Category Archives: alumni

WIU-QC Alumni Spotlight: Michael Berggren

Meet Michael Berggren, a WIU-QC graduate who was recently featured in the local news when his project — which he began working on while a student at WIU-QC — received FAA certification. Like many WIU-QC students, Berggren was an adult student who commuted to campus (from his hometown of Galesburg, Illinois) to pursue his bachelor’s degree. Learn in his interview below about the specific courses and experiences — including, even, a quadcopter crash! — that led him to his successful role with Elliott Aviation.

photo of a young man posing in front of an airplane, while holding a large iPad
Berggren poses at the Elliott Aviation hangar with a plane supplied with the software.

Interview with Michael Berggren

Where do you work and what is your current job title?
I work at Elliott Aviation as a design engineer.

What was your major and when did you graduate?
My major was General Engineering, and I graduated in May 2017.

two young men in front of an airplane looking at an iPad screen

Berggren, left, works with fellow WIU-QC Engineering alumnus Jonathan Wenthold, with whom he started the design project. Both Berggren and Wenthold were hired by Elliott Aviation thanks in part to their senior design project and subsequent internship with the company.

Why did you choose this major?
I’ve always liked solving problems. Engineering just seemed like a way of turning that into a career.

What did you like most about your major?
As an engineer, I’m learning new things and being challenged every day. Sometimes it feels overwhelming, but I’ve learned if I stick with it, the reward is always worth the effort.

What is required of you in your position?
I’m lucky to have a job where I’m expected to do my own research to find solutions to a myriad of issues. Whether I’m presented with a programming issue or need to design an aircraft antenna installation, I am required to utilize the resources available to me to find a safe and sound solution. It was a little overwhelming at first, but my time at WIU-QC prepared me well for dealing with this kind of workload.

How did WIU-QC prepare you for your job?
The engineering professors at WIU-QC have high expectations for their students. At times, it felt like they were almost too high. It wasn’t long before I began to realize that I was very mistaken regarding the limits of my capabilities. In fact, being an older, non-traditional student, it was easy to get into the habit of not pushing myself beyond what I thought I was capable of. I’m thankful for the engineering faculty for breaking me of this habit.

During a visit from his former professor, Berggren has the opportunity to switch roles and teach, displaying some of his work processes at Elliott Aviation.

What did you like the most about your experience at WIU-QC?
I absolutely loved my experiences at WIU-QC. Even when I had the flu during finals week of the hardest semester of my college career, I felt like I had finally found a place where I belonged. The students in the program bring so many different perspectives and abilities, that working with others became a bit of an education in itself. So many classes require a group project. There were times when it felt a little over the top, but looking back on it, these projects and the people I worked on them with are among the fondest of my WIU-QC memories.

Why did you choose WIU-QC for higher education?
There aren’t many engineering schools to choose from in Illinois. There are even fewer within driving distance. I was living in Galesburg at the time, and WIU-QC seemed like an easy decision to make. It was significantly cheaper than other options, and I could still commute. In other words, I could continue to be around my friends and family without incurring significant debt—both of which are things that I really liked.

Why would you recommend WIU-QC to another person?
WIU-QC’s engineering program is not for the faint of heart. If you don’t like being challenged or feeling overwhelmed, it won’t be a good fit for you. However, if you enjoy the feeling of personal satisfaction from hard work, if you have no issues with seeking out assistance from your professors, and if you’re self-motivated, then you should look into it. Western is a big school, but it doesn’t feel like it when you’re in the engineering program.

What was your favorite class/who was your favorite professor? Why?
I thoroughly enjoyed many of my classes. Furthermore, the professors are wonderful, patient, and excited to help students who are willing to put in the required effort. Picking a favorite professor is hard, though. I liked them all so much, but if I was forced to pick a favorite class, it would have been Computational Methods with Dr. Shin. I know it’s not a very common favorite, but I truly enjoyed the challenge and the idea of finding solutions to problems in entirely new ways.

two men sit inside an airplane

During a visit from his former professor, Dr. Shin, Berggren explains and displays elements of the plane’s cabin lighting. Bergren began the project as one of Shin’s students and saw it through to completion as an employee of Elliott Aviation.

