September 24, 2008

VISTA member helps promote Connect SI

by Christi Mathis

kristan simonton

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Kristan Simonton likes helping people. That’s a very good thing for Southern Illinois and its people and they’ll soon see why, according to Rex Duncan, director of community development and outreach at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

Simonton had a plan after graduating college. She’s a true believer in people helping one another, so she decided to join the Peace Corps. Getting engaged changed the Covington, Tenn., native’s plans, because leaving fiancée Matt Avis for a lengthy international trip didn’t seem quite right.

Avis was starting law school at SIUC this fall so Simonton shifted gears and now she’s spending the 2008-2009 school year as an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteer in Service to America) member, working with the University’s Connect SI initiative. That recalculation in direction is a big benefit to the region, according Duncan and Kathy Lively, executive director of Connect SI and CEO of Man-Tra-Con.

“We’re thrilled to have her,” Duncan said. “This is going to help Connect SI immensely as we get the word out more and more on the value of broadband and how it can bring the world into one’s home safely and responsibly.”

Simonton will be traveling around the region, meeting with people and making them more aware of Connect SI and what it’s all about. She’ll visit schools, community service organizations and others about Internet safety and the value of broadband across a wide spectrum. She’ll tell of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s NetSmartz Internet safety instructional program for youth.

A series of town hall meetings will offer people throughout Connect SI’s 20-county region a chance to meet Simonton and hear the latest news about the initiative. Connect SI officials will announce the times and locations of the town hall meetings soon.

“The ultimate goal of Connect SI is to bring a new level of prosperity to the region by building on our knowledge-based assets and existing resources,” Duncan said.

“I’m really excited to be a part of something like this, especially at this stage,” Simonton said.

She holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from Sewanee: The University of the South, located in Sewanee, Tenn. She also earned a master’s of science in finance, insurance and real estate along with an MBA from the University of Memphis. The daughter of Mary Ann Simonton and Robert Hunt Simonton, Kristan started her new post in August.

“I think it’s really important to give back to the community,” Simonton said. “Communities make you who you are. If everyone just gave back a little, what a difference it would make.”

Simonton said the position with AmeriCorps enables her to use her education, abilities and energy to help with a worthwhile, exciting project in Southern Illinois. She’s quite enthused about the Connect SI initiative and how it will benefit the region, she said. Simonton will also be involved in Global Information Systems mapping, helping identify the region’s assets and creating detailed latitudinal and longitudinal maps.

“I think one of the greatest benefits of Kristan working with us is that she brings an outside- of- Southern-Illinois perspective to our work,” Lively said. “Everyone else connected with Connect SI, for all intents and purposes, is pretty much a lifelong resident of the area. She brings us exciting opportunities for looking at things another way. In addition, she brings a tremendous amount of expertise. She has two master’s degrees and an educational background in economics.”

Duncan said network providers meet regularly and assess activity, and they’ve seen an increase in the number of people in Southern Illinois accessing broadband. Likewise, healthcare professionals meet regularly regarding connectivity issues relative to healthcare. Connect SI is a University-based initiative with Man-Tra-Con (Management-Training-Consulting Corp.) of Marion providing management, human services and support.

The VISTA position is quite consuming for Simonton. In fact, her commitment is so strong she’s agreed to work only for VISTA this year so she can be fully available whenever needed for her job. The Corporation for National Service gives her a living allowance and upon completion of her service, she’ll receive an educational award toward paying off college debt or furthering her education.

For more information about Connect SI or to schedule Simonton for speaking engagements, contact Kathy Lively, at 618/998-0970 or via email at or contact Duncan at 618-453-1268, e-mail