The Stevenson Center for Community and Economic Development provides its graduate students with tools to make an impact on the world. Each of these Fellow pursues a master’s degree in anthropology, applied economics, kinesiology and recreation, political science, or sociology. They benefit from the expertise of both the center’s affiliated faculty and the professors and advisors in their chosen discipline.

Since July 2019, the Fellows in applied economics have been advised by Dr. Dimitrios Nikolaou, associate professor and economics graduate program director. Nikolaou helps develop the Applied Community and Economic Development (ACED) Sequence curriculum. He envisions ways to improve the student experience, as well as ways to further strengthen the involvement of the Economics Department in Stevenson Center activities and events.

Dr. Dimitrios Nikolaou, associate professor of economics

In 2013, Nikolaou received his Ph.D. in economics from Ohio State University, and he joined Illinois State University’s faculty shortly thereafter. Nikolaou’s research is primarily in applied microeconomics, with particular attention to issues of labor, education, and health.

Nikolaou explains human capital accumulation, a focus of much of his work: “[It] refers to the skills and competencies individuals acquire during their life through investments in themselves that will subsequently improve their productivity and their performance in the labor market. When we refer to skills, we include both cognitive (hard) skills and noncognitive (soft) skills. For example, a cognitive skill would be how good someone is with numbers and math in general, whereas a noncognitive skill would be how organized or how motivated someone is (think of them as personality traits). Health capital accumulation is similar, but the focus is on health-related skills that an individual acquires over time through investments. For instance, exercise or healthy diet would be inputs that an individual uses to improve their overall health (i.e., accumulate more health capital). One of the reasons why we are interested in skill and capital accumulation (human or health capital) in economics is because such skills and capital will increase labor market productivity with beneficial effects on employment opportunities and wages (among others).”

Nikolaou’s research falls into two areas: “The first area focuses on risky health choices individuals make and how these choices affect accumulation of human and health capital, while the second area focuses on what causes accumulation of human capital with emphasis on schooling inputs—bullying victimization, in particular.” His research is policy-oriented, relating for example to smoking, the elimination of school extracurricular activities, and suicidal ideation.

In 2017,  Nikolaou published an article in the Journal of Health Economics titled “Does Cyberbullying Impact Youth Suicidal Behaviors?”

“I have almost exclusively examined bullying and cyberbullying victimization as a unique schooling input that might affect health and human capital accumulation,” he said. “This is one aspect of my research that distinguishes it from all previous studies, as there is only limited evidence on the role of bullying within economics.”

He explains further: “I delve into understanding the role of bullying since it has become a significant societal concern over time. I quantify the first evidence for the causal effect of cyberbullying on fatal and nonfatal suicides, and I add to the very limited literature on its impact on human capital accumulation—in terms of not only educational performance but also extracurricular participation, peer effects, comparison of different forms of bullying, and of different initiators of the victimizing behavior (bully vs. bullied). These areas relate directly to the Stevenson Center’s strategic plan to promote the scholarship of community and economic development.”

ACED Fellow Melissa Johnston-Gross ’17

Nikolaou notes that he enjoys having the opportunity to combine research with his teaching and that he is proud of all of the students he has supervised at the undergraduate and graduate levels. In the past four years, Nikolaou has supervised four Fellows’ capstone projects.

“Even though all projects are noteworthy on their own merit, I most enjoyed overseeing the project with Melissa Johnston-Gross on an empirical evaluation of the 21st Century Community Learning Center program,” Nikolau said. “In addition to having an inquisitive mind, Mel brought a different perspective on the topic combining her economics training with her work in the Stevenson Center.”

Aside from his research and teaching, Nikolaou serves as a peer reviewer for top economic journals and as a member of several committees within the Economics Department. He also contributes to the College Curriculum Committee, and he is a Faculty Senator.

Nikolaou’s most recent awards include a 2019 Summer Faculty Fellowship, the 2019 University Service Initiative Award, and the department’s 2017 Scott M. Elliott Faculty Excellence Award and Best Capstone Research Advisor, both graduate and undergraduate, in a single year.

In and out of the classroom, Fellows’ experiences with faculty have a lasting impact on their careers. ACED Fellow Johnston-Gross ’17 noted, “Dr. Nikolaou was a great teacher and mentor to me during my capstone.” She is currently a senior data analyst with Allina Health.

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 or (309)-439-7090.

Dr. Dimitrios Nikolaou (far left) with some 2017 Economics Department graduates, including Stevenson Center Fellows Bryan Titzler and Melissa Johnston-Gross (far right).

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