Can you share a memory of your time at WIU-QC that you often think about?
I previously mentioned the many group projects that engineering students have. In my senior year I was in a group where we got to build a quadcopter. It was so much fun! In fact, my group found a way to expand the project so that we could use it in two of our classes. Unfortunately, once we got the quadcopter functioning, we had a slight mishap. I would never recommend crashing an expensive quadcopter into an even more expensive automobile, especially when that automobile belongs to a faculty member! Let’s be clear: I wasn’t the person flying the quadcopter at the time, but the resulting fallout led to a grounding of all further airborne engineering projects. Dr. Pratt was not happy, but hopefully we can all look back and laugh at that unfortunate incident. (P.S. – We still got an A!)

If you could go back to your time at WIU-QC, what would you do differently?
One thing is for certain, I would have set aside more time in the beginning than I originally did. Everything you learn in the program builds on what came before it. If you don’t feel like you understand a topic as well as you should, then go back and look it over while it’s still fresh in your mind. Spending time to backfill your knowledge base after the fact can be painful. There are no easy outs in engineering, but there are plenty of ways to make things harder for yourself.

What advice can you offer to current college students who might be interested in going into your field?
I think the biggest piece of advice is to focus on school. Focus. Focus. Focus. Engineering is one of those degrees where you don’t get the typical college experience. It’s rigorous for a reason. Don’t expect to have much of a social life while you’re in school. You’re there for one reason and one reason only: to get that diploma! Trust me, if you take this approach, you will be able to reap some pretty incredible benefits after graduation. You will have a career that will be able to provide a comfortable life for you and the ones you love. In my opinion, that makes missing out on a few years of parties and pranks well worth it.

What is one thing about your job that you didn’t expect, or that might surprise a current college student?
Probably the most surprising thing is the level of confidence that people place in me and my work. I didn’t expect to ever be the guy with all the answers, and even though I’m still not that person, that doesn’t stop the questions. Everyday at my job is different, and there’s no end in sight to unique challenges for which I will get to find answers. What engineer could possibly want anything more?

Yeah, she does that! Jennifer Verscha, reigning ‘Coordinating Queen’ at dphilms

WIU-QC Alumni Spotlight: Jennifer Verscha

Meet Jennifer Verscha, a key member of the team at dphilms, which is based in Rock Island, IL, and has produced projects for clients and organizations ranging from the WIU-QC campus itself to Fortune 500 companies. When revealing and promoting finalized creative projects, dphilms often uses the hashtag #yeahwedidthat. When it comes to looking into dphilms’ projects, it’s clear that when asking if Jennifer was involved, the answer is “yeah, she did that!” Learn about how Verscha managed to complete her degree while working full-time, why she recommends WIU-QC to others, and advice she’d give to undergraduates.

portrait of a young woman in a khaki jacket

Verscha poses at the site of a film shoot in Fall 2018.

Interview with Jennifer Verscha

Where do you work and what is your current job title?
I’m the Executive Producer / Coordinating Queen at dphilms.

What was your major and when did you graduate?
I majored in Business Management with a minor in Marketing in December 2004.

Why did you choose that major?
I’ve always enjoyed helping others achieve their goals, and being in business management would allow me to do so. I also knew that one day I wanted to be in upper management or own my own business, and the Bachelor of Business Management degree would give me this foundation. With Marketing, I get to utilize my creative side.

photo of a young woman in a black t-shirt working on a film set

The Coordinating Queen assists in everything from creative projects to HR tasks and scheduling.

What did you like most about your major?
I loved the diversity of classes that I was able to choose from, to help keep me on my toes. I really enjoyed “Dr. E.,” Dr. Jim Patterson, and Dr. Ann Walsh, (former marketing professor). These three professors were caring and engaging. They were able to bring reality/real-world experiences into the classroom. They are relatable and down to earth. They truly made my learning experience at WIU fun and enjoyable.

