Recent grads on their ‘chain’ of successful events

What can a degree from WIU do for you?

For two students who came back to campus recently at WIU-QC, the answer is: find a solid career with one of the world’s most well-known corporations.

WIU-Quad Cities faculty and community leaders welcomed recent grads Jennifer Gibson (left) and Kim Goodwin (right) back to campus recently, where they reunited with their professor, James (a.k.a. “Jim”) Patterson, who serves as assistant dean/associate professor of the QC supply chain management — and was a warehouse supervisor before earning his Ph.D. and entering academia.


photo of professor Jim Patterson and students

Recent WIU-QC grads reunite with their professor, Jim Patterson, in Riverfront Hall

Gibson, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree, and Goodwin, who earned her MBA, both focusing on supply chain management, credited their coursework in areas such as warehouse management; and having required internships, for helping them secure employment as product buyers for John Deere Davenports Works. (The John Deere World Headquarters is based in nearby Moline, Illinois, where WIU-QC is located.)

“Those courses, and having professors who have had real-world experience in the industry, really prepared us,” she said. She also credited the opportunity to participate in a case competition, competing with students from other universities to solve an industry problem. “Things like that really help you develop the critical-thinking and decision- making that you use every day on the job.”

Gibson and Goodwin were invited back to campus recently for a Planning and Advisory Committee meeting, to detail ways that their degrees from WIU-QC, their internship experiences, and their real-world learning experiences in the program prepared them for their positions.

Make it a win for wine! Alumna’s small retail biz gets some big-time attention

Susan Kaufman, WIU Alumna and Proprietor of Market Alley Wines in Monmouth, IL

Kaufman’s small Monmouth-IL based business has recently gotten some big-time attention. She entered a video about Market Alley Wines in the National Retail Federation’s “This Is Retail” nationwide video contest. Vote for Market Alley Wines at

At age 45, Susan Kaufman found herself at a crossroads in her life. According to the Western alumna (Kaufman graduated from WIU in 1988 with her bachelor’s degree in mass communications and a minor in professional writing), she worked for many years as a journalist, left that career for a job in marketing, and realized that she “worked very hard selling a product that I wasn’t that enthusiastic about.” She decided she would be much happier working for herself.

And so Market Alley Wines was established.

Kaufman’s small wine retail business, based in Monmouth, IL, has recently received some big-time attention. She entered a video about Market Alley Wines in the National Retail Federation’s “This Is Retail” nationwide video contest, and, as of this week, her video is a top ten finalist. The winning video will garner the retailer a $25,000 prize. You can vote for Market Alley Wines, through Sunday, April 15, at

During all the excitement and, of course, running her busy small retail business, she was kind enough to take time of out her schedule and answer some questions about her retail venture and the video contest.

Q). When and why did you open Market Alley Wines?

I have always been a wine enthusiast, love working with people, and had retail experience, so it seemed like the right choice. I made the decision in February of last year to move forward with Market Alley Wines and opened June 7, 2011.

Q). Were you at all daunted by the fact you were opening a small business in a difficult economy and in, what some would call, an even more difficult market in west central Illinois?

A small business in a small town in a bad economy. What could go wrong? Actually, not much has. I did a considerable amount of research in both the wine industry and the local economy, and both showed signs of potential. Monmouth was lacking a “destination” spot… a place where people gather, visit, and relax. I certainly did not enter into this business lightly. But Monmouth is like so many other small communities. We once had many thriving businesses downtown, and now there are very few businesses. I think people now get the reality that, to keep businesses in their communities, they have to support them. It doesn’t hurt that my wine shop is beautiful and comfortable.

Q). What do you consider the most challenging aspects of operating a small business like yours in a rural region?

There is often a perception that a small-town business will be “hill-billy” or crappy, but that isn’t always the case. So many times when people walk through the door for the first time, I hear them say they can’t believe the store is in Monmouth. It is an environment that beckons a big city, but with the charm of a rural downtown. Just because we are small town doesn’t mean we have to sacrifice quality.

Q). What did you do before opening your business in Monmouth?

I counted about 30 jobs from my first at age 13 as a corn detasseler to the present. It isn’t like I can’t keep a job, rather I kept struggling to find one that could hold all my interests. I love a job where every day is different and you never know what the day will bring. I love being creative. I love learning something new every day and sharing that knowledge. I love people and enjoy it so much when people leave my store happy. This job has all of those qualities, plus I am my own boss so my success depends on me. And I don’t have a dress code.

Susan Kaufman, WIU Alumna and Proprietor of Market Alley Wines in Monmouth, IL

Visit Market Alley Wines online at

Q). Why did you decide to enter your business into the “This Is Retail” video contest?

My entire life philosophy the past few years has been “What do I have to lose?” And after I heard about the contest, I thought my story had some legs.

Q). If you win the contest, what will you do with the money you win?

I would love to start a yearly wine and music festival in downtown Monmouth. Something that could give back to this awesome community but also bring new people into our town that could help other businesses.

Q). Anything else you think is important to highlight?

I tried to model my business on those places that I love frequenting. The kind of place where every time you go in, there is something new. A place where the owner or workers know me and know what I like. A place that is inviting, clean, smells nice and plays great music.

I think I’ve done so well in this contest because we are in a small community in the Midwest. We stick together and support our own. I’ve really been so touched by all the support I’ve received.

Students purchase more than $300 in groceries for local food pantries

If you happened to shopping for groceries at a local store yesterday, you might have gotten in line behind a group of shoppers with six carts, and who were trying to calculate their expenses with a calculator–but they were actually working for a great cause, not just holding up the line!

[More, after these photos]

photo of WIU Management students with food donation

photo of Management class delivering food

On Tuesday, Nov. 2, nine WIU freshmen and their instructors shopped together at a grocery store in Macomb, filling carts with more than $300 worth of groceries including canned vegetables, peanut butter and other staples.

But it wasn’t to stock up their own residence hall rooms for the winter months.

Beginning in late October, students in four sections of Management 125Y, Business and Technology in a Global Society–a class offered through Western’s First Year Experience (FYE) program–sold 50/50 raffle tickets to benefit local food pantries. These nine students (above) volunteered to take the proceeds to the store and purchase groceries for disadvantaged families in the area. And as the holiday season approaches, this project was in addition to the Black Student Association’s ongoing Thanksgiving Basket Project, in conjunction with the annual Cans Across America Drive.

Instructors Jeri Harper, Becky Mahr and Cathy Onion came up with the idea for the raffle project.

“Considering the current economic climate, the students involved are receptive to the idea of giving back to the community they live in,” Mahr said. “Since a majority of today’s businesses stress social responsibility, this project prepares students to volunteer and assume an active role in making a difference.”

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WIU alumna enjoys new ‘roll’: power-packing player for the Peoria Push

WIU alumna Lisa Kerr recently described herself as having been a “band nerd” in high school–and one of those kids who wanted to stay “under the radar” in the (often cruel) high school social hierarchy.

But when she got to college, she gained more confidence. Today, Kerr, now 32, has no problem showing off. According to a recent story from the Galesburg Register-Mail, Kerr is one of a number of professional women who’ve found a passion for strutting their stuff on skates.

Kerr, who graduated from WIU with a bachelor’s degree in business in 1999, now lives in Peoria (Ill.) and works for Marquette Group as a team leader. She also owns her own business on the side. And now that she’s a derby girl with the Peoria Push League, she’s got a philosophy for having fun and being the person she wants to be:

“…skate hard, give some hits, take some hits and have fun with other women looking for the same thing.”

To find out more of Kerr’s story, read reporter Tom Leowy’s full Register-Mail article here. If you liked learning about Western’s alumna skating to success, click ‘share,’ on Facebook or Twitter (below), or follow us by subscribing (click the orange icon at the top of the page, or sign-up for an e-mail notification)!

screen shot of Lisa Kerr

Screen shot of Register-Mail story

Screen shot of Register-Mail story

Western grad opens heart, home to Haitian children

WIU graduate Patrick Leyendeckers and his wife, Mervi, were inspired to consider international adoption for a number of reasons. One of those factors can at least partially be credited to Patrick’s time at Western.

“One of the things the instructors always instilled in us was to try to look at things from a global perspective, and … it’s always in the back of my mind,” said Leyendeckers, who graduated from WIU from 1998 with a degree in accounting. “[Another factor was] my wife and I came to the conclusion, before we started this process, that we can’t change the world, but, we can change the world for two or three kids. That’s kind of what got us to where we are.”

picture of Leyendeckers family

Patrick, far right, with Kenlley, Mervi, Dieunika, and Modeline at Dieunika's 13th-birthday celebration

Patrick came to WIU as a non-traditional student. After graduating from high school, he joined the Navy, an experience that ultimately led to the Leyendeckers’ marriage.

“After three years active duty, I bought one of those two-month rail passes around Europe, and that’s when I met Mervi. She’s from Finland,” he explained.

Patrick earned a degree in industrial technology from Buffalo State College in New York. After he and Mervi relocated to Quincy (IL), their son, Derrick, was born. Patrick enrolled at WIU soon after, taking classes part-time so he could help with raising his son on the days when he didn’t have classes. His degree in accounting led to work as an auditor for the IL Agriculture Auditing Association. Today, Patrick works for a trucking company, a career switch he made in part to have more flexible hours to accommodate his new family life.

“We had always talked about adoption,” he explained. “My wife [went to Haiti in 2006], and it was life-changing for her. There were literally orphans all over the place. And keep in mind that was long before the earthquake.”

picture of Leyendeckers family

To find out more of Patrick Leyendeckers’ story–including how their family was impacted by the devastating earthquake— look for a feature in the upcoming issue of Western News, the quarterly newsletter for alumni and friends. The June issue will arrive in mailboxes soon, and will also be posted online here.

Taking ag to a whole new horizon

For WIU alumnus John Carroll, farming is a family tradition, but now his family’s tradition is to do something …non-traditional.

Carroll received his bachelor’s (business-agriculture ’02) and master’s (MBA’03) from WIU, where he met his wife, Kelly (Kaufman) Carroll ’03 (accountancy).

And while business and agriculture students may already be prepped for changing markets, Carroll is applying his educational background and family history to a whole new level: farming in Brazil.

As he explained in a recent story from the Quincy (IL) Herald-Whig, (Carroll is a native of the west central Illinois region), Carroll is now CEO of the family farming operation, which includes managing about 20,000 acres of cotton, as well as 9,000 acres of soybeans, in South America.John Carroll in Brazil

“I’d never seen a cotton plant until I went to Brazil,” Carroll said.
Carroll Farms Brazil now owns 8,000 acres and share-crops the rest with U.S. landowners in the state of Bahia, about five hours northeast of Brasilia, the country’s capitol.

Why Brazil?

And how did he get there?

To find out how a Midwestern farm boy become a CEO in another country, read the full story here.

(Check out Western’s business and agriculture programs on our web site at

How is it possible to be a college student and work with the Secret Service?

Business major and U.S. Army reservist Nicole Suthard can tell you how.soldier girl

Suthard, from Wheaton, IL, featured in this recent article from the Western Courier, is attending Western Illinois University while also serving her country.

Sometimes that means having to put school on hold.

But Suthard is getting an education of its own sort in her military duties.

“I have been responsible for people, equipment and millions of dollars, sometimes under extreme circumstances, but each time has given me a building block to become a more dynamic person,” she says in the article.

(Read the rest here.)

Suthard credits WIU staff and faculty with helping her balance both school and military duties.

(And she’s not alone in doing so. Check out our recent nod from G.I. Jobs Magazine here.)