John Gruidl is a Professor in the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs at the Western Illinois University where he teaches, conducts research, and creates new outreach programs in community and economic development. From 1994-2005, he started and directed the award-winning Peace Corps Fellows Program, a community-base internship program for returned Peace Corps Volunteers. John also helped create MAPPING the Future of Your Community, a strategic visioning program for Illinois communities.
John is passionate about creating new learning opportunities for students, community leaders, and community development practitioners. Currently, he enjoys serving as the director of Midwest Community Development Institute. John is widely published in the field of community and economic development. In 2007, John received the Community Development Achievement Award from the Community Development Society.
John earned a Ph.D. in Agricultural and Applied Economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1989, with a major in the field of Community Economics.
Karen Poncin is Assistant Director at the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs (IIRA) at Western Illinois University. In this role, Poncin supports the research and policy initiatives at IIRA. She also manages IIRA-sponsored events and trainings, and oversees marketing and media relations. Poncin is responsible for project management, strategic planning, and organizational effectiveness. She also represents the Institute to its partners and clients.
As part of her policy work, Poncin serves on the Board of Directors for the Partnership for Connected Illinois, the State’s designated entity for broadband deployment. Poncin has also served on the Demand subcommittee of the State’s Broadband Deployment Council and, with the Lt. Governor’s Office, co-coordinated the Rural Telecommunications Congress national conference, which focused on broadband deployment as a means for rural economic development. Also, while serving on the Council’s Demand Committee, she participated in preparing the 2008 report: Illinois Broadband Deployment Council Subcommittee Report, a set of recommendations in the area of broadband policy, infrastructure, and consumer demand.
Prior to joining IIRA, Poncin was Assistant Dean of Instruction at Spoon River College where she oversaw SRC’s academic programs, academic assessment, and institutional effectiveness. While at SRC, she was responsible for the College’s distant learning initiatives, including online learning. She served as the College’s representative to the Western Illinois Educational Consortium (a regional consortium of high schools, colleges, and universities that coordinated the delivery of distant learning opportunities to students in western Illinois and beyond. She was also the College’s point person for the Illinois Virtual High School and the Illinois Virtual Campus.