Starting the semester off right

by guest blogger Dan Dankert, graduate assistant, WIU-QC Student Services

Note: For some advice on starting off a successful semester, we turned to Dan Dankert, who started a food pantry on campus (which can be found online here and on Facebook). Dankert was able to launch such a venture while serving at WIU-QC as an Americorps volunteer, and enjoyed his time here so much, he decided to stay and enroll as a graduate student in college student personnel.

Guest Blogger Profile

Undergraduate degree: in Political Science from Central College (Pella, IA); graduation year- 2016
Hometown: Davenport, Iowa
Favorite hobbies and interests: Esports, Fantasy Football, Volunteering, Politics
Photo of male student sitting outdoors

Dankert, who started a food pantry on campus, knows about getting involved

The second week of classes is already in full swing. You have met your professors, read your syllabi (hopefully), and befriended some of your classmates. You now have 15+ weeks to go until the end of the semester, and hopefully the end of a great one. College is all about learning, growing, and experiencing. If you want to have the best semester possible, here just a few tips.

  1. Get Connected to Campus

    The students who have the most fulfilling college experience are students who connect with campus. You can do this in a bevy of ways. The easiest ways are to attend events on campus or join student organizations. Connecting to campus is a great way to meet new people, and find cool new activities. One of the coolest examples of this is the Academic Club for Engineering and all of the fun events they put on each year. They have some events like board game nights that are social, l and they have panels that are much more educational.

  2. Push Your Comfort Zone

    When I was in high school, I was not very involved with clubs or organizations. I was on the football team and that was about it. When I first stepped on campus my freshman year of college, that all changed. I quickly got involved with student government, mock trial, the Esports club, and many more. At first it was difficult balancing school, work, and activities, but by pushing my boundaries I grew in my abilities and as a person.

  3. Always Look Ahead

    Do you know what homework is due in all of your classes this week? What about next week? Are you going to be out of town all weekend? Do you normally do most of your homework for the next week on the weekend? It’s so easy to fall behind your classes if you aren’t looking ahead. It’s crucial to know what homework you have over the next several weeks so that you can work ahead if you need to. This is probably most important near the end of the semester when book reports, semester papers, semester projects, and finals all seem to be due at the same time. One of the ways to keep all of your classes and projects organized is to put important due dates on your Google Calendar that you get just by being a WIU student. It’s a great place to keep all of the most important dates to remember both for school and for your life outside of school.

  4. Be Respectful

    You are in college now and there is a certain level of maturity expected of all students. It’s important to treat your professors, classmates, and campus staff with respect. This tip is a great tip for succeeding in college but also in life. One way this might come up is if you have to miss school and you know about it ahead of time. By being polite and talking with the professor about it can make a big difference. You will most likely have to do some sort of makeup and the professor can give you plenty of time to get it done before you ever miss school. Also, by being mature and telling the professor ahead of time, you can build a rapport with them.

  5. Be Engaged

    This might be the best tip of all. It’s so easy to take days off, or skimp on readings here and there. But it’ss vital to always be engaged with everything that you do. If you’re doing readings for class and you realize you were dozing off, don’t keep reading, go back and make sure you understand all of the material. If you are in class and there is a discussion going on, make sure you are listening to everyone’s points and try to bring a unique viewpoint to the conversation if you can. When you are engaged you are learning and when you are learning you are succeeding.

    Ultimately your college path will be decided by you. You decide how much time you want to spend on campus connecting with student organizations and your fellow students. Finally, you decide how much fun you will have on campus. The possibilities for learning and fun are endless here on WIU-QC all you have to do is seize them.

Do you have tips and advice to share with current or prospective students? Are you a graduate who can share some thoughts about what led to your success? To suggest a post, contact Public Information Specialist Alison McGaughey at ar-mcgaughey@wiu.edu.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Meet Michelle Howe from WIU’s Career Development Center

Michelle Howe

Michelle Howe (right), her husband Matt (a 2009 graduate of WIU’s School of Agriculture), and their Future Leatherneck daughter, Macie. Michelle is an assistant director in Western’s Career Development Center, which provides career services for WIU students and alumni.

Ever wish you had a go-to person to help you with career advice or to critique your r?sum??

As one of the dedicated members of the Western Illinois University Career Development Center (CDC) staff, CDC Assistant Director Michelle Howe is one of these “go-to” individuals who students (as well as WIU Alumni) seek out for help when it comes to preparing for a job search and the employment-searching process itself.

Michelle, who is also a WIU alumna, graciously agreed to be featured for the second installment of the Council of Administrative Personnel (COAP) Employee Spotlight, a monthly feature (sponsored by the COAP organization) to showcase the varied jobs, talents, services, and resources COAP employees do, have, provide, and share as employees of Western. (Read the inaugural installment, “Meet One Tough (and Fun) Mudder: Tim Hallinan” at wiurelations.wordpress.com/2015/02/10/coap-spotlight-hallinan/.)

Learn more about Michelle and what she does at Western’s CDC below.

•••••••••

Q. Tell me a bit about your background. How did your employment with WIU come about?

Michelle: I attended WIU as a transfer student to complete my bachelor of science degree in agriculture. At the time, I was engaged to a local Lewistown farmer, Matt [who is also a WIU alum], and I knew I would be living in this area. I decided to attend graduate school at WIU to pursue a new career in student affairs, rather than agriculture. I graduated from the WIU’s College Student Personnel program in 2011 and was fortunate to apply for a job at the Career Development Center, where I had completed my two years as a graduate assistant.

Working in career development was the reason I decided to apply for the CSP program, so I am very blessed to be working at the CDC today! WIU has been a great place to learn, grow, and develop lifelong friendships.

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

Michelle: As with most jobs, my days are not always “typical,” but my main responsibility as the assistant director is to assist students with the job search and career development process. Many days are spent in one-on-one sessions with students, advising them on career planning (deciding which career path to take and figuring out what they should “do” at WIU to be prepared for this career field) and advising them on job-searching strategies. This includes critiquing r?sum?s, cover letters, graduate school essays, