The Stevenson Center for Community and Economic Development‘s graduate programs provide students with ways to connect rigorous course work to diverse field experiences. Students can pursue a master’s degree in anthropology, applied economics, kinesiology and recreation, political science, or sociology, each with an interdisciplinary sequence in Applied Community and Economic Development (ACED). To be an ACED Fellow, they must have at least one year (1,700 hours) of related full-time experience, such as working at a nonprofit or government agency or completing an AmeriCorps program.
Though one year with AmeriCorps is sufficient for the ACED Fellows program service requirement, Ward Westray is a two-time AmeriCorps alumnus pursuing a master’s degree in political science.
After earning a B.A. in international relations at Drake University in 2015, Westray served with the National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC), a residential team-based AmeriCorps program that strengths communities and fosters leadership. “My AmeriCorps NCCC tenure involved lots of hands-on work, including cleaning up former homeless campsites in San Jose, California; building affordable housing units with Habitat for Humanity in Kaua’i, Hawaii; restoring and preserving natural habitats in Auburn, California; and working at a youth development nonprofit summer camp in Angelus Oaks, California.”
In 2016 Westray took on an AmeriCorps State and National position as a refugee caseworker providing temporary integration assistance and intensive case management services.
“In this position, I helped newly and recently arrived refugees during my year in Boston, an experience that I absolutely loved; I still keep in touch with many of my former refugee clients! Switching between English, French, and Arabic languages most days was a challenging and fun experience, and I found I learned a lot from my clients as well. Nowadays, I’m very passionate about immigration advocacy and refugee services, something I attribute directly to my time working with the International Institute of New England,” Westray said.
Westray began his graduate program with the Stevenson Center in 2018. “Being a Stevenson Center Fellow is a challenging, yet rewarding experience that will serve to enrich your life. I’ve had a great variety of academic, professional, and personal experiences alike during my short time (as an ACED Fellow), and while there have been ups and downs like anyone would expect of any graduate school program, on the whole, I’m extremely glad I chose this path,” Westray said.
Westray is finishing his professional practice with Change Happens!, a 501(c)(3) social services organization in Houston. He mostly works with the Northern Third Ward Neighborhood Implementation Project to address five interrelated areas: economic development; housing; neighborhood building; education; and families, children, and seniors.
For the neighborhood building component, Westray and his colleagues are mobilizing Third Ward residents toward change. Westray said: “On a practical level this means activities such as those which give Third Ward residents access to greater resources, help cultivate local residents as leaders, give people a platform for increased political advocacy, and increase affordable transportation options around the area. During my time here, I’ve not only gained great nonprofit experience but moreover, met a great many wonderful people who inspire me through their passion for preserving the rich history and culture of the Third Ward community.” With guidance from Dr. Noha Shawki, Westray is also completing a capstone project related to his professional practice.
When asked about his proudest achievement over the two-year master’s program, Westray said: “Working on and presenting a project proposal for a local church during the spring 2019 semester was a great experience. Eastview Christian Church has a relatively new church location in Bloomington, Illinois, and my three-person group’s responsibility was to give them input regarding what to do (to benefit the community) with their mostly empty basement area, which in their own appraisal could be used much more efficiently. We met with Eastview throughout the semester and slowly developed a recommended action plan for them, and then finally presented it in May. This was a very new sort of activity for me, and required putting yourself in another organization’s shoes while simultaneously maintaining the view of a third party who could bring a new perspective to a project.”
Westray sees the value in the Stevenson Center’s graduate programs: “(They) offer a very unique master’s degree experience that I truly believe one couldn’t find anywhere else. Balancing academic and professional workloads and interests is a big challenge that is inherent to the program, but that’s also what makes it so unique and ultimately gratifying: developing and enriching yourself on a variety of fronts! Though I still have half a year to go, I feel already that I’ve come so far in my levels of professional and academic understanding, and will be able to take away from this program many different experiences that have made me a well-rounded professional. Bonding with your cohort is also a really unique aspect of the ACED program, and my own cohort is full of terrific people, which made that process great.”
The Stevenson Center welcomes those who have at least one year of full-time experience in community development or social services, whether through employment or programs like AmeriCorps and Peace Corps. Fellows’ internships are in all types of communities, in Illinois and in other states. Want to learn more about becoming a Stevenson Center Fellow? Contact us at StevensonCenter@IllinoisState.edu or (309)-439-7090.
Shaylin Quaid is the Stevenson Center’s public relations intern.