Cortez ready to serve on WIU-QC’s growing SGA

What’s the story behind a guy who says the love of a big river, and of museums, brought him to Western Illinois University-Quad Cities — and what’s he planning to do to bring more students together on the Quad Cities campus?

2017-05-SGA-president-Michael-Cortez-sitting-VPC-color-correctedMichael (“Mike) Cortez, a graduate student in Museum Studies at Western Illinois University-Quad Cities, has been elected president of the WIU-QC Student Government Association (SGA). And he’s got big plans on where he wants to see SGA go.

Back Story:

  • hometown: Des Moines, IA
  • bachelor’s degree in history in May 2015, Grand View University
  • first-year graduate student in Museum Studies program

Why Does He Want to Lead?

Cortez was elected by the student body in April, after a two-day process, he says, of meeting as many people as he could by “…shaking hands with people, introducing myself, just poking into classrooms or the library and I think I walked the campus six or seven times, if not more, over a two-day period.

“I try to get the message out to students that ‘this is your campus,'” he continued. “As soon as you walk through the doors, you take control of your journey, educationally and intellectually, so why not have a voice? Why not get involved?”

Cortez previously served SGA as a senator for GEMS, the Graduate Experience in Museum Studies student organization.

“Now that I’ve had a year to settle in, I’m really excited to take this next big step,” he said.

As an undergraduate student at Grand View, Cortez served as vice president of the history club and and the president of the LGBTQ student organization.

“I’ve always been actively involved,” he said. “I enjoy talking with people, giving speeches, going to meetings, being hands-on and being part of something bigger than myself.”

Growing Student Government on a Commuter Campus – More Events for All

“In the past, SGA wasn’t getting the student involvement that it should, with maybe one executive officer attending meetings. We have about 10 people who come to meetings now. It has grown quite a bit in the last three to four years, and we’re on much more solid footing now.

“My first priority is to make sure that every student voice is heard,” he continued. Second, I’d like to see increased involvement with activities on campus, and third, to strengthen the bond and relationship with the Macomb campus. We’ll continue having wonderful events such as Casino Night. I’d love to see us add a fall concert, art shows, and a Multicultural Night.

“WIU-QC really embraces non-traditional students who have families and who work, and we have a lot of veterans, but we also have traditional-aged college students. So one of my big priorities over the summer is to be thinking about, ‘How do we involve all types of students and not just one group?”

Why Western?: Tuition, location, and….the Mighty Mississip.’

“A big factor was in-state tuition, because in-state tuition announcement,” he said. “But another reason is I’m a huge water person — love large bodies of water. And the Mississippi River is a beautiful sight to see. Also, the Quad Cities is kind of a gateway to anywhere you need to go — Chicago, Des Moines, St. Louis. It’s kind of centralized to all these fantastic places.

“I also love the program, mostly because of Dr. Pamela J. White, the museum studies director. “She’s been a phenomenal advisor and mentor. I really think it’s because of her that the program is as big as it is.”

What’s After Western?

Cortez is pursuing the degree in museum studies with plans to work in visitor services.

“I’ve loved museums ever since I was a child,” he said. “In Des Moines, there was a state historical society museum downtown, and and I used to beg my mom to take me every week. I love history. I love reading history books, on many topics, including European history, U.S. history, even African history.”

More info:

Also elected:

  • Caroline Sipiera of Galena, IL, senior communication major, as vice president
  • Benjamin Brondos of Brookfield, IL, senior engineering major, as attorney general.
  • (…and a special goodbye to graduating past-president Nicholas “Nico” Moreno

“I’d like to give a shout-out to Nico for running a tight ship, and I’m incredibly thankful for what he did for SGA,” Cortez said.

More information on the WIU-QC SGA

A Message of Appreciation to Macomb and Western Illinois University

by Meshari H. Alanazi

Meshari H. Alanazi is a graduate student in Western Illinois University's School of Computer Science.

Meshari H. Alanazi is a graduate student in Western Illinois University’s School of Computer Science.

When I came to the United States in December 2012, I was worried about my new experience here because of the different language, culture, and religions. At the time, I did not know any English at all. I had come to Macomb to study English in Western’s English as a Second Language (WESL) Institute and had hopes to move on to pursue a master’s degree in computer science at WIU.

The beginning of this experience was amazing–from all of the great people who I met and dealt with. Everyone was very helpful and smiling all the time, which made the new experience much easier.

After I found a place to live, every day I was here in Macomb was becoming better more and more beautiful than the previous day. My neighbors, my teachers, and the members of the community created an environment for me that made me feel much more comfortable, and I even reached a point where I felt just as welcome here as I feel in my hometown. Everyone I interacted with was always smiling, and that is a great thing even in my religion. The Prophet Muhammad said, “A smile towards another is a charity.” It did not take long for the stereotypes that I had heard of to be proven inaccurate.

When I first came to Macomb, my wife was with me. Through all of the great experiences she had here, she came to the same conclusion. We have lived in happiness, safety, and comfort since we first came here.

In early February 2013, God blessed us both with the birth of my first son, Abdulrhman. Our experience with the hospital personnel and staff only increased our happiness and satisfaction with this great community. Every day, my love for the people and this city grows tremendously.

Meshari Alanazi near the Islamic Center of Macomb

Meshari Alanazi near the Islamic Center of Macomb.

