COAP Employee Spotlight: Dana Vizdal, WIU Center for International Studies

Dana Vizdal (second from left) and international students at the 2016 International Bazaar at WIU

Dana Vizdal (second from left) and international students at the 2016 International Bazaar at WIU

Traveling to and staying in a foreign country can be one of the most exhilarating experiences you can have. It can also be one of the most daunting, particularly if you’re a young college student.

Luckily, at Western Illinois University, international students have a well-developed support system that is the team of committed individuals who work in WIU’s Center for International Studies (CIS).

And although it’s not quite yet time for International Education Week (that occurs in November, and is set from Nov. 14-18 this year), it’s never too early to recognize the work that international educators do. Over the years, I have had the pleasure of collaborating with a few of the staff members at the CIS. I quickly picked up on the fact that they take their jobs–working with the many international students who come to Western–very seriously.

One of those dedicated staff members is CIS Assistant Director Dana Vizdal, who once was an international student herself during a semester-long study abroad program in Europe. So with International Education Week just around the corner, and to recognize Western’s commitment to international studies for both American and international students, this month, for the the Council of Administrative Personnel (COAP) Spotlight, we’re featuring Dana.

Below, she talks a bit about her background and what she does here for the many individuals who travel tens of thousands of miles to come and study in Macomb at WIU.

Q. How did you end up working at Western?

Dana: I actually grew up in Macomb and earned both of my degrees from WIU. I was fortunate to study abroad in Spain for a semester, which really got me interested in international affairs. I have had the opportunity to work at WIU as a student worker, a graduate assistant, a civil service employee and now as an administrator in my current position.

Dana Vizdal and Western Illinois Univeristy international students visiting the Illinois State Capitol Building in Springfield.

Dana Vizdal and Western Illinois University and a group of international students visiting the Illinois State Capitol Building in Springfield.

Q. What does a typical day at work at Western look like for you?

Dana: There really isn’t a typical day for me. I work closely with my graduate assistants, collaborate with many offices across campus, and help students with any questions or issues. It’s important to me that the international students know there is someone advocating for them and someone they can always approach. My door is always open, and if it’s not, there is a note on my door saying when I’ll be back.

Q. What is your favorite on-the-job memory?

Dana: I love following our students on Facebook and witnessing them experience real American culture. Seeing their reactions to and pictures of their first autumn experiences or snowfall in the Midwest is priceless.

Q. What has been your most rewarding professional experience in your career at WIU so far?

Dana: One of the most rewarding experiences was learning that a student decided to attend WIU because I spoke with his sibling at a recruitment fair abroad!

Q. What are your favorite activities outside of your job?

Dana: When I’m not working, I love traveling, eating good food, and spending time with my boyfriend, family, and friends.

Q. What is your favorite quote or quotes?

Dana: I really like “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences,” by Audre Lorde, as well as “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much,” by Helen Keller.

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Follow Western’s Center for International Studies on Facebook at www.facebook.com/WIUCenterforInternationalStudies/.

Who are your organization’s MVPs?

Editor’s Note: Western Illinois University Department of Communication Instructor David Zanolla is on sabbatical to broaden his understanding of organizational communication. Zanolla teaches Communication 379, “Disney and Universal Communication Culture,” a course that begins with eight weeks of classroom study about the organizational and communication culture of the Disney parks and culminates in a trip to Walt Disney World so students can observe the Disney communication culture in action.


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The Partners Statue and Cinderella Castle in Tokyo Disneyland

Upon returning to Illinois after visiting the Disney Parks in China, Hong Kong and Japan, one of the most common questions I’m asked is, “So, what did you learn?”

To be honest, this is a question that turns out to be difficult to answer because I experienced so much. I walked 168 miles while touring the four Asian Disney parks. I communicated with people who had never been to the United States and only spoke simple English phrases.

When I visit the American Disney parks, I am the “local,” but this time, I was on their turf and I was the outsider. In spite of all that, I enjoyed myself immensely and gained valuable insight into how a tried-and-tested organizational model was implemented outside of the U.S.

The final parks I visited were in Tokyo, Japan (Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea). As a fan of Disney parks, it did not take long for me to rank these destinations at the top of my list. While the rides were spectacular and the entertainment was top-of-the-line, the thing that impressed me most was a group of employees who most would tend to overlook.

Who were they? The custodial staff.

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Mount Prometheus: The park icon of Tokyo DisneySea

These parks were immaculately clean.

A friend I spoke with shortly after returning echoed this sentiment.

“I seriously would not have been afraid to eat off the ground,” he told me.

While that statement may have been a bit tongue in cheek, I agreed with his thinking. However, the ability to keep the parks physically clean was not the only reason the custodial staff is worth noting. Cleaning is, of course, part of all their jobs, but it’s what they did to go above and beyond their job expectations that made them the MVPs of these two parks.

It seemed as if you couldn’t walk more than 50 feet in these parks without seeing a custodial cast member. Their presence was noticeable in every area of the park, as were their interactions with guests.

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Look closely… Can you find three custodial cast members (in white) in this one picture?

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I saw custodial staff constantly stopping to take photos for guests. At one point, a custodial cast member had formed a line of people for whom he was taking photos. He didn’t seem to be frustrated that he got stuck taking photos; he seemed to enjoy the ability to interact with guests. In fact, I marveled at his ability to have fun with one couple while taking their photo.

In this instance, he set them up to snap their picture, and I watched him fiddling with one of their phones. As a spectator, I assumed he was having trouble finding the shutter button. Instead, I learned he had taken a picture of the guests first and then flipped the camera around to “selfie” mode.

Imagine the hilarity that ensued when he showed these guests the photo he had taken for them, only for it to be of his face instead. The look of shock on their faces was quickly followed by him showing them the “real” photo of them he captured.
img_1446I spent nearly 15 minutes watching this custodial worker make these guests smile through the simple task of taking a photo. I then got in line and, when it was my turn, I didn’t ask for a photo of me alone… I asked him to pose in a photo with me. He seemed surprised and honored.

More evidence to showcase the contribution of the custodial staff is found in the broom art created by this group of employees. In the pictures below, not only can you see the custodians creating these drawings using their brooms, but you can see the group of visitors putting rides on hold while they watched this art come to life.

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To me, the custodial staff members were the unsung heroes of the Tokyo parks. You don’t think about them being important, but them fulfilling their roles in the organization is crucial toward their culture being a success.

This is true in all organizations.

Who are the MVPs of your organization? Who is often overlooked but without whom your culture would not be maintained effectively?


My Disney & Universal Communication Culture course (COMM 379) will be offered during the Spring 2017 semester. For more information, visit www.wiu.edu/comm/disney.