I also loved all of my Recreation, Parks and Tourism Administration (RPTA) and Marketing classes. Tourism; event planning; and marketing products and services, were so fascinating to learn about. My favorite class was an event planning class, where we were able to create, plan, market, and execute our own event, “Professional Eye for the College Grad.” My favorite memories were in Dr. Walsh’s class when we created that event. We went all-out, by providing food and drinks for those in attendance, mock interviews, and vendor booths for local business. We even did a photoshoot and made colorful marketing materials to promote the event…plus the local media was there to cover it.

All of these classes have helped me immensely throughout my career path. I worked for our local CVB for a few years; I was a catering manager for a local hotel; in charge of marketing at a local mall; chaired multiple events for local non-profits, raising thousands of dollars for our community; and produced Fearlessly Girl Live, an anti-bullying assembly with more than 1,000 girls live and 2,000 girls across 21 states watching live.

What are you responsible for in your position?
Tough question! A lot!!!! I help manage a crew of seven people, plus freelancers. I’m in charge of Marketing and Sales. (Website content, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, events, sponsorships…etc.) This includes meeting with clients, assisting them with video production to meet their marketing needs / goals, as well as estimating, scriptwriting, storyboarding, location and talent scouting, music selections, voiceover selection, teleprompter operator, assisting on shoots, scheduling, budgeting, HR functions, hiring…and so much more! Sometimes this also means being an extra in a video or doing voice over work. I get the best of both worlds: being in the office and the ability to be out in the community.

Young man and woman dressed in black tshirts and jeans working on lifting or putting together a banner.

Verscha works with editor Patrick McNamara to prep a shoot.

How did WIU-QC prepare you for your job?
In so many ways, WIU  prepared me for life. From fabulous and caring faculty and teachers that helped prepare me for the road ahead, to life lessons in lifelong learning and thinking on my toes.

Why did you choose WIU-QC for higher education? Why would you recommend Western to another person?
Here are three thoughts that come to mind:

  • “Local,”
  • “Cost Efficient”
    and
  • “Convenient Classes.”

I was able to go to school full-time while working full-time — and was debt-free when I graduated, as I paid for school each semester out of my own pocket. Plus, WIU has everything you need right here at home. Why go anywhere else, when the Quad Cities is a great community with a fantastic public university.

Is there a memory of WIU-QC that you often think about?
In addition to those I’ve already mentioned, I really enjoyed that the students at WIU-QC wanted to be at school to learn and grow as individuals. They weren’t stereotypical party students who were there because they were forced into learning by their parents. The caring atmosphere, staff, and students. The ability to work my full-time job schedule with my full-time schooling was invaluable.

I also remember taking a business class with Dr. E that was a blast, but I didn’t do so hot in. I believe it was my first and only D…ever. I can laugh at this now…but it wasn’t so funny back then.

What is one thing about your job that you didn’t expect, or that might surprise a current college student?
I do lots of not-so-glamorous things to help make our clients happy and our company run smoothly…lots of math, quick thinking, problem solving, many spreadsheets, data entry, and even cleaning up the office every now and then.

Young woman in black tshirt at work in a film editor's office

It takes two! Or an entire creative team, actually, and Verscha helps everything come together.

What advice can you offer to current college students who might be interested in going into your field?
Here’s some advice based upon what I’ve been learning as I go:

  • If at first you don’t succeed, try again.
  • Learn something new from every person you meet and new experience you encounter.
  • No matter if they are younger or older…we all have important messages to share.
  • Don’t be scared to be yourself.
  • Push yourself to try new things and experiences.
  • Don’t put yourself in a bubble…make yourself vulnerable.
  • Go out on a limb and talk to the new person next to you.
  • Don’t be afraid of the CEO or man or woman in the suite, he or she is a person just like you.
  • Do go to social/networking events and sit with others you’ve never met and talk to them.
  • Do say yes to others. Do take on hard tasks and figure them out without having someone watch over you like a hawk.
  • Think for yourself yet know when to ask for help!
  • Take risks, especially when you are young.
  • Take internships.
  • Work hard. No real job comes with an owner’s manual…you must decide to dive right in, to sink or to swim, so that you rise to the top of the occasion!