Now, after being the vice president of the Islamic Center of Macomb for nearly two years and the president, from September 2015 until I graduate this May, I have found our community and all of its members love Macomb, Western Illinois University, and the people and friends who live here.

I wanted to write this message with all of the truth, respect, and love from my heart–and from the hearts of all of the members of the Islamic community–to convey how much I have come to love this place and this university. In our religion, we are taught to respect everyone, be truthful to everyone, love everyone, and wish peace upon everyone who we know and interact with.

Within the time I have been here in the United States (three years and four months), I learned so much about the U.S. as a country and as a society, and I have realized Americans are amazing, trustworthy, helpful, friendly, and respectful people. This is why I decided to write this message.

I ask that you please do not believe the negative image that I believe the media has created for Muslims. There are 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, and yet, unfortunately, some of those people–a very small number, less than 0.01 percent–are the bad people who have caused problems. Those people are acting on their own, not on the behalf of Islam; thus the people of Islamic countries, with Saudi Arabia as their leader, are working even harder to bring peace to this whole world.

In the end, this is a message and a truth from me for the purpose of portraying my love and respect to you all after living among you for the past three or so years. In my mind, I have a great relationship with all whom I have lived amongst and interacted with. I hope you all will continue to live in peace and happiness.

Finally, this May after graduation, I will go back to my country to live alongside my family in the great country, Saudi Arabia. I will never forget the wonderful life that I have lived amongst you all, and I thank you deeply and genuinely.
••••••••
Meshari H. Alanazi is a graduate student in Western Illinois University’s School of Computer Science.

Meet the Professor: Cindy Struthers, Sociology and Community & Economic Development

Cindy Struthers

Cindy Struthers

Next fall, WIU’s new Master of Arts in Community and Economic Development will begin. This degree program will cover a number of disciplines, including economics, geography, management, and sociology. I sat down with sociology professor Cindy Struthers to learn more about her.

Cindy is a native of Lansing, Michigan, and received her doctorate in sociology with emphases in family inequalities, rural sociology, and gender from Michigan State University. She received her M.A. and B.A. in sociology from MSU as well. Cindy is currently serving as the executive director/treasurer of the Rural Sociological Society, a professional social science association that seeks to enhance the quality of rural life, communities, and the environment.

Cindy teaches a number of courses at WIU, including “Community,” “American Family,” and “Women and Poverty.” She will be teaching “Advanced Community Development and Practice” as part of the M.A. program.

Q: What are you most looking forward to in this new degree program?

Cindy: It sounds funny, but a new course prep always reinvigorates my enthusiasm for teaching. New courses force you to really look at what is happening in the field, and it’s a lot like completing a puzzle. You have to make a whole bunch of decisions about what to include and how it fits with all the other pieces. You have to put yourself in the minds of your students and not just choose every quirky thing you want to read for the next 8 -16 weeks (though some of that is always involved).

I am also very excited to be working with a diverse group of students, some of whom might be on a traditional educational trajectory and some who have chosen to improve their credentials and some who are simply lifelong learners who want to give community development a look-see.

Q: What are you passionate about?

Cindy: Passionate? I grew up in the Midwest–we are not a passionate people. Family, friends, helping communities remain vital; maintaining a sense of optimism and hope for the future.

Q: Favorite thing(s) about WIU?

Cindy: The school colors: purple and yellow. The school colors are actually “purple and gold,” but yellow is my favorite color.

Q: What is your favorite quote?

Cindy: “They always say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.” ? Andy Warhol

Q: What is your favorite place?

Cindy: New Orleans, Louisiana

Q: What are you reading right now? What’s next on the list?

Cindy: I can’t remember the name of the book I am reading right now (it’s an earlier book written by an author that has a new book on the New York Times bestseller list), and I am not organized enough to know what I’m reading next. However, two of the most fun and informative books I have read fairly recently are Novella Carpenter’s “Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer” and Aziz Ansari’s “Modern Romance.” I wish I had read Ansari’s book a little earlier in the year, because I would have assigned it to my Soc. 370 students this semester.

Q: Anything else you would like your prospective students to know about you?

Cindy: I have some real concerns about the continued vitality and future of rural places across the Midwest and the rest of the country. I can’t wait to hear what some of your observations and solutions might be. I have lived in four different small towns in Illinois since coming to WIU.

I’m a homebody who loves to travel. I’m always looking for a great cup of coffee, a quirky boutique, and a non-chain restaurant. I buy a lot of yarn (at independently owned shops), but never seem to complete any of the dozen or so projects I start. I have two Australian Shepherds; one is named Aussie and the other is Sydney, and two cats (Louis Armstrong and NOLA).

I have rather eclectic taste in music and books, but I tend to gravitate to blues music because I love the way different guitars and guitarists sound. Right now, I am primarily into “humor” and have read a couple Christopher Moore and Mindy Kaling books back to back.

Thanks to Cindy for taking the time to talk to me!

Meet the Professor: Chris Merrett, Community and Economic Development

Meet the Professor: Chris Merrett, Community and Economic Development

Next fall, WIU will begin a new master’s degree program in Community and Economic Development. This new program will combine online learning with in-person class sessions and hands-on learning opportunities. The program is being offered through the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs (IIRA). We sat down with IIRA Director Chris Merrett to learn more about the program – and about him.merett

Chris Merrett is a native of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada. He earned undergraduate degrees in geography (University of Western Ontario) and political science (Lake Superior State University), before earning a master’s degree (University of Vermont) and Ph.D. in geography with a focus on regional development and international trade (University of Iowa). He loves to travel and learn about new places, and geography was a natural discipline to help guide these personal and professional intellectual pursuits. Chris has been married for 25 years and has two children.

