devotes his free time to climate justice education and action. Lastly, he is hiking the Appalachian Trail in stages and has nearly hit the halfway point of the trail’s total of 2,190 miles!

After 25 years, the Stevenson Center retains its commitment to the interdisciplinary Applied Community and Economic Development sequence. In addition to applied economics and political science, Fellows can pursue master’s degrees in anthropology, sociology, and kinesiology and recreation. The Stevenson Center welcomes both returned Peace Corps Volunteers and those who have at least one year of full-time experience in community development or social services through other programs, like AmeriCorps. Today, Fellows’ internships are in all types of communities, in Illinois and in other states. The Stevenson Center also manages the Peace Corps Prep program to help undergraduate students prepare to serve.

Shaylin Quaid is the Stevenson Center’s public relations intern.

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