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McLean County Regional Planning Commission hosts first Stevenson Center Fellow

Peterson and Cooper standing together

Stevenson Center Fellow Casey Peterson and his supervisor, Alyssa Cooper, M.A. ‘18, community planner with the MCRPC and Stevenson Center alum, taken in August 2019. Peterson is an AmeriCorps member while completing his professional practice this year.

The Stevenson Center for Community and Economic Development offers applied, interdisciplinary master’s programs. For the second half of the two-year graduate program, Fellows are in the field, gaining professional experience, applying classroom knowledge, and serving organizations across the U.S. that need their expertise. The McLean County Regional Planning Commission (MCRPC) is a local organization hosting its first Fellow.

Prior to starting their graduate degrees, Stevenson Center Fellows are required to have at least a year of relevant experience, often through programs like Peace Corps or AmeriCorps. Master’s degrees are in anthropology, applied economics, kinesiology and recreation, political science, and sociology, each with a sequence in applied community and economic development.

Casey Peterson’s work at the MCRPC is partly supported by a gift from the Pohlmann Fund. Dr. Vernon Pohlmann, professor emeritus of sociology, established the fund to support Stevenson Center Fellows conducting research to benefit McLean County. Throughout his distinguished career, Pohlmann demonstrated his commitment to engaging students in applied research, and his legacy lives on through the work of Fellows like Peterson.

A Stevenson Center alum herself, MCRPC community planner Alyssa Cooper, M.A. ’18, explains MCRPC’s role: “(We) work in comprehensive planning, transportation planning, neighborhoods and housing, economic development, environmental and health planning, Smart Cities and technology planning, and rural planning. Our work helps to achieve the visions we help outline in the various plans we write for entities in McLean County, including the 2015 Bloomington 20-Year Comprehensive Plan and in 2017, the Town of Normal 20-year Comprehensive Plan.”

Cooper, who earned her master’s degree in applied economics, currently supervises Stevenson Center Fellow Casey Peterson in his professional practice at MCRPC. She said: “Fellows bring a lot to the table for organizations. They are essentially a full-time person and are typically just as capable as anyone else in the office. Fellows are a great asset to push forward projects that we would love to get done but just don’t have the staff hours to carry forward.”

Peterson, who served with the Peace Corps from 2016 to 2018 as an English teacher in Ukraine, is pursuing a master’s degree in political science. “There is a relation between my prior service and my degree track, but it’s not apparent immediately. When I was in Ukraine, there had been a revolution only 18 months prior. The school system was trying to reform from a teacher-centric, Soviet model of education into a more European one. I personally met with the minister of education, and we spoke about what difficulties teachers were encountering implementing this new model. This helped me realize how policy changes and theory can play a key role in reform.”

Completing his professional practice at MCRPC gives Peterson another opportunity to understand the impact of policy while expanding his skills: “I assist with various planning projects regarding housing and transportation. Mostly I do research and write reports that make their way into public policies.

“I am able to use cutting edge software to visualize data which is very en vogue in the private sector today. Also, there are great opportunities to network with other professionals in the field.”

When asked about Peterson’s role at MCRPC, Cooper said: “Casey has played an integral role at our office since he started with us in August 2019. Casey has done a lot of work for us related to research on autonomous vehicles as it relates to infrastructure and planning, research on Smart Cities and privacy, research on rural planning issues, and putting together a data dashboard with many data points on housing.”

Host organizations vary from year to year and reflect the variety of Fellows’ interests and abilities. Here are other organizations hosting Fellows for their professional practice in 2020–2021:

  • Berwyn Development Corp.
  • Change Happens! (Texas)
  • City of Bloomington
  • Community Caring Center of Palm Beach County (Florida)
  • East Central Illinois Area Agency on Aging
  • Financial Health Network
  • Housing Assistance Council (D.C.)
  • W.D. Boyce Council

The Stevenson Center is deeply grateful for all its partners. To learn more about becoming or hosting a Fellow, email StevensonCenter@illinoisstate.edu or call (309) 438-7090.

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