Since working at the IIRA, his love of geography has evolved to embrace local community and economic development, which is a kind of applied geography. As IIRA director, Merrett oversees a university-based research, outreach, teaching, and policy development unit comprised of 40 community development faculty and professionals. In addition to his management role, he teaches courses in Community Development, serves on the Governor’s Rural Affairs Council, is current chairperson of Rural Partners, and has raised more than $6 million in external grant funding to support community and economic development outreach and research, including a $200,000 USDA Rural Cooperative Development Grant for the IIRA.

His current research focuses on cooperatives and community development. Merrett co-edited two books on this topic, including A Cooperative Approach to Local Economic Development (2001) and Cooperatives and Local Development: Theory and Applications for the 21st Century (2003). He has also published in a range of journals on topics such as value-added agriculture, cooperatives, rural land use, social justice, and rural community and economic development.

In summer 2015, Chris participated in his fifth RAGBRAI, (The Des Moines Register’s Great Annual Bike Ride Across Iowa). This is a 7-day, 500+ mile ride across Iowa. Each night of the ride, participants camp out in a rural Iowa community. According to Chris, “It is a great way to see the rural Midwest while enjoying rural community development (and hospitality) at its best.”

Chris took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions about himself.

Q: What course(s) do you teach?

Chris: I teach several courses on the WIU campus including Principles of Community Development,” Rural Geography, Geography of the United States and Canada, and the History and Philosophy of Geography. The course I have devoted most energy to over the past half-decade has been Principles of Community Development, which enables me to link my theoretical interests in what makes communities thrive with concrete projects in rural Illinois.

Q: What are you most looking forward to in the new Master of Arts in Community Development program?

Chris: For more than 25 years, the IIRA has been delivering award-winning technical assistance to rural communities across rural Illinois and beyond. We have also published literally thousands of peer-reviewed journal articles, books, technical reports, and other essays. Teaching has been an important, but secondary, part of our mission. Our faculty members have always devoted a significant amount of energy to teaching courses in economic development, rural sociology, marketing, and geography, but have done so in other departments. In other words, our teaching efforts have been dispersed across several departments outside of the IIRA. By offering a graduate degree through the IIRA, we can offer our teaching expertise in a focused, concentrated, and coordinated manner which will increase our ability to share our expertise in community and economic development.

Q: What are you passionate about?

Chris: Professionally, I am passionate about how universities can serve as catalysts for social change, including community economic development. Public universities such as WIU have resources to help small communities identify their assets and deploy them in more effective ways. It is gratifying to see towns make meaningful change with assets and leadership skills developed from within their community.

At a personal level, I love to ski, bicycle, read, and spend time with friends and family.

Q: Favorite thing(s) about WIU?

Chris: There are many great things about WIU. It’s location in west central Illinois is just lovely. WIU is not like other larger public universities that are located in, but somehow separated from, their host regions. WIU is not just located in a rural region; it is deeply integrated into the region and hence is shaped by the culture and needs of the region. WIU also has a great faculty with a collaborative mindset. Our M.A. degree in CED, while hosted by the IIRA, has many opportunities to take great courses in other departments such as recreation, park and tourism administration; economics, geography, political science, and business administration. Great colleagues in the IIRA and partner departments help make WIU a great place.

Q: What is your favorite quote?

Chris: I have several quotes that are all related to community development in one way or another:

  • Education, therefore, is a process of living and not a preparation for future living. — John Dewey
  • A community is like a ship; everyone ought to be prepared to take the helm. — Henrik Ibsen
  • Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. — Thomas Edison
  • Be an opener of doors for such as come after thee, and do not try to make the universe a blind alley. — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Q: What is your favorite place?

Chris: This is a good question. I have several “happy places.” First, I love my summer cottage in Northern Ontario. It is located on clear, northern lake, with loons, moose, and bears in the surrounding forests. I also love rural roads in the Prairie State, when I am on my bicycle. The blue sky, green fields, goldfinches, farms, and gently rolling hills, make for a bucolic, enthralling scene.

Q: What are you reading right now? What’s next on the list?

Chris: In preparation for an upcoming course, I am currently reading Development as Freedom by Amartya Sen and The Price of Civilization by Jeffrey Sachs. On my bedside table, waiting to be finished is Capital by Thomas Piketty. It addresses the growing income inequality of capitalist economies in the 21st century.

International Student Success Spotlight: Amin Akhtar

Amin Akhtar, WIU Alumnus

Amin Akhtar recently graduated from Western with his M.S. in computer science. While an international student at WIU, he served as a graduate assistant in Western’s Center for International Studies.

Many current and former international students at Western Illinois University may be familiar with Amin Akhtar’s friendly smile. Akhtar–who is from Iran and was, until last December, an international student himself–served as a graduate assistant in Western’s Center for International Studies while studying in Western’s School of Computer Sciences.

