WIU Student Featured in NPR Show “This American Life”

A Western Illinois University student was featured in the Sept. 14 National Public Radio show “This American Life,” as well as in a book featured in the show.

The story of Kewauna Lerma, a second year student from Chicago, who is studying biology and medical sciences, is included in the book, “How Children Succeed,” by education reporter Paul Tough. He studies new approaches to educating children and his book includes stories of children who succeeded in education despite their life situation.

Lerma said she met Tough through “One Goal,” an educational program in the Chicago schools that helped her develop non-cognitive skills, including leadership principles.

“Honestly I was surprised that anyone would be interested in hearing about my life struggles and goals,” Lerma said recently. “(Tough) had already heard about me through his friend from New York who came to visit previously. When I introduced myself, Paul Tough was interested in what I was doing in the program and I also began to talk about my life. After that day, everything changed and I began to set meetings with Tough and tell him about my life in school and my previous education.”

According to the radio program, “One Goal” helped Lerma develop educational and developmental skills to bring her ACT score up to qualify for admission to WIU.

Lerma still stays in touch with those who helped her in the program, which also helps students stay in and succeed at college.

To listen to the NPR story, visit thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/474/back-to-school.

History alum Heuer starts post at St. Louis Public Radio

Although he’s only 26, WIU alumnus Alex Heuer has already reached an impressive level of career accomplishment. For his former professors in the WIU history department, it surely is no surprise.

Alex Heuer

WIU history alum Alex Heuer preparing to host a statewide show on Iowa Public Radio. In early September, Heuer started a new job as a talk show producer for St. Louis Public Radio.

According to a news page about Heuer on the department’s website, Heuer was named the Fall 2008 Department Scholar. The same semester, he was also named the Honors College Scholar in the Centennial Honors College.

And, in 2007, Heuer was recognized with WIU’s William E. Brattain Award. (The William E. Brattain Award for Student Leadership is in honor of Dr. William Brattain, associate WIU vice president emeritus for student services and recreation, park and tourism administration professor emeritus. Brattain was the recipient of WIU’s Community Service Award and Outstanding Administrator Award. It is given each year to an academically outstanding student activities leader.)

This past Tuesday, Heuer, who earned his bachelor’s degree in history education, started a new job as a talk show producer for St. Louis Public Radio. Majoring in history, he said, helped develop his critical-thinking abilities, which he uses daily in his job at Public Radio.

“I was required to read, write, research, and perhaps most importantly, critically think. Aside from a focus on speaking, what I learned as a history major is exactly what I use every day as part of my job and those same skills are highly desirable and marketable to any employer,” Heuer noted.

Just before he started his new post, Heuer answered a few questions about what he’s been doing since he graduated in 2008 and what he’ll be doing in his new gig in St. Louis.

Q.) What have you been doing professionally since you left WIU?

Just a couple of weeks after graduating in December 2008, I became Iowa Public Radio’s first reporter to cover the state’s second largest city ? Cedar Rapids. Much of my reporting was directly related to how the massive 500-year flood just six months earlier affected the city and the community’s efforts to rebuild. In July 2010, I was promoted to a talk show producer and stationed at Iowa Public Radio’s studios on the University of Iowa campus in Iowa City. As a producer I was part of a nationally award-winning team responsible for generating show ideas, researching topics, booking guests, and directing live programming for Iowa Public Radio’s two statewide talk shows River to River and Talk of Iowa. My crowning achievement as a producer in Iowa was a two-hour documentary about the Iowa State Penitentiary in Ft. Madison, the oldest prison west of the Mississippi River ? about its past, present, future, and how thoughts on incarceration have changed over time.

Q.) How did your education at Western prepare you for your career in broadcasting?

I was an average student in high school. At Western I developed a true passion for learning, researching, and writing. Through my involvement in the teacher-education program I gained an appreciation for teaching and effectively communicating. In late 2006 Western’s public radio station, Tri States Public Radio (WIUM/WIUW), had job openings for student reporters. I had listened to public radio sporadically since 2001 and being on the radio sounded like a great opportunity. Over the next two years I developed a passion for public radio. I was able to combine my interests of learning, researching, writing, teaching, and effectively communicating into one job. There really is not a substitute for on-the-job training and the staff at WIUM, namely news director Rich Egger, helped develop my skills as a journalist.

Q.) What do you hope to achieve in your new post in St. Louis?

I’m very excited to begin working as a talk show producer for St. Louis Public Radio on September 4th. The station has a long history of being a valuable resource in the region. I will be responsible for helping produce their news and current events show called “St. Louis on the Air,” which airs Monday-Thursday and a Friday program called “Cityscape,” which takes a look at local arts and cultural events. I plan to help the station build on the shows they already have and help them achieve their goals of making the talk programs more engaging, creative, and relevant. I’m also excited to join St. Louis Public Radio, as the staff just moved into state-of-the-art studios in the heart of St. Louis’ cultural center, next to St. Louis University and the historic Fox Theatre. I’m also encouraged by the partnerships the station is forging with other organizations and the recent acquisition of WQUB, the public radio station in Quincy, IL.

Q.) What do you like most about working in public radio?

I learn something new every day and have the opportunity to help inform thousands of people about news and events going on in their community.

Q.) Any advice for students looking to get into media or public radio, regardless of what they’re majoring in?

Get involved! Don’t think you can get a journalism or broadcasting degree (or any degree) and land a job right after graduation. I have several friends who graduated with a degree in journalism or broadcasting in 2008 and 2009 and are still struggling to find a job in the industry! You need to do something that will set yourself apart from others with your degree, even if that means working as an unpaid intern.

Follow Heuer’s work on St. Louis Public Radio’s “St. Louis on the Air” and “Cityscape.”