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Leo Dion (Galesburg, IL) and Adam Kohlrus (Springfield, IL) are featured in this photograph from October 2011, when they and other WIU Peace Corps Fellows took the AmeriCorps Pledge of Service in Springfield, IL. WIU's Peace Corps Fellows Program in Community Development is also an AmeriCorps program that utilizes AmeriCorps funds to deliver service in underserved Illinois communities. Peace Corps Fellows (from left, back row) Dion; Matt Wakefield (Arlington Heights, IL); Kathryn Nees (Portland, OR); and (front row) Adam Kohlrus (with flag) and Yemiymah Yisra'el (Chicago, IL). Photo courtesy of Karen Mauldin-Curtis.
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WIU Peace Corps Fellows Program Achieves 100 Percent Job Placement Record

December 3, 2012

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MACOMB, IL -- Western Illinois University's Peace Corps Fellows (PCF) Program has achieved an admirable 100 percent job placement record among its 2011 and 2012 graduates. According to PCF Program Manager Karen Mauldin-Curtis, since August 2011, 11 fellows have completed their graduate studies at WIU and all are employed in their fields of study.

Of the 11 recent graduates, six of them remain in Illinois and are now applying their skills and talents to new work in communities across the state.

Following the completion of an academic year of graduate study and relevant professional-development preparation, program participants then serve in an 11-month internship in a rural community in Illinois. This provides fellows the opportunity to apply and refine community-development skills in a hands-on setting, while assisting otherwise under-served communities, Mauldin-Curtis noted.

PCF graduate Leo Dion (Galeburg, IL) was hired in August as director of the Knox County Development Corporation for the Galesburg Regional Economic Development Association (GREDA) immediately following his graduation. He was assigned during his internship to work in Henry County and had the opportunity to interact with the same people who have since become his colleagues.

"The internship allows you to establish relationships that often lead to collaboration even after the internship has ended. I currently work with a number of the communities from my internship, as well as with someone I had established a relationship with last year who now serves on the Board of GREDA," Dion said.

After completing his Peace Corps service in Turkmenistan, he decided to pursue his master of arts in geography through the Peace Corps Fellows program at WIU because he liked the structure of the program.

"With one year in classes and the following year in the field working, this model meshed with my desire to be engaged in the community while getting some grounding in the classroom," Dion explained. "The PCF program at WIU is a great way to get a graduate degree that includes both theory and practice. Oftentimes, the theory doesn't resonate until you can try it out and understand the nuances. This program allows for the practical and immediate application of the ideas present in the graduate classes and seminars attended as part of the program."

Mauldin-Curtis noted when asked if he felt the program prepared him for the community internship, Dion said, "Absolutely."

"The graduate study in geography/regional planning had pragmatic uses that have been able to be employed immediately," he added.

Springfield, IL, native Adam Kohlrus also graduated this summer, transitioning to his current post as manager of performance improvement for the Illinois Hospital Association (IHA) in Naperville, IL. Kohlrus served as a PCF/AmeriCorps member at IHA as part of the program's internship requirement.

"I have been fortunate enough to extend my internship experience into a full-time employment opportunity. My work during my internship focused solely on quality improvement initiatives in small and rural hospitals around the state. My education at WIU and internship experience has greatly contributed to the work I am doing today," he explained.

According to Kohlrus, he started researching PCF programs while working for Peace Corps headquarters in Washington, D.C., prior to his Peace Corps response service in Guyana.

"I knew the PCF program was an opportunity I would like to take advantage of after my response service, and when I came across the program at WIU, I knew it was the exact opportunity I was looking for. Being from Springfield, this was an opportunity to get the health sciences degree I was seeking, while being close to home and taking advantage of the program's generous benefits."

Kohlrus served in Swaziland from 2006-08 as a community health volunteer and educator on HIV/AIDS prevention, and as a Peace Corps Response volunteer in Guyana focusing on health education and youth-development activities.

"I felt I had a lot of 'grassroots' public-health experience on the ground from the perspective of a developing country, but I wanted to learn more theory and get to know how our public health system here in the States operated. I was definitely afforded the opportunity to gain that theoretical knowledge through my education at WIU and then got a view of how our health system in Illinois functions through my internship at the Illinois Hospital Association. I feel my goals were achieved above and beyond my expectations," Kohlrus said.

The Peace Corps Fellows program, a unit of the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs at WIU, offers an opportunity for returning Peace Corps volunteers to each earn a master's degree in one of the following eight fields of study: business administration; economics; educational and interdisciplinary studies (TESOL); geography (regional planning); health sciences (public health administration); political science (public administration); recreation, park and tourism administration; or sociology. The program is beginning its 19th year as a participant in the Peace Corps' Coverdell Fellows Program and its 10th year in the AmeriCorps State Program.

Mauldin-Curtis served in the Dominican Republic as a Peace Corps volunteer and is also an alumna of PCF program.

"The Peace Corps Fellows Program provides an avenue for incorporating innovative community programs, such as health and wellness programs and economic development initiatives, that can be sustained in rural Illinois. It is a unique opportunity to bring back global experience and apply it to small communities across the state. It creates a win-win situation for the communities we serve and the students we graduate," she said.

For more information about WIU's Peace Corps Fellows Program in Community Development, contact Mauldin-Curtis at (309) 298-2706 or at Learn more about the program on the Peace Corps Fellows' website at

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