“In that role, I participated in six orientations for new international students. Each of them was an amazing experience. Helping other international students each semester was more than a job or a volunteer work for me,” he explained. “I would like to especially thank to Ms. Dana Vizdal [assistant director in the Center for International Studies], who gave me this chance to be a leader for the orientations.”

Akhtar finished his master’s of science degree in computer science in December. Recently, he shared with me a bit about some of his academic experiences and opportunities he had while he was a WIU student.

Q: How did you learn about Western Illinois University? Why did you decide to apply to and attend Western?

Amin: After considering different universities, I came across information about the School of Computer Sciences at Western. When I saw the profile of the professors and their fields of interest, I was sure I wanted to choose Western.

Q: What do you hope to do with your degree?

Amin: I am planning to work as a software engineer in one of the consulting companies. Finding a job in the computer science field is not that hard, especially when you have a computer science degree from WIU!!!

Q: How did you adjust to your new home as someone who had never traveled to the U.S. before?

Amin: The adjusting process from another culture to the U.S. culture was not that easy. All international students have culture shock when they come here, and I was not an exception. Making friends and not being alone was the best way for me to adjust myself within the new environment.

Q: Who was your favorite instructor and/or course and why?

Amin: My favorite professor and advisor was undoubtedly Dr. Martin Maskarinec [professor of computer science]. Dr. Maskarinec was so patient and helpful all the time, and I always used his advice. My favorite courses were my database courses, because I love working with data.

Q: Tell me about one or two of your most memorable experiences as a Western student.

Amin: The best moment of my life was when I got the news about being accepted as a teaching assistant in the School of Computer Sciences. Other memorable experiences include meeting my girlfriend at Western Illinois University and learning more about American culture.

CSP Grad Candidate’s Social Media Work Helps Beu Health Ed Reach Out to WIU Students

Rebecca Novick

Rebecca Novick, a grad student in Western’s college student personnel program, posing with a puppy named Roscoe. As the person in charge of Beu Health Education’s social media accounts this semester, Novick has worked to reach out to WIU students about health and wellness issues.

Northport, New York, native Rebecca Novick, who is currently a graduate student in Western’s college student personnel (CSP) program, applied to the program after hearing about it from those she worked with at her undergraduate institution, University at Buffalo (UB).

“While there, I became heavily involved in on-campus student leadership positions, such as student union manager, as well as served in an internship for the Center for Student Leadership and Community Engagement. Toward the end of my sophomore year, I took some time to reflect on what it was I enjoyed most about my undergraduate experience. What I found was that my positions on campus were where I found the most fulfillment and enjoyment, so I decided to pursue the field of student affairs. After speaking with some of my professional staff members, I found that many of them had attended WIU for their degrees in CSP. After researching the CSP program here and finding how well known and well respected it is, I decided I would apply,” she explained.

From her experiences at UB, as well as the knowledge she has gained as a WIU CSP grad student, Rebecca has been using social media for Beu Health Education to reach out to WIU students and provide them with important information about Beu’s resources, as well as about health and wellness issues in general.

Recently, she answered a few questions about the kind of work she is doing for Beu Health Ed, as well as how the work will help her in her future student affairs career.

Q. What do you do for Beu Health Education?

Novick: I am a practicum student for Beu Health Education, and my main responsibility is to manage all social media outlets. I mostly focus on our Facebook and Twitter communications and schedule posts and tweets for each week.

In the beginning of the semester, we (a few other staff members and myself) brainstormed a list of themes we could use for each week. The themes were picked based on current issues facing students, as well as the time of the semester. As I construct posts and tweets, I think of ways in which I can engage students to use the tips and resources shared in our posts and then reflect on how they can improve upon their own practices. In order to do this, I post a series of tips and tricks and then ask if our followers could share their own thoughts or helpful practices.

Q. What have you learned while working in this role for Beu Health Education?

Novick: During my time in Beu Health Education, I have learned that wellness means much more than just taking care of yourself, in terms of exercise, nutrition, and illness. I have come to learn that wellness incorporates many aspects of being, such as financial, spiritual, and intellectual wellness.

Over the course of this semester, I have also learned there are many wellness issues students face that are not always viewed as pertinent concerns. For instance, it is common for students to experience stress, sleep deprivation, and caffeine addiction. Although these may seem like common symptoms of merely being a college student, these practices can become areas of concern if not addressed. I have found Beu Health Center to be well equipped with resources to help students form healthy habits and work through such issues.

Lastly, I have found that social media can be an effective way to communicate the resources and tips needed to help work through common issues on college campuses. As our social media community grows, we are not only able to share information, but we have also been learning new practices, ways to remain relevant to our students, and find helpful resources.

Q. What are your career plans?

Novick: Following my intended graduation this spring, I hope to return to New York and work within the State University of New York (SUNY) or City University of New York (CUNY) public higher education systems. Ideally, I aspire to work within student union management or student leadership development, but I am open to many possibilities.

Q. How do you think you’ll be able to apply what you have learned working for Beu Health Education to your future career?

Novick: As social media continues to grow as an information-sharing platform, I would like to use it as a source for cross-promotion of not only offices across a university’s campus, but also to cross-promote other institutions, as well as the surrounding community. I think there are many benefits of institutions and their communities working together to help raise awareness of all opportunities and resources available to students and community members.