How to get featured on this blog

WIU-QC Alumni Spotlight: Pedro Valladares

 

Name: Pedro Valladares
Major/Program: Law Enforcement and Justice Administration
Graduation: Spring 2018 (master’s degree); B.S. in Law Enforcement & Justice Administration with minor in Security Administration, 2012.

Hispanic male police officer in uniform, proudly displaying WIU-QC coffee mug

Valladares poses on campus at his alma mater in Fall 2018.

Interview with Lt. Valladares:

Where do you work and what is your job title?
I am the Administrative Lieutenant for the Moline Police Department.

What is required of you at your position?
I am required to maintain training records, schedule training for all officers, supervise the Field Training Program for new hires, schedule all off-duty work, oversee the body camera system and conduct background investigations for potential new hires.

How did WIU-QC prepare you for your job?
WIU-QC provided me with the knowledge and understanding of what is required of an administrator of a police agency. Many of the classes provided me knowledge of organization, scheduling, time management and policy development.

Why did you choose your major or program?
I was employed as a law enforcement officer when I received my bachelor’s degree. I enjoyed learning about the new trends in crime, changes in the law and how those changes affected areas within the realm of law enforcement. I decided to pursue the master’s degree in Law Enforcement and Justice Administration because I believed it would provide me with the knowledge required to not only obtain an administrative role, but allow me to excel in that role.

Why did you pick WIU-QC for higher education? What did you like the most about your experience here?
The opportunity to have an institution of higher learning so close to home was very convenient for me. It made it an easy decision to pursue a master’s degree knowing I could attend classes locally and still be home with my family each night.

I had an excellent experience during my time as an undergrad. The education I received and students I attended classes with were very enjoyable. I also liked my instructors at WIU. They were very helpful and encouraging when it came to furthering my education.

I would recommend WIU-QC for the convenience of location and quality of instructors. I have had classes in the past where instructors did not want to take the time to assist the student with answering questions or obtaining a complete understanding of the class material. At WIU, I did not have an instructor that made me feel that way. The instructors seemed to care about the student and took the time to provide me with the knowledge to succeed in the class.

What was your favorite class/who was your favorite professor? Why?
Criminal Procedure with Dr. Suzanne Bailey (associate professor of law enforcement and justice administration). I enjoyed the class because Dr. Bailey was very thorough while presenting her lessons and provided an environment that was conducive to learning. Dr. Bailey instructed in a manner that brought the best out of every student.

What is a memory of WIU-QC that you often think about?
I often think about my time as an undergrad. I had the opportunity to meet young students and made some great friendships. I had the opportunity to observe the students go from learning about law enforcement in the classroom to working in the field of law enforcement.

If you could go back to your time as a student, what would you do differently?
I would have pursued a bachelor’s degree in a field other than law enforcement. This would have allowed me the opportunity to gain knowledge in a different area of education that I could have applied to law enforcement, such as psychology or a foreign language.

What advice can you offer to current college students who might be interested in going into your field?
I would advise the student to do their research, to be very clear as to what is required of a law enforcement officer in the 21st century. The decision to enter law enforcement should be done before they obtain a degree in criminal justice. I have seen too many young people obtain a degree, get hired by a police agency, and receive academy training only to find out this occupation is not for them or it was not what they expected.

What is one thing about your job that you didn’t expect, or that might surprise a current college student?
I did not expect there to be so much writing and documentation required. Nearly everything an officer does requires a report, and that report has to be clear, concise, and in chronological order. It is considered an official document and an officer needs a certain level of writing skills to do it properly.

 

Hispanic male police officer showing college students the inside of his squad SUV.

Teaching students about design elements of a squad vehicle.

