Historian Stacy McDermott makes case for Paul Simon Institute director


Auston Mahan | @AustonMahanDE

Stacy McDermott makes her case in the Paul Simon institute director search Monday, Oct. 2, 2017, in the Illinois room of the Student Center. “I want to share with others the power of positive inspiration,” McDermott said. (Auston Mahan | @MahanAuston_DE)

By Kitt Fresa

Stacy McDermott, one of the six finalists for director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, wants to bring a historical perspective to the bipartisan think tank.

“I strongly believe that historical knowledge and expertise is absolutely essential in the development of sound public policy, in the productive practice of politics and in the educational development of future leaders.” said McDermott, a consulting historian at the Center for State Policy and Leadership at the University of Illinois Springfield.

McDermott, who received her doctorate in history from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in 2008, presented her case to the 12 gathered people in the Student Center on Monday.


As director, McDermott said she would expand the influence of the institute by widening its scope to possible collaborations with entities in the Metro East, St. Louis or Illinois’ border states.

“Especially in tough economic times, collaborations are enormously important,” she said. “Over the years, I have seen firsthand the rewards that collaborative partnerships can bring, not only to partners, but also to the participant.”

From 2009 to 2016, McDermott worked as the assistant director of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln, a long-term documentary editing project to identify and publish all documents written by Lincoln during his lifetime.

She said this gave her invaluable experience directing a program that she would use as leader  of the institute. McDermott said she often worked on budgets throughout the project, participated in fundraising efforts, prepared and administered federal and private grants and advised and mentored graduate students.

Her experience grant writing would be particularly helpful, she said.

“Grant funding will be increasingly necessary,” McDermott said. “In the first six months I would evaluate grant opportunities and make a five year plan for grant seeking. It would also be my goal to maybe put a grant in the water within the first two or three months.”

McDermott said she would look for grants that could be used to establish a visiting scholars program, support research or fund dissertation scholarships on topics of interest to the institute.


Though McDermott said small and medium-sized grants are always useful, she said the institute could think bigger as well.

“I want to dream bigger,” McDermott said. “I believe the institute could be an excellent candidate for in the next couple of years for a large and very ambitious grant.”

Expanding the institute’s private donor list would be a top priority for her because she said supportive stakeholders are vital.

“I will bring an open mind to all of the potential possibilities that confront the institute going forward,” McDermott said. “Whether we predict those or they pop up unexpectedly, I will have an open mind to it all.”

Staff writer Kitt Fresa can be reached at [email protected]

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