I also feel the knowledge I have gained relating to student wellness can help me to be a more aware and empathetic student affairs professional. In order for me to be able to effectively help students grow, I must understand their struggles and barriers. Having learned how to identify symptoms of many health concerns students face, the more I can do to help.

Q. What is the most rewarding project or enlightening activity you experienced in your work for Beu Health Education?

Novick: In general, I would say the most enlightening experiences I have had while working in Beu Health Education are the opportunities I have had to further my knowledge in WIU’s social media community. I have had numerous meetings with offices and representatives across campus to learn more about their approaches to marketing and building a social media presence. During this process, I have built many relationships and learned much about the functions of various offices around campus. I have been using these opportunities to make connections via social media to help cross-promote events and resources happening across campus.

Q. Anything else you think is important to share?

Novick: I have found the offices and staff associated with Beu Health Education to be extremely helpful and knowledgeable. There are such a large variety of resources and opportunities available to all students, not just those who are struggling with wellness. Not only is the professional staff at Beu Health Education friendly and accommodating, but student peer educators are also extremely knowledgeable and an asset to the office.

I hope students and community members continue to utilize the resources and services Beu Health Education has to offer, whether it is through attending a program, setting up an appointment for individual help, or just stopping by to find out more.

Follow Beu Health Education on Twitter at twitter.com/BeuHealthEd and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/BeuHealthCenter.

WIU International Student Success Spotlight: Bahar Mamedova

Bahar Mamedova

Bahar Mamedova is an international graduate student in Western’s Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Administration.

Recently, our office helped promote the fact that Western Illinois University’s international student enrollment has reached more than 500, thanks to the diligence of Center for International Studies (CIS), administrators, faculty and staff.

Rick Carter, executive director of the School of Distance Learning, International Studies and Outreach, along with WIU administrators and Western’s English as a Second Language (WESL) director, have crossed the oceans and traversed to embassies in Washington, D.C., establishing relationships, forging partnerships and spreading the good word about WIU. As a result, new international student enrollment has increased by 140 this fall to 511 students from 370 in Fall 2013.

Behind those numbers are the stories of the hundreds of international students who come to Western from faraway lands. To share their experiences, once a month, with the help of staff in the Center for International Studies, we’ll be spotlighting an international student.

This month, we start with graduate student Bahar Mamedova, who is from Turkmenistan.

Q: How did you learn about Western Illinois University and why did you decide to apply to and attend Western?

Bahar: My husband attended WIU, and after he graduated, I also decided to apply at Western to pursue my master’s degree. I always had a dream to study at an American university, and despite current criticism of American higher education, I still believe that it is among the most competitive higher education systems in the world. America, in the past, has made large investments in higher education and has built a tremendous infrastructure of universities, libraries, classrooms, and laboratories.

Personally, I applied here because Western is equipped well with updated electronic technologies and there are lots of different educational resources that I could benefit from. Additionally, at Western, international students are free to choose from vast programs of study and faculty members are always accessible and ready to help.

Q: What do you hope to do with your graduate degree in recreation, park and tourism administration (RPTA) once you graduate?

Bahar Mamedova - WESL Graduation

Bahar Mamedova (center) and Western Illinois University President Jack Thomas (left) and School of Distance Learning, International Studies and Outreach Executive Director Rick Carter at Bahar’s graduation ceremony from Western’s English as a Second Language (WESL) Institute.

Bahar: After I graduate from Western, I would like to utilize my knowledge and skills in international tourism administration in my home country, Turkmenistan. Currently, Turkmenistan is trying to develop its own tourism industry. New tourism-promoting ideas and innovative approaches are needed in Turkmenistan, and I believe I would be able to positively contribute to this process.

Q: What have been (or are) your RPTA favorite courses and why?

Bahar: My favorite RPTA classes include international tourism, statistics, and event planning.

From the international tourism course, I learned a lot about cultural diversity, multiculturalism, and globalization. In the statistics class, I significantly improved my ability to extract value from data and effectively communicate that value. The event planning class equipped me with important tools and skills and also provided me with a necessary foundation to organize high-quality events.

With all I have learned in my graduate courses at WIU, I am successfully utilizing during my internship at WIU’s Center for International Studies.

Q: What kinds of things did you learn during your internship at Western?

Bahar: My internship experience allows me to work with diverse international student populations. While at the Office of International Student Orientation and Activities, I had an opportunity to work in a friendly, professional, and exciting environment that provides a great potential for growth experiences and advancement. Over the course of the internship, I was involved with several projects aiming to improve international student experiences on campus. These experiences clearly defined my internship expectations and goals.

Overall, it was a valuable experience that gave me a greater appreciation for those who deal with a culturally diverse international student population within the university on a daily basis.

Q: Tell me about one of your most memorable experiences here at Western.

Bahar: One of my most enjoyable volunteer experiences was teaching children to speak Russian at the PACT Head Start. It was fun and exciting to see children trying to learn a new language. This experience gave me an understanding that even a little effort can make an impact in a child’s or anyone’s life. I deeply believe that being involved as a volunteer will make our community a better place to live, and it also enriches our own lives.

Q: What are some of your favorite activities to engage in while you’re here in the U.S.?

Bahar: I like to spend all my free time with my children by engaging them in different learning and recreational activities. I also like to travel to see new places. While in the U.S., I have learned skiing and ice-skating. It was a fun experience.