Key Quote:

The opportunity to have an institution of higher learning so close to home was very convenient for me. It made it an easy decision to pursue a master’s degree knowing I could attend classes locally and still be home with my family each night.

WIU-QC Alumna Finds Her Place with Girl Scouts

Maura Warner

  • Communication major
  • English minor
  • Spring 2015 graduate

Where do you work and what is your current job title?

Director of Marketing and Communications, Girl Scouts of Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois

What is required of you in your position?

I am responsible for the internal and external communications for 38 counties in eastern Iowa and western Illinois. Every day is different and I love it! One day I could be doing a live interview on a news station and the next I’m working with my team to create the summer camp guide. I cover all public relations, email marketing, social media, direct mail, print pieces, website, photography, and advertising. I also love helping with special events for the organization.

4 females posing together.

Warner, a 2015 graduate, poses with local Girl Scouts.

Why did you choose your major?

I always enjoyed writing and public speaking so communication was a natural fit for me. I enjoyed the broad range of skills the major offered and its flexibility helped me when searching for a career.

I think the English minor paired so well with my major. It really helped me refine my writing skills and gave me a creative outlet.

What did you like most about your major?

I loved the professors and students. I still keep in touch with many of my classmates and the faculty. Western Illinois University-Quad Cities was a good fit for me because the small class sizes made it much easier to build connections through classes and student organizations.

How did WIU-QC prepare you for your job?

Covering a broad range of communication theories was very helpful stepping into my career and in general, time-management was a valuable skill I learned in college. I think networking was really encouraged as well and it definitely helped me find a job and then build community connections to help develop program and volunteer connections for Girl Scouts. Also, as much as I dreaded them at the time, working on group projects was so useful to then transition into an office setting.

What did you like the most about your experience at WIU-QC?

I loved being a member of so many students organizations and building friendships with other students and the professors! I really miss event planning with the Communication Student Society and Liberal Arts and Sciences Organization.

Why did you pick WIU-QC for higher education?

I transferred to WIU-QC from a larger university because I wanted to move back to the Quad Cities, but also receive a high-quality education. I toured the campus and sat in on a few classes and instantly thought it was going to be a great fit.

What was your favorite class/who was your favorite professor? Why?

I loved Advanced Organizational Communication with Dr. Young (associate professor of communication). I learned that I really loved looking at communication systems in organizations to see how things can be improved. I enjoyed writing case studies and actually had an opportunity to present research at the Central States Communication Conference. Dr. Young is always so wonderful about connecting opportunities for students and that conference was a highlight!

I would say a close second was a course on science fiction literature with Dr. Hamner (associate professor of English). It was my first English course and I had never read science fiction and was honestly really nervous, but I found I loved the genre and had a lot of fun in that class.

What is a memory of WIU-QC that you often think about?

I have so many memories that just make me laugh because we had so much fun in the communication and English classes! Don’t get me wrong, we were working really hard, but the professors always made classes way more fun than just lectures.

What advice can you offer to current college students who might be interested in going into your field?

Work with your professors to network as much as possible with current professionals and find an internship. It’s a great resume boost and you will enhance your skills working directly in your field. Also, I would recommend to any students to get involved on campus.

Woman posing for photo with children.

Selfie moment on the job.

What is one thing about your job that you didn’t expect, or that might surprise a current college student?

The 8-5 schedule can be a little bit of a difficult adjustment. I always thought not having homework would be such a plus, but I really miss my college schedule.

Information on the communication major at WIU-QC available here

How this WIU-QC grad ended up on The Travel Channel’s ‘Mysteries at the Museum’

When Katie Conrad was contacted by producers of The Travel Channel’s Mysteries at the Museum, she had museum expertise and professional curating under her belt. But when she was asked to talk on-camera about a historical figured named John Wesley Powell, she says, “I was terrified, quite honestly.”

photo of a student and professor at graduation, side-by-side with image of Mysteries at the Museum host

