Stevenson Center Podcast: Cecilia Montesdeoca (ACED Fellow, Anthropology)

Hi! My name is Cecilia Montesdeoca and
thanks for tuning in to my podcast episode for the Stevenson Center. In this
episode I’m going to tell you a bit about myself and some previous service
work experiences, how I came to apply to the Stevenson Center, and I’m serving as
a pioneer student for the Anthropology program. And then I’m going to tell you a
bit about what I’m doing in my field work here as a community organizer with
Dakota Resource Council, where I help organize communities that are impacted
by oil and gas extraction. So to start off, I’m from Bloomington-Normal which is
where ISU is located. I did my undergrad in cultural anthropology and
community health education. I started off at a community college and then
transferred to ISU to finish my degree. Before I transferred to ISU I was
actually backpacking around South America and had this huge trip planned
and I ended up staying for nine months in Peru working for a non-profit. This
community was impacted by an earthquake in 2007 and I arrived in 2010, so we were
still doing disaster recovery work but then turned to do more long-term
community development work with more community resources involved and I
worked as a project manager with that organization. And it was a huge turning
point in what I wanted to do and realizing that I loved doing
community work and whatever I did in school had to tie into that somehow.
So I transferred over to ISU after that experience in Peru, where I finished my
degree and had a great experience there. And after I finished my undergrad I took
on a year with AmeriCorps through the Illinois Public Health Association
AmeriCorps program, where I worked with McLean County Health Department here in
Bloomington-Normal and their emergency preparedness
division. I mainly worked to help with a state funded grant to make sure that we
hit all of our benchmarks, to ensure that our community was prepared if an
emergency was ever going to happen. And towards the end of that year I did a
lot more community outreach which I really enjoyed, focusing a lot on a summer
outreach program for kids. And basically, I turned all of the FEMA
curriculum, which was all worksheets, into a game for each worksheet and hosted a
game day with different organizations throughout the summer with kids and it
was a really great experience. I loved being out in the field and working
directly with people and it was just a reminder that, oh, I want to be out
in the field– whatever I do needs to be directly working with people in some
capacity. After that I actually applied to the Stevenson Center for the
political science program and I was accepted. I was put in a really
interesting position because I just found out about AmeriCorps NCCC
and had applied to be a team leader out in Denver, but I wouldn’t know if I would
be offered the team leader position until I had to make a decision for the
Stevenson Center. So I actually came in and talked to Beverly about it and she
told me that, you know, grad school will always be here and if a call to
service was what I felt more drawn to do at that time, then that’s what I should
do. She was an NCCC alum and said that if she could do it again then
she would, and I really appreciated that transparency and honesty, and just
respect for boots-on-the-ground service work. I ended up being offered the
team leader position in Denver where I led a team of 11 young adults from
across the United States to do different service projects in four different
states across the southwest; a beautiful year, got to see a lot of the country, got
to help my teams set roots in a lot of different communities and do great work
for different organizations and different causes, and it was great. I had
a super solid team and I actually saw that there were flyers for the Stevenson
Center out at AmeriCorps NCCC in Denver so it was just great when
everything aligned to be invited to apply to be the Pioneer student for
the Anthropology program. I was really satisfied with how the first year on
campus turned out. I had a beautiful group of people in our cohort
and I think that we really took advantage of learning from one another’s
previous experiences of Peace Corps and AmeriCorps, and really saw the
opportunity to grow with one another and to continue to do work with one another
to the point where we are still in pretty good contact now during our field
year, and interested in reading one another’s papers and projects and just
giving insight where we can. So it’s a great cohort. I think that’s one of the
best things about the Stevenson Center is the group of people that are on
your journey with you. So for my field year I am working as a community
organizer with Dakota Resource Council which is a non-profit in North Dakota
that works with farmers, ranchers, landowners, and concerned citizens who
want to help shape public opinion and influence public policy on issues
related to oil and gas extraction, agriculture and food, and clean energy. So
I am one of two oil and gas organizers and we work with communities that are in
the northwest part of the state where the Bakken Shale is, that
they actually extract from. We predominately work with rural
communities and indigenous communities to help them put that pressure on their
elected officials at the local, state, and federal level to make sure that everyday
people’s voices are heard when it comes to these policies. Because there’s the
voice of Industry, and the voice of corporation and money is much louder at
this point than the voice of the people. But it’s the voice of the people that
should influence democracy the most. That’s how democracy is supposed to work. You work to get someone elected and you continue to work with
them so that they truly represent you. That direction is
rather lost in North Dakota where the scene is that elected officials aren’t
really interested in everyday people. That’s what I gather so far at least, but it’s a great position, especially with the movement of
Standing Rock against the Dakota Access Pipeline. History is being written out there and it’s amazing to be a part of
it. DRC works a lot to help build bridges with the tribal leadership at Standing Rock and with the other reservations in North Dakota, and to be
able to go down to Standing Rock and to be part of demonstrations in Bismarck,
and to help coordinate community forums with the tribal chairman is
indescribable. I’m really thankful to be out there and I would
have never predicted that this opportunity would have come
to me and that I could be such an active part of what’s going on out there as
part of my work, and then just on my own time as well. It’s definitely one of the
most challenging experiences I’ve ever had being out there;
being in this over-militarized state and seeing everything that the
state is setting up against people. But I think it’s more empowering to
work with people and help organize people so that they can really come
together and be a loud voice. I’m not a loud voice yet, at least a voice that’s
heard. Looking into the future, it’s going to be amazing
and a great selling point to be able to tell people
that I was a community organizer, organizing on issues of oil and gas at
the time of Standing Rock. To say that I was able to do that as part of my
master’s program is a real blessing because I don’t think I could have asked
for a position like this, just looking at the job market. So I still
have six months left and I’m really excited to see how it goes. I’m
working on a collaborative project with DRC as part of my thesis, focusing on how DRC is able to provide an alternative discourse to this loud oil
industry, and how do we focus on the people? Because that’s what matters.
That’s really all I have for you in this podcast. If you have any other questions,
please feel free to reach out to me. You can
email the Stevenson Center and ask for my contact information. I would love to tell
you more about the Stevenson Center or some of the work that I’m doing out in
North Dakota and answer any questions that you guys have. I’m totally open, and
I think that’s a great thing that the Stevenson Center also sets up for
everybody. So please take the time to read or listen to my other friends’
podcasts through the Stevenson Center and we hope that you apply! Thanks! Bye.