Field Contributions: WIU Prof Chairs National Counseling Conference in QCs

WIU counselor education students and faculty

WIU Counselor Education Professor Rebecca Newgent (in pink shirt) and (L to R) Rona Galica (Rock Island, IL), Molly Watkins (Davenport, IA), and Julie Churchill (Davenport, IA) at the AARC National Conference in Moline. Galica, Watkins, and Churchill are master’s degrees candidates in the Western Illinois University Department of Counselor Education and helped Dr. Newgent plan and organize the conference as Newgent’s conference chair committee.

In early September, Dr. Rebecca Newgent, professor in Western Illinois University’s Department of Counselor Education, served as the chair for the Association for Assessment and Research in Counseling‘s national conference. Held at the iWireless Center in downtown Moline (IL), the event drew participants from 27 states and many different institutions.

“She did an excellent job organizing the event and received rave reviews for the venue and content,” noted Lloyd Kilmer, assistant dean of the College of Education and Human Services at the WIU-QC campus.

Recently, Dr. Newgent provided an overview of how one goes about organizing such a large gathering for fellow counseling educators and counselors, all the while keeping up with the daily demands of being a university faculty member.

Q: Can you provide a little background about the AARC’s National Assessment and Research Conference?

Newgent: The Association for Assessment and Research in Counseling (AARC), a division of the American Counseling Association, is an organization of counselors, educators and other professionals that advance the counseling profession by promoting best practices in assessment, research and evaluation in counseling. The purpose of the AARC’s National Assessment and Research Conference is to advance the mission of AARC by promoting and recognizing excellence in assessment, research and evaluation in counseling. The benefits of the AARC conference include professional development, professionalization, research and knowledge, human development, public awareness and collaboration.

Professional counselors, counselor educators, researcher and educators attend. It is held annually in various cities throughout the country. This was the first time the conference was held in the Midwest, and we had attendees from 27 states and almost doubled the attendance from prior conferences.

Q: How did your chairperson position of the National Assessment and Research Conference come about?

Newgent: Each year the executive board of AARC accepts proposals from members to chair and host the next conference. With the help of the Quad Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Quad Cities was selected–over major cities around the country–for the 2014 conference. We began this process approximately 14 months prior to the conference.

Q: What the benefits of chairing the conference for you as Western Illinois University professor? for your students?

AARC Conference Keynote Speaker Thank You

Dr. Thelma Duffey, president-elect of the American Counseling Association, receiving her “Thank You” gift after her keynote speech at the AARC’s National Assessment and Research 2014 Conference, which was chaired by WIU Counselor Education Professor Rebecca Newgent (in the pink). Pictured with Dr. Duffey and Dr. Newgent is Dr. Shawn Spurgeon, president of the Association for Assessment and Research in Counseling.

Newgent: As a university professor, it was an honor to chair the conference. As chair, I was able to highlight my department and Western to my colleagues across the country. My students also benefited, in that they were exposed to national leaders; several came to classes to talk with my students about their leadership roles. Additionally, WIU had the largest number of student attendees at the conference, where they were exposed to cutting-edge information about assessment and research and also had the opportunity to meet the president-elect of the American Counseling Association, Dr. Thelma Duffey, our keynote speaker.

Q: What are the duties of the conference chair?

Newgent: In AARC, the conference chair must wear multiple hats. From the submission of the proposal to host/chair the conference through the post conference accounting, the chair is involved in every aspect. Fortunately, we have a great conference model to follow. The role was intensive for the entire 14+ month period, but fortunately I had a great committee of graduate students who made my job much easier.

Q: How do juggle those duties with your instruction and other scholarly work as a WIU faculty member?

Newgent: It was certainly not easy juggling my conference chair duties with my faculty position. It was not uncommon for me to work into the wee hours of the morning and all weekend just to make sure that I was keeping up with all of my responsibilities. Would I do it again? Ask me in a couple of years!

Q: Any other info. that you would like shared/highlighted about the conference and your work with the AARC for it?

Newgent: Personally, I love being associated with AARC. This association provides me with valuable information, tools and a network of colleagues that are leaders in the field of counseling. Over the years, I have increased my involvement with AARC. In addition to having chaired the 2014 national conference, I am the editor of Counseling Outcome Research and Evaluation, a national peer-reviewed journal published by SAGE in association with AARC.

Next year, AARC will celebrate its 50th birthday and the conference will be in Memphis, TN.

Working for Western at Western: Beu Health Ed’s Grad Student Andy Lehr Talks Experience

Andy Lehr, WIU College Student Personnel Graduate Student

Andy Lehr, a graduate student in Western Illinois University’s College Student Personnel Program, is pictured here at the University Union in March, where he helped Beu Health Education with the implementation of Kick Butts Day, a national event sponsored by the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. The event increases awareness about the hazards of smoking and using tobacco.

As Spring 2013 Commencement Weekend commences at Western, many soon-to-be WIU alumni are looking toward the world of work that lie ahead. And while it may be daunting to go out into wilds of the job market (particularly in a still-recovering U.S. economy) with not-so-much work experience, many students–both undergraduate and graduate–have had the chance to gain experience working in some capacity for WIU. Andy Lehr is one of those students.

A graduate student in Western’s College Student Personnel program, Andy has been working for Beu Health Education this past semester. He will continue his post at Beu Health Ed in Fall 2013, too. (He also serves as the assistant complex director at Tanner Hall for WIU Housing and Dining Services.)

