Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Trevor Peterson - AmericCorps

Name: Trevor Peterson               
Family: Nothing’s legal
Major & Minor: Human Geography & English Literature

Year Graduated: 2010
Current Employer: University of Wisconsin – Stout / AmeriCorps VISTA
Length of Employment: 2 years 7 months
Interests and Hobbies: I am interested in food systems and the intersection between urban and rural population. I believe in the Charter of the New Urbanism, agrarian urbanism, and most of the writings of James Howard Kunstler. My hobbies include biking, fishing, KUBB, gardening, foraging, and rooting for the Green Bay Packers.
What helped you decide what route to take after graduation (i.e. graduate school or type of job)? I chose to serve as an AmeriCorps Volunteer In Service To America (VISTA) in Menomonie, WI because this program allowed me to follow my passion for food sovereignty in the already familiar setting of western Wisconsin. AmeriCorps is similar to Peace Corps, except we are tasked with fighting poverty domestically. My site in Dunn County was asking VISTA members to organize food security initiatives through the Involvement Office at UW – Stout. I read the application – which called for service through organizing community gardens, nutrition education, and outreach to local farmers – and decided this was my path. While the living stipend is 10% above the poverty line, all my student loans are deferred during my time of service and I receive an education award when I’m finished that will erase 1/3 of my college debt. Also, the experience I’ve gained as a community organizer has exceeded what I could have hoped to attain in graduate school. Overall, I’ve learned to live on very little while maintaining meaningful employment in a field relevant to my interests.
What do you think gave you to edge to get your current position? My student engagement and research separated me from the other candidates for this AmeriCorps VISTA position. The narrative of my written application and stories I told during my phone interviews included anecdotes from my engagement on campus with the FOODLUMS. I recounted this engagement with such vividness and enthusiasm that my interviewers wanted me to duplicate my efforts at their site. Also, I had a research project on food access in the Twin Cities from my final semester fresh in my mind. This project, with research goals from my Advanced GIS and Geography of Race and Ethnicity courses, had methods and models that I could relate to my service as a VISTA. My interviewers recognized that I had the right combination of passion and discipline to meet their expectations of a VISTA member at their site. 
Describe your typical day at work: As a community organizer, it’s my role to listen to the needs of the partners at my site and connect them to the assets in our county. I’ve become adept at one-on-one interviews where I listen to the needs of a community member and help them realize their individual strengths. I’ll leave these interviews with a notepad full of ideas and projects they would like to see happen. My next task is plugging these ideas into existing programming in the county or gathering enough like-minded partners to launch a new program. To accomplish this task, I maintain a large asset map of community partners and their affiliations. This map allows another service member to follow my flow after my term ends. While some of my time is spent on building new relationships, a larger portion is spent on maintaining existing relationships at my site. My philosophy is to check-in with partners regularly with little or nothing to ask because it increases their likelihood of agreeing to support a large initiative when the time comes. Finally comes the direct service; which includes garden installations, nutrition education, film festivals, and local food summits. Any given workday could end with participating in one of these service events.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years? In five years, I hope to be mildly employed in a meaningful field with the opportunity to continue my development as a place maker in western Wisconsin. I look forward to years living in the Twin Cities learning from institutions, co-ops, and organizations there for the benefit of opening their ideas to rural Wisconsin farming populations. I’d like to slowly build a self-sustaining farm property in the town of Sherman or county of Pepin that uses the principles of agroforestry and renewable energy for the benefit of my family and neighboring community.
What advice can you give to those who are still in school? Find a meaningful service outlet that helps you develop your professional strengths. Draw from your service experience while developing your research interests or capstone project. Collaborate with the department faculty when you can and seek multiple faculty perspectives on your projects. Finally, don’t overschedule your semester. Too many course credits hamstrings your social and civic development.


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