A Commitment to Diversity

Like many higher education institutions in the early 20th century, Western had very few minority students. However, three years after the first day of classes on the new Western Illinois State Normal School campus, six Filipino students arrived in 1905 and became the first international/minority students to graduate in 1908. The first full-time African American college student at Western was Hazel Lewis of Quincy, who arrived during her junior year in 1917. The first African American graduate was Leala Burnett, also of Quincy, who received her diploma in 1923 at the age of 36. She later taught for 30 years in her hometown.*

Ninety-three years after Ms. Burnett’s graduation from Western Illinois State Normal School, the Western Illinois University of today has evolved into a progressive institution comprised of students, faculty and staff from a myriad of diverse backgrounds. We owe a debt of gratitude for those who paved the way to ensure that diversity would persist and thrive at Western.


Diversity is an integral part of Western’s Strategic Plan, and providing equal access and opportunity to all students and employees are our priorities.

Since 2006, Western has increased its total minority enrollment by 20.3 percent. Western’s current minority enrollment, which is 32.5 percent of the total student enrollment, is 3,309. Furthermore, the University continues to graduate a larger percentage of students from underrepresented, first-generation and low-income backgrounds.

In addition to recruiting an ethnically diverse student body, the University actively engages in recruiting underrepresented minority faculty and administrative staff through the dissertation fellowship and visiting professor programs for traditionally underrepresented groups. Such programs as the Expanding Cultural Diversity Project and the University Diversity Council provide outstanding opportunities to showcase our campus culture, and Western houses numerous student organizations dedicated to diversity, including the Black Student Association, Latin American Student Organization, Korean Student Association, International Friendship Club, Gwendolyn Brooks Cultural Center, Feminist Action Alliance, Unity, Tradicion Hispana Dance Troupe, Cultural Expressions Club, NAACP and more.

Earlier this semester, I had the honor of accepting the Minority Access, Inc. Commitment to Diversity Award. Western was among 38 colleges and universities from across the U.S., and the only Illinois public institution. The award was given to institutions that embrace diversity, their past experience(s) with diversity and strategies for creating a more inclusive environment, as well as the statistical results of those strategies.

Most recently, our University Housing and Dining Services received the Outstanding Commitment to Inclusion and Equity Award from GLACUHO (Great Lakes Association of College and University Housing Officers). The award recognizes a college or university that has implemented an innovative approach to enhancing diversity awareness, understanding and education on their campus.

Diversity is an integral part of Western’s Strategic Plan, and providing equal access and opportunity to all students and employees are our priorities. It is also our mission to provide an environment that is inclusive and welcoming to all. I am proud of Western Illinois University and our continued commitment to providing academic and extracurricular opportunities that support a culture of inclusion for all.

* From “First Century: A Pictorial History of Western Illinois University” by Western Illinois University Distinguished Professor Emeritus John Hallwas.

Social Responsibility: The Western Way

“We have a social responsibility, a constitutional opportunity, and a moral obligation to help others.” — Author Janie Lewis

Stuff the Bus is held each year to provide donations to area food pantries.

Stuff the Bus is held each year to provide donations to area food pantries.

Western Illinois University is committed to social responsibility. It is our mission, following a long-standing tradition, to help and to serve our communities. Our students, faculty, and staff provide countless hours and resources to organizations, schools, and nonprofits in McDonough County, Rock Island County, and beyond, demonstrating that the people of Western Illinois University deeply care for others.

There are numerous options for our students, faculty, and staff to contribute to WIU’s host city of Macomb and its surrounding communities through the volunteer branch of the Office of Student Activities (OSA). Such events as Make A Difference Day, which was recently held Oct. 22 and is sponsored by Western’s All Volunteer Effort (WAVE), provides students with the opportunity to volunteer in the community for a day of service. During Make A Difference Day, volunteers work at service sites within the community, ranging from environmentally focused to working with senior citizens to assisting with projects at nonprofits.

The impact that Western Illinois University has on its community is often detailed in regard to a financial or economic effect. While the University certainly plays a large role in the region’s economy, Western also has a profound impact on the region through community service.