Conrad, who graduated from WIU-QC in December 2016 with a master’s degree in WIU Museum Studies program, is the collections manager and and curator of the John Wesley Powell River History Museum in Green River, Utah, a position she’d secured before even graduating from Western. The role includes caring for the museum’s collection and creating exhibits. But this particular museum’s focus would also soon require her to serve as an expert on a man whose “mysteries” the show wanted to highlight. Conrad was featured in the “Adventure” section referenced in the title of Season 16, Episode 6: “Eisenhower’s Crazy Convoy, Criminal Measures, and Canyon Adventure.” (The last section of that title referring to “…an explorer’s dangerous quest to be the first to uncover the secrets of the Grand Canyon.”)

photo of a woman holding up a small paper figurine

Conrad and “paper Powell”

“I was nervous about not knowing enough about him, because I’d only worked here three months,” she said. “I hadn’t studied him at all. The other people they feature on the show are always so well-put-together, with a lot of knowledge behind them.”

So she did what any good student would do.

“I bought three books, and I started making a timeline and memorizing all these facts,” she said. “After I read a few books about him, I felt comfortable enough to put myself in his shoes. So that helped a lot when a producer would ask me, ‘What do you think Major Powell was thinking?'”

Green River is a small town in the area near Arches National Park with a river flowing through the center of town. And as Conrad explained, it’s the river that quite literally put it on the map.

“In the 1860s, this area of the Colorado River was literally empty, and Major Powell was a great adventurer. He loved exploring, and he decided to fill in the gaps on the map. He rafted down and basically filled in the western area of the map by rafting rivers. He commissioned three boats, some men from the Civil War, and they mapped the whole way. It had never been done before, and rapids were something new they had to figure out. They lost a boat along the way, lost their food, and had to dry their flour out every night…it’s a great story.”

photo of an 1860s explorer

photo courtesy John Wesley Powell River History Museum

When the TV crew came to town, they interviewed Conrad and shot footage of one of the replicas of Powell’s boats, as well as other artifacts, and took footage of Green River.

“It was so much fun. I learned so much,” she said. “I’m flattered that my director trusted me enough to do it, and I’m happy with how it turned out. I’m happy for the museum and for the great city of Green River.”

How Did Western Send Her On Her Way?

Despite having only worked in Green River for a few months, Conrad is no stranger to Utah, having lived there all her life prior to coming to WIU-QC. A 2012 graduate of Utah State with a degree in anthropology, Conrad worked as a curatorial and developmental assistant at the Brigham City Museum. After three years there, as she began to research new career possibilities, “I would find that most of the positions required a master’s degree, so I’d end up getting an interview but not the job. I started getting discouraged,” she said. “So I started thinking about going back to school.”

It was while she was attending a professional development workshop in Salt Lake City that she met the instructor, Dr. Pamela White.

“The workshop was two or three days long, and we started talking at dinner one night,” she said. “She told me about her program, and when I talked about being concerned about money, because I was already working at a museum and didn’t want to leave that to become a student again, she told me about the graduate assistantship program.” Within a few months, Conrad had applied and been accepted into the program, and was soon on a plane to Illinois.

“Leaving Utah was the first time I’d lived by myself, and it was terrifying but extremely exciting at the same time,” she said. “My family was a big help, and I was able to get great student loans and two or three interviews for grad assistantships, one at the Putnam Museum and one at the Muscatine Art Center. Two or three days later, I had offers at both.”

Conrad accepted the assistantship at the Putnam, where she worked in the collections and exhibits department. During her time at Western, she also gained practical experience through projects and internships at sites such as the Figge Museum, the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, and the International Preservation and Studies Center.

“The program was fantastic, from being able to have classes in museums, to professors who work in the field, to working on projects that you get to see come to fruition, to the books that the professors pick, the conversations you have, all the visiting people who come in and talk,” she said. “They really pushed us to get out there, go to conferences, present at conferences, and go to museums in our free time. That was great.”

Did you catch the episode on the Travel Channel? Leave a comment, or suggest a new post idea to Alison McGaughey, public information specialist, at ar-mcgaughey@wiu.edu.