When I met Andy earlier this year, he was filled with positive energy and ideas about how to help Beu Health Education with its outreach efforts. Recently, he took some time out of his busy grad-student schedule to answer some questions about what he does for Beu and how the experience has helped him acquire skills that he’ll be able to use when he finishes his master’s program.

Q.) What do you do for Beu Health Education?
I am a practicum student for Beu Health Education. It is a requirement of the College Student Personnel master’s degree program that I am in here at Western. As a practicum student, I work for Beu Health Education for eight hours a week.

Q.) What kinds of duties/tasks do you do for Beu Health Education?
My main role is to manage the social media for the office. I work with Twitter and Facebook in order to help and send different health and wellness information out to the WIU community and anyone else that wants to follow Beu Health Ed. I have also assisted in the facilitation of the training for the certified peer education program, Students T.A.L.K., that Beu Health Education offers. In addition to those things, I also sit in on a variety of meetings (such as the weekly update meetings for the AOD [Alcohol and Other Drug] Center and Beu Health Education).

Follow Beu Health Ed on Twitter @BeuHealthEd

Follow Beu Health Ed on Twitter @BeuHealthEd

Q.) How do you use social media to help disseminate info. to students at WIU?
I use social media to get quick health and wellness facts out to all of those that follow us on Twitter and Facebook. I try to focus on one certain topic each week and then Tweet four or five facts and tips a day about the topic. The topics usually align with “Stall Talk,” which are put out weekly by Liz Andrews, the Beu Health Education graduate assistant.

Through the Beu Health Ed Twitter account, I also follow many other health and wellness sites that offer quality information, and I will often retweet that information out to the WIU community. I have also found that using social media to promote different events happening on campus, (Beu Health Ed related events or general campus events) is a great way to help get the word out and support other departments across the WIU campus.

Q.) What are some of the most rewarding/informative experiences you’ve had in your work for Beu Health Education?
So far, the most rewarding thing has been getting to work in a department outside of what I have been used to. Most of my previous work has been focused on residence life, and it has been very exciting for me have this new experience. Getting to work with Liz Andrews, JoAnn Hairston-Jones [Beu Health Education Coordinator], and everyone else that I have been able to work with, has been a really great experience. I enjoy being able to build new relationships and meeting new people, and without this practicum opportunity, I probably would not have had the opportunity to meet the great people who work in Beu Health Education.

Along with social media, I have come across a lot of other useful information because of working with Beu Health Education. Beu’s Health Education Office promotes the health and wellness of students here at WIU in many different ways. As a student, I try to take advantage of some of the services that are offered. For example, there is a stress-management technique called “Freeze-Frame,” which is used here, and I have been able to use that myself to try and help manage my own stress. Also, while doing research to find information that I want to tweet about, I have been able to increase my knowledge on the different aspects of wellness.

It has been a great experience for me to work for an office that focuses on health and wellness, because I feel everything that I work on I can relate to my own life in some way. I mean, I’m sure that a lot of people talk about stress, health, and wellness in their daily conversations with their co-workers, but I don’t know how many other opportunities exist where the goal of the office is to promote different health and wellness techniques and information. I’m really grateful to have been given this opportunity, and I enjoy the hours that I am able to come into the office each week to work.

Q). How do you think your work for/with Beu Health Education will help you in your future career?
First, I feel as though working with social media will turn out to be an important experience. We are living in a world today where the many different types of social media play an important role in our lives. People seem to be attached to their phones, constantly checking for Facebook and Twitter updates. While some may view this as a negative aspect–given that it seems as though there can be a dependence on technology at times–it is also a great opportunity to do a lot of good. If there are good messages that can be sent out through different outlets of social media, it is important to be using those in the right way.

I think the experiences I have had so far this semester have taught me some of the tools necessary to know how to use social media for good reasons. To have an understanding of social media and how to use it effectively, I think could be very important for me moving forward in whatever it is that I do.

Q). What are your future career plans?
Even though I am working toward my master’s degree in Western’s College Student Personnel program, I am still not sure what my future career plans really are. I decided to pursue this degree because I love working with others and especially because of the opportunity to be able to work on a college campus. College just seems to be such a fun and unique environment to be in, so I can see myself continuing to work in some capacity in student affairs. I’m not sure where I will end up after completing my master’s program here, but I know I want to be working with others in a position where I am able to make a positive impact on others’ lives.

Q). Anything else you think should be included/highlighted I didn’t ask you about?
I would just like to share that there are so many great opportunities and services offered here in Beu Health Education. I hope that students continue to utilize the different resources offered from this office. I wasn’t very aware of Beu Health Education before I became a practicum student here, but after working and seeing everything that goes on here, I now know there are some great services and resources that are beneficial to the WIU community. There are different outreach programs and presentations throughout the year, which are often conducted and implemented by student leaders from Beu Health Ed, and then there are also individual consultations available to help handle concerns, such as sleep management and tobacco cessation.

I encourage everyone to check out the office to see if there are any services provided that may be beneficial, even if only in a small way, to their daily health and well-being. Other than that, just make sure to follow us on Twitter @BeuHealthEd! And thank you very much for taking the time to let me share my experiences!

Playing for more than a score

That Peachey Thing: Western Shootout Game

On April 16, Western alum Joe Peachey’s game for iPhones and iPads, “Western Shootout,” was released via the iTunes App Store. Peachey, who finished his M.S. in WIU’s School of Computer Sciences last fall, said not only will 50 percent of the profits from “Western Shootout” be donated to the National Brain Tumor Society, but the apps and games he builds and sells through his new company, That Peachey Thing, will also all support a specific charity.

For avid gamers, the gaming experience — advancing to higher and higher levels, as well as achieving higher and higher scores — often drive the desire to play. But for Western Illinois University alumnus Joe Peachey, a game he recently published in Apple’s iTunes App Store, his desire to design a game that enables gamers to “play for something bigger” started with his own experience with a malignant brain tumor he had as a child and with a course he took in his graduate program in Western’s School of Computer Sciences.

On April 16, Peachey’s game, “Western Shootout” was released via iTunes. Peachey, who finished his M.S. in computer science last fall, said not only will 50 percent of the profits from “Western Shootout” be donated to a worthy cause (the National Brain Tumor Society), but the apps and games he builds and sells through his new company, That Peachey Thing, will also all support a specific charity.

“The idea behind ‘That Peachey Thing’ is to give 50 percent of the profits from any app made to a specific charity,” Peachey noted. “Each app will support a different cause. This way, others may play for something they feel passionate about. The idea is to let people play for something bigger than just high scores.”

Recently, Peachey provided some background about his new game, how he started it, and why he started his new company.

Western Shootout by Joe Peachey

Western Shootout can be purchased/downloaded from iTunes for iPhones and iPads. See the game preview at itunes.apple.com/us/app/western-shootout/id513810420.

Q). Tell me a little bit about yourself and your background at WIU: How did you get into building games? What are your professional pursuits in computer sciences and/or game development?

My undergraduate degree is in psychology with a minor in computer science from Olivet Nazarene University. After graduation, I decided to pursue my master’s degree in computer science. I am from the Midwest, and WIU allowed me the convenience of being close to home with an opportunity to be a research assistant and teaching assistant.

Originally, my plan was to study network security. During my last semester, I took Computer Graphics 465G. This class piqued my interest and laid the groundwork for my first app, “Western Shootout.” In February, I set up a small business, That Peachey Thing, to make apps and games. I recently took a job with Tata Consultancy Services as an iOS developer. I will be working on enterprise level iPad/iPhone applications.

Western Shootout by Joe Peachey: Game Play

Peachey’s “Western Shootout” game started as a project for his Computer Graphics 465G course. “I needed a final project that involved logic or a game. My friend and I were talking about learning iOS development, and I decided to use the iOS platform to do my final project,” he said.

Q). What gave you the idea for “Western Shootout”? Will you eventually publish it on the Android platform?

Western Shootout started as a project for Computer Graphics 465G. I needed a final project that involved logic or a game. My friend and I were talking about learning iOS development, and I decided to use the iOS platform to do my final project. My hope was to keep the game play simple enough to learn the basics of iOS development but also make it intriguing and fun to play. It started as an idea to shoot just one cowboy. My final project was just one cowboy and the player had 10 seconds to shoot him.

After graduation, I decided to finish the project and publish it to the App Store. Now there are a total of 36 levels across three different difficulties and three shooting galleries varying in difficulty. The game’s levels are simple: shoot all the ” bad guys” before time runs out. In the shooting galleries, the objective is to get a high score by shooting as many “bad guys” as possible in two minutes. The shooting galleries are a way to compete against friends via Apple’s Game Center. Eventually, I may work a little bit in the Android space. For now I will concentrate on my job as an iOS developer and see what the future holds.

Q). Why are you donating 50 percent of the profits you earn from Western Shootout to the National Brain Tumor Society?

At the age of eight, I began to experience seizures. It was discovered two years later that the seizures were caused by a malignant brain tumor. It was not until I was 11 years old that the brain tumor was removed. This was a very challenging and difficult time in my life and the lives of my family.

A vivid memory I have is just before surgery, I looked at my worried, but smiling, mom and wanted to reassure her that I would be okay. I told her, “Don’t worry mom, if I don’t see you when I wake up, I will see you in heaven.” I will never forget the peace I had before the surgery. After surgery I was completely healed and have not had any complications since. Many friends and family were praying for me and I truly believe God saved my life for a purpose. I believe God plans to use That Peachey Thing as a way for me to help others. Giving back to the National Brain Tumor Society is just one way I can begin to give back.

Q). What did you enjoy most about the process of developing the game?

Dealing with the graphics was a lot of fun. The graphics are what got me excited about developing in the iOS environment. Making something that other people would enjoy to play is also rewarding.

Q). Any advice for students or professionals interested in developing games and/or applications (for Apple or Android platform)?

Do not be afraid to try something… just start. There are a lot of resources and people out there to help you along the way. A lot of things I learned came from blogs, stackoverflow.com, and other iOS Developers. Also, ask for help. There are a lot of people with different skills that have developed apps or want to learn more about the iOS platform. At WIU, Jacob Thurman has also developed apps for the App Store and was always willing to help. Toward the end of the development, I was getting help from a graphic artist, Jeff Barbee, and a musician, Lyndon Perry. Both were just dying to get into the iOS space. The more we collaborated; the more excited we became; therefore, the game just got better and better.

Visit That Peachey Thing at www.thatpeacheything.com