During the 2015-16 academic year, 13 of 29 chapters within the fraternity/sorority community reported completing nearly 4,358 hours of service and donations accumulating over $30,000 to charities and philanthropic efforts. In addition to Make a Difference Day and National Volunteer Week, WAVE conducts weekly service projects and sponsors the annual Angel Tree project to collect holiday gifts for area children in need. Last year, our student-athletes completed 2,400 hours of community service, raised over $10,300 for local and national organizations, and donated 7,000 pounds of canned goods to the Western Illinois Regional Council food bank through the Summit League Food Fight competition. Our athletes also spend time in local classrooms, serving as positive role models to elementary school children.

At our Quad Cities campus, students, faculty, and staff have volunteered to help numerous causes, including such activities as the WIU-QC Student Government Association working with Renew Moline to beautify the campus, the Supply Chain Management Student Association partnering with Boys and Girls Club and Habitat for Humanity, and the Student Recreation Association’s after-school program at Logan Elementary School in Moline.

It is virtually impossible to list all of the outstanding contributions our students and employees make to their communities. From Beta Alpha Psi, Western’s accounting honorary, sponsoring an Angel Tree each year to provide gifts for foster children within a three county radius to the School of Agriculture providing agriculture-related activities/demonstrations to local schools to the more than 100 area school children tutored last year as part of the WIU-sponsored America Reads program to the Civil Service Employees Council’s annual food drive to the WIU-QC Student Services’ after-school STEM programs for minority and at-risk elementary school students, the University’s mission is to give back to others.

It is with great pride that I was selected to lead such a caring and responsible university. I encourage our University community to continue to give to others in need. It is because of each of you that makes Western Illinois University a tremendous place. Thank you for all that you do to improve the world.

The Road to Success

roadsuccessWelcome to a new academic year at Western Illinois University! Last month, over 3,600 students moved into our residence halls, and on Monday, August 22, the Fall 2016 semester began for more than 10,300 students.

One of the many highlights of move-in weekend is meeting our new students and their families. The energy, the excitement, and the happy faces are contagious and set the tone for the start of our school year. It is a busy day (and weekend), full of activities and being on the go for all of us, but it is also a rewarding time as we begin the initial steps in helping our students succeed.

New Student Convocation remains a tradition during move-in day, and I thoroughly enjoy speaking to the newest members of our Leatherneck family. While this event is designed for the incoming class and their families, the advice imparted by many of our speakers bears repeating to our entire campus community.

We talked a lot about success, civility, responsibility, and expectations. It may appear to be yet another “lecture,” one that our students have probably heard countless times from their parents and family members. However, those words that we share come from a place of caring and compassion. We want each person who sets foot on our University campuses to excel in his/her studies and in life.

Because we are a close-knit University, we get to know so many of our students by name. We recognize them as they socialize and work in our communities. We see them walking to class, and doing tremendous work not only for our University, but also within our communities. We are proud of our students and excited for their future, and that is why we impart our wisdom to our new students on their first day at WIU.

To our returning students, faculty, and staff (and even our alumni), I share with you those same words I share with our new students and their families. These small bits of advice are something we all should remember as we go through the years.

1. Make wise choices and good decisions.

2. Have respect for yourself and for others.

3. Take advantage of opportunities for intellectual and personal growth.

4. Do not let yourself down.

5. Conquer your fears.

6. Do not be afraid to ask for help.

7. Strive to achieve greatness.

8. Live up to your full potential.

9. Get involved in your community.

10. Carry yourself with dignity.

To conclude my first Student Pres blog of the new academic year, I would like to share my parting words from the New Student Convocation:

“The road to success is not straight. There’s a curve called failure, loops called confusion, speed bumps called enemies, red lights called friends, and caution lights called family. You may have flats called jobs. But if you have a spare called determination, an engine called perseverance, and insurance called faith, you will make it to a place called success.” [author unknown]

WIU: Military Friendly

11919_3929_1For the past several years, Western Illinois University has received accolades and honors from national military publications and organizations for our commitment to student-veterans. Most recently, Western, for the seventh consecutive year, has been designated as a “Military Friendly School” and will again be featured in the “G.I. Jobs Guide to Military Friendly Schools.”

