Dani Park, a second-year graduate student in the sociology program as well as an Applied Community and Economic Development (ACED) fellow at Illinois State University, has a passion for empowering marginalized communities.  

Before coming to ISU, Park was a volunteer for the Peace Corps and spent two years in Costa Rica teaching English as a second language to Costa Rican youth. Some of his best memories include helping his students sound more natural when speaking English by using informal phrases like “what’s up?” He remembered that when being introduced to new students, a lot of them would use the same phrases and sounded very formal but were shocked to find out that people in the United States don’t always talk like that. Over his two years there, Park became very proud of his students and saw great strides in their ability to speak English. At the end of his two years, Park and his team were evacuated from Costa Rica due to COVID-19.  

When he got back to the states, Park chose to continue his studies at ISU specifically because of the ACED program. This fellowship offers students who have previous experience in community development or social services the opportunity to take classes on community development and their area of interest for the first year of the program. In the second year, students apply what they’ve learned through an internship with community organizations around the country. ACED students spend the second year of their program working with different organizations based on their interests. Right now, Park is working as a community outreach specialist for Edu-Futuro in Arlington, Virginia. Edu-Futuro is a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering parents and facilitating the education of immigrant families in their community. Much of the work Park does with these families is centered around COVID-19. He explained that many immigrant families have concerns about the various information being spread about the virus and the vaccine. Park helps to communicate that the vaccine is safe, effective, and available for families regardless of citizen status. He has been handing out flyers with information on how and where to find resources for COVID-19 that these families may have not known about or may be unsure of. Park concluded that it has been a very rewarding experience getting to work with these families and alleviate some of their concerns surrounding the virus.

Looking to the future, he hopes to keep pursuing his education, get his Ph.D., and eventually become a professor of sociology or philosophy to help others reach their goals. He has a specific interest in social and philosophical theory, which are driving forces in understanding social phenomena around us. Park hopes to help future students through teaching social theory, so they have multiple frameworks to facilitate an understanding of the world around them.

For more information about the ACED program at ISU, check out their website.

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