Another academic year has started, and with it the Stevenson Center for Community and Economic Development introduces a new group of Fellows. The incoming graduate students have a variety of academic interests—anthropology, applied economics, kinesiology and recreation, political science, and sociology. Although a new group of Fellows with a wealth and variety of experiences arrives every year from across the country, this group is having a semester like no other.

“I’m a big people person so I miss being in a room with people.”—Stevenson Center Fellow in sociology Natasha Moodie

Like countless institutions across the country, Illinois State University has changed operations in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The new Fellows have had to remain especially flexible to adjust to the ever-changing reality of the current situation, from a welcome picnic with physical distancing to orientation outside to online meetings. Community-building for the new cohort looks different this year! Fortunately, Stevenson Center Fellows already have the skills necessary to succeed from their AmeriCorps and Peace Corps experiences, and—despite the difficulties brought on by the pandemic—they are optimistic about the future as well as their ability to adapt to the new surroundings and make new connections.

Online lectures have brought new dynamics to the classroom, demanding both flexibility and patience from professors and students alike. Natasha Moodie, a Fellow in sociology, is attending classes from her family home in Florida. She admits that the new way classes are held is not without its downsides. “The unreliability of internet and Zoom quality has been my only struggle,” Moodie said. “Some days it’s perfect; other days I can only hear every other minute. The unpredictability is sometimes frustrating. Also, I’m a big people person so I miss being in a room with people.”

“For me personally, online learning has been an overall positive experience.”—Stevenson Center Fellow in applied economics Jack Hanson

However, Moodie also states that having classes online can be beneficial for her personally, and she remains cheerful despite the distance. “I get to stay at home and close to my doctors for a few more months. If our courses were in person, I’d have to be far away from my doctors in the middle of a pandemic with a very complicated medical history. Also, it saves me time, so the hour I’d probably spend relocating to a new spot to do readings and grab dinner, etc., I can use for a nap!” she said.

Jack Hanson in applied economics, who is living in Bloomington-Normal along with the other Fellows, can also see the beneficial side of remote learning. “For me personally, online learning has been an overall positive experience,” he said. “It’s convenient to not have to run around getting to all my classes, especially since I’m living a few miles away and don’t have a car, and I can be in a more comfortable environment.”

Hanson also notes that the staff and faculty have allayed a common concern among students: “My professors have been easy to reach and are still available when I need help, which was one worry I came into this with, but I’ve had a positive experience.”

Regardless of the form classes have taken, one thing has remained the same: Stevenson Center Fellows have high expectations, both of the program and themselves. “I expect to leave ISU and the Stevenson Center with a clear understanding of how to address issues in my community,” Moodie described. “I expect to be able to apply to a job that involves development with confidence that I am equipped to do the work.”

Hanson, like Moodie, is excited about the program and has high hopes. “From my education here at ISU, I expect to learn more about how communities can grow and develop, and what role I can play in that,” he said.

The Stevenson Center is committed to service and understanding, locally and globally. Every year, the 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. The application process for fall 2021 is underway! Want to learn more about becoming a Stevenson Center Fellow? Contact us at or (309)-439-7090.

Dani Park is the Stevenson Center’s public relations graduate assistant.