Western’s dedication to student-veterans has been a part of the University’s mission for many, many years, dating back to January 1918 when the Normal Auxiliary Junior Red Cross was established, and its membership included every student in the academy and training school. Special fundraising campaigns were held at Western for the war effort. During WWII, Western developed Civil Aviation Administration flying courses, along with other “war curriculum,” and many faculty members and students were called to duty. In the late 1940s, enrollment soared as student-veterans began enrolling (and re-enrolling) at Western. [from “First Century, A Pictorial History of Western Illinois University” by WIU English Professor Emeritus and Archivist John E. Hallwas]

Navy students at Western in a communication class taught by Walter Eller. Photo courtesy of WIU Archives & Special Collections. From "First Century A Pictorial History of Western Illinois University.

Navy students at Western in a communication class taught by Walter Eller. Photo courtesy of WIU Archives & Special Collections. From “First Century A Pictorial History of Western Illinois University.

While returning veterans have always considered Western home, in 2009, veterans and current active duty personnel on our campus had a place to call their own at WIU. The Veterans Resource Center, formerly housed in the University Union, opened at the Wright House, adjacent to campus at 333 North Ward Street. The University’s Veterans Resource Center provides streamlined services and resources in a centralized location to ensure all veterans, guard members, reservists and active duty personnel receive individual assistance with any question or concern they may encounter. Dr. Ken Wright, a Blandinsville veterinarian, and his wife, Betty, generously donated his boyhood home on Ward Street, which was dedicated as the Wright House in November 2009.

Unfortunately, Western has lost members of its family due to war. To honor our fallen soldiers, in 2012, the University sponsored the inaugural Fallen Soldiers 5k Run/Walk, which has since raised more than $46,000 for the WIU Fallen Soldier’s Scholarship Fund. While the race recognizes our fallen soldiers and all who have made sacrifices for our country, the event honors WIU alumni Capt. Derek Dobogai and Lt. Col. Robert Baldwin, who were killed in action in 2007 and 2010, respectively.

This year’s race will be held Saturday, Oct. 10 on our Macomb campus. Even if you are not a runner, and no matter your speed as a walker, please register and support our student-veterans and honor all veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice serving their country. Registration information can be found at wiu.edu/fallensoldier.

We are proud of our many service men and women, and we salute their courage and their fortitude. From Western’s beginnings to present day, veterans and active duty personnel have been a part of our campus. They certainly enhance our campus community with their experience, knowledge, patriotism and service.


The Leatherneck Spirit

The Leatherneck Spirit 11880427_10154204265738957_5975845239958049864_n

From school colors of purple and gold to the “Leatherneck” nickname, Western Illinois University is alive with spirit and traditions.

Our school colors date back 113 years, to 1902, the opening year of what was then called the Western Illinois Normal School. A first-year student, Mary Jarvis, inspired by the surrounding “golden prairie” filled with purple coneflowers, suggested the color combination as part of a school-wide contest. The purple and gold ribbons can be found on her 1906 diploma, which is housed in the Leslie F. Malpass Library Archives.

Ms. Jarvis was the first to see the power and pride in the purple and the gold. As I have told students at Commencement, those affiliated with Western have purple passion and gold grit. Purple is the color of good judgment and peace of mind. Gold is associated with higher ideas, wisdom, understanding, and enlightenment. It is the color of success, achievement, and triumph. Gold also represents generosity and giving. Students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends of Western Illinois University represent that passion, that wisdom, that grit.

And no one represents “grit” better than a Leatherneck. We are so fortunate to be associated with this powerful nickname, and we have the late, longtime Coach and Athletic Director Ray “Rock” Hanson to thank for our nickname, “The Fighting Leathernecks.” Hanson, who served at WIU from 1926 to 1964, was a decorated Marine Corps colonel and a war hero. Because of his affiliation with the Marine Corps, Hanson was able to secure permission to use the nickname, “Leathernecks,” for Western Illinois University. Today, WIU remains the only public school allowed to use the “Leathernecks” nickname.

Our mascot, Col. Rock III, aka “Rocky,” is named after that legendary coach and administrator. The first Rocky arrived on campus in 1958, followed by a succession of four-legged, and two-legged costumed, mascots. Our current mascot, Col. Rock III, joined the Western family in May 2015.

Wearing the school colors with pride, singing the fight song loud and clear and recognizing such traditions as celebrating Purple and Gold Day every April 24 and Founders’ Day every Sept. 23 are part of what keeps our school spirit and traditions alive and going strong. To ensure the spirit continues, new freshmen are indoctrinated into WIU culture during move-in weekend with the “Leatherneck Legacy” program.

“Leatherneck Legacy,” which was established by WIU Admissions in Fall 2014, brings new freshmen together in Western Hall on the second day of move-in weekend to learn the fight song and to hear from motivational speakers about the importance of Leatherneck tradition and pride. During the inaugural event, Jude Kiah, the former director of Go West Transit and the University Bookstore, shared “What It Means to Be a Leatherneck.” I think Mr. Kiah’s words bear repeating as we talk about spirit and tradition:

A.) To some, it means sports, athletics, games, being outdoors, intramurals.

B.) To others, it means you’ll open your mind to so many new things. The people who make it here will get connected and try new things. Join new clubs, make new friends, get connected.

C.) Being a Leatherneck means being focused, having a focus. You didn’t come here for just any reason. You came to get a degree and to eventually have a career. You are here to do something special.

D.) Being a Leatherneck is about fun. These will be the best four years if you let them be. But if you get too far into the fun, they can also be the worst four years.

E.) And finally, being a Leatherneck is about being home.

As we begin a new academic year, I ask our students, our faculty, and our staff to wear your school colors with pride. Get involved in campus activities and attend campus events. Be a true part of Western Illinois University. Embrace the traditions and the Leatherneck Legacy.

It’s a great day to be a Leatherneck!

“Real World” Tips

In just a few short weeks, close to 2,000 Western Illinois University students will join the ranks of our 125,000 proud WIU alumni throughout the world. This is the moment so many students have been waiting for. Their college years are coming to a close, and their careers are about to begin. A few blog posts ago, I talked about careers and social media. It seems appropriate, as we approach Spring 2015 Commencement, that I touch upon some “real world” tips for new graduates.

Career Development staff are available to provide assistance to students and alumni.

Career Development staff are available to provide assistance to students and alumni.

First, if you have not yet visited WIU’s Career Development Center during your time at Western, now is the time to visit (and if you are a recent, or not-so-recent, graduate, you too can use the services offered at the center). Director Marty Kral and his staff are there to help provide guidance on further improving your résumé and cover letter, how to execute a successful job search, and so much more. I often talk about first impressions. Your résumé and cover letter are often that first impression. These documents, along with your qualifications, may determine if you move to the next stage in the interview process.

Larissa Faw, a contributor for Forbes.com, rounded up a list of unconventional tips and words of wisdom for college graduates (http://www.forbes.com/sites/larissafaw/2013/05/16/unconventional-career-advice-for-college-graduates-2). As I read through the list, I saw myself not as a University president, or a professor, but as a father giving this same kind of advice to my two college-age sons. Ms. Faw, who writes about millennials and workplace trends, compiled this simple list, which provides outstanding advice. As an English professor, one piece of advice, “grammar counts,” certainly strikes a chord. We live in a digital age. We use our phones to communicate with family, friends, and colleagues. I may receive a text or an email from a student who uses “text lingo.” “U” for “you,” or “4” in place of “for.” As Ms. Law states,executives look not only for proper grammar and sentence structure, but also for vocabulary and overall thinking processes.” Please, save the text lingo for texts to your friends. Proof every application, resume, and cover letter carefully.

In a U.S.News Money article (http://money.usnews.com/money/personal-finance/articles/2014/05/02/13-real-world-tips-for-college-grads), author Teresa Mears provides 13 tips for new college graduates, including “do not expect to get a job by only filling out online applications.” Mears added that “you are more likely to find a job through your college professors, parents, friends of parents and parents of friends, pastors, former babysitting clients and anyone else you know. This could require talking to people on the phone or in person. Just do it.”

And Mears echoes the sentiment I shared in an earlier blog post, “clean up your social media profile. It’s the first thing prospective employers will look at. If you do not already have a LinkedIn profile, create one to highlight skills you have gained through your education, your volunteer work or any jobs you have had so far.” Network, and use your experiences in and out of the classroom to set yourself apart. CareerBuilder.com adds instead of posting your résumé on a website, take it one step further and design an easy-to-navigate site or online portfolio on which recruiters can view your work, learn more about you and your goals, and obtain contact information.

The first job (or maybe even the second job) you take may not be your “dream job,” but do not be so quick to turn down something because you envision spending years at the company or organization. While you certainly should review your options and offers carefully, keep an open mind and realize that a job is an opportunity, a stepping stone, a foot in the door, a way to enhance your skills and to build references. That first position you take out of college should serve to make you a stronger, better, and more skilled employee…and you may end up loving the job, the organization, and all that the position offers.

Finally, as you head out into the real world (or even if you have been in the real world for some time), always remember to treat co-workers, customers, supervisors, and others with respect and courtesy. When you leave an organization for a position elsewhere, leave on good terms, even if the job setting was not ideal or your co-workers or supervisors were difficult. Do not speak ill of your previous colleagues, mentors, or your former company. Do not burn your bridges. Remember, perspective employers may contact individuals who have taught, supervised, or mentored you – even if you have not listed these people as reference.

I wish all of our new graduates the best of luck as they enter the workforce. Western Illinois University will always be here to help.




Hidden Gems at Western Illinois University

While many of you know about the stellar programs, performances, concerts, lectures, athletics events and more that take place almost daily on the Western Illinois University campuses, there are some incredible “hidden gems” that campus and community members can enjoy.

One of the many programs at Horn Field include nature walks.

One of the many programs offered at Western’s Horn Field Campus includes nature walks.

The Leslie F. Malpass Library Archives and Special Collections Unit houses a treasure trove of University, community and regional history. From University yearbooks and newspapers to photographs to scholarly articles, Archives is the keeper of WIU history. The Special Collections document the cultural, economic and natural heritage of west central Illinois. Special-interest centers include the Center for Regional Authors, the Baxter-Snyder Center for Icarian Studies and the Center for Hancock County History including the Mormon Collection.

Publications of the Decker Press and a number of Civil War manuscripts are also part of Special Collections, along with collections related to naturalist Elton Fawkes, singer Burl Ives, historian Philip D. Jordan, and Congressmen Thomas Railsback and Lane Evans, among others. Regional materials, such as county and town histories, oral history tapes, diaries, letters, maps, photographs and newspaper clippings can be found in Archives and Special Collections. The unit is open from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday.

Archives also hosts a comprehensive digital image database, which can be found on its website, wiu.edu/libraries/archives.

The University Art Gallery, located directly behind Sherman Hall, is open to the public, including special Saturday hours. The Gallery provides a permanent collection of art, and maintains a full schedule of exhibits featuring the works of visiting artists, as well as those works done by our talented faculty and students. Current exhibits on display include Prints and Drawings from the University Art Gallery Collection and the Department of Art Juried Student Exhibition. Special art programs, such as the recently introduced family activity, Sock Monkey Saturdays, are also sponsored by the Art Gallery.

The Art Gallery is open from 9 a.m.-noon and 1-4 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, and from 1-4 p.m. Saturdays.

Western’s Horn Field Campus, just south of Macomb, is a 92 acre retreat that includes woodlands, prairie, and several miles of nature trails, as well as a high ropes challenge course, a teams course and an accessible climbing and rapelling wall. Facilities, which include a lodge and cabins, are open year-round. Horn Field Campus provides a beautiful, peaceful setting for programs, events, research and relaxation. This year, Horn Field Campus will celebrate 50 years as part of the University, during which time it has served innumerable individuals as a place for learning and recreation.

Western Illinois University has so much to offer its students, faculty, staff, visitors and area residents. As the weather warms up and spring appears to be upon us, please take a moment to come out and take a walk around our beautiful campus. You are always welcome!

The Professional Hazards of Social Media

Years ago, when it came to applying for a job, one would submit his or her application and resume, along with references. Thjackfb2e usual process would be an interview, followed by reference checks, and then hopefully, a job offer. Today, that same process is typically the norm, but there is a new added twist: social media.

What you post on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other social media outlets may seem private because you have marked your post as “Friends only” (if you have privacy settings set, that is!), but in this century, technological advances – and social media “investigators” – make it possible for a potential employer to find those posts you thought were “private.”

In a recent Forbes.com article by Peggy Drexler, “Don’t Let Social Media Be A Road To Career Trouble” (http://tinyurl.com/qjvkzc8), Drexler points out that “social media has provided a platform for just about anyone looking for one to project a certain image of themselves. It has made us, in many ways, more accessible to one another, and also more accountable. But social media can be a road to career trouble.”

Drexler points out that while Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and the like can be an excellent way for those searching for work to market themselves, social media can also be a way for employers to screen out employees. That is, while you are busy crafting your personal image, potential employers are busy using it to predict how you might be as an employee.

A survey by careerbuilder.com found that nearly half of all employers use social networking sites to research job candidates, rejecting those whose social media profiles include provocative photos, evidence of drug use or drinking, negative posts about previous employers or co-workers, or comments that might be perceived as racist, sexist, or ageist. Drexler goes on to state, that evidence of how much time you spend on social media could give employers reason to worry that the habit could get in the way of actual work.

She provides advice for career seekers (and those who are currently employed): Clean it up, and tailor what you can to the image you would like to craft for yourself as a professional. Drexler continues:

1. Keep it (more or less) positive. Keep it classy—and keep your problems to yourself. Whether you are looking for a job or simply looking to keep the one you have, it is important to remember what you write matters.

2. Think before you selfie.

3. Privatize. Not quite the point of social media, but if you are going to insist on being free to write or post whatever you would like, and want impunity, the only option is to make your accounts private.

4. Use social media for good, not evil.

I am new to using Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram professionally, and I am still learning the nuances of posting on my social media sites. I appreciate the advice and guidance I have been given — including that from my college-age sons — in regard to Tweets and posts. While I have taken that advice to heart, and I am mindful of my posts (even on my personal page), I realized that as a University president who works closely with students I needed to stress the importance of maintaining a positive social media image. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and more are fun tools to communicate with friends and family, but those communications in the form of Tweets, status updates, and photographs, can cause great harm to a person’s future or current professional career.

Employers will look for (and look at) your social media sites. Many large employers have teams dedicated to scouring social media sites of individuals they may wish to hire. The photo of you at a party surrounded by beer bottles, compared to a photo of the individual who is in a volunteer setting, will speak volumes to a potential employer. A racist or sexist Tweet will not endear you to a hiring manager, just as negative posts will not.

As Drexler said, “It’s okay to be a person who likes to have fun, or is sarcastic, maybe even a little subversive at times; people are complex. But it’s important to balance such posts with observations, comments, or photos of a more serious nature, and to keep in mind, always, that how you present yourself through social media is no different than how you present yourself in a job interview, or at the office.”

Words to remember.

Western Pride

As we approach Fall 2014 Commencement ceremonies this weekend, I would like to take a moment to congratulate our students who have completed their degree programs at Western Illinois University! It is with great pleasure that I welcome our students, their families, and their friends to our ceremonies Friday and Saturday.

graduationI am proud of our students for their commitment to being a part of a distinct community of engaged learners who embrace education. Western Illinois University is dedicated to providing students with outstanding experiences that reflect our core values: Academic Excellence, Educational Opportunity, Personal Growth, and Social Responsibility. Guided by the faculty, WIU places an emphasis on developing culturally relevant problem-solving and effective communication strategies designed to help students become successful and innovative leaders in the global society. Whether our students choose to continue their education, enter the workforce, or undertake other worthwhile endeavors, they will continue to be positively influenced by their experiences at Western.

As the newest members of the Western Illinois University Alumni Association, I encourage our recent graduates to take an active role in their alma mater. We encourage all of our graduates and friends to come back to visit us often, as they are forever a permanent part of this institution’s history. Our loyal alumni and their successes reflect the exceptional education they received at Western Illinois University.

Our students and alumni should take pride in knowing they have earned a degree from an institution known regionally, nationally, and internationally as an exceptional institution of higher learning. Graduation day marks the culmination of our students’ academic, personal, and career aspirations. They have accomplished one phase, and they will continue to move forward to the next phase of their life, whether it is graduate education, military commissioning, or a career. I charge all of our graduates to continue accomplishing their life goals, and I wish each graduate of Western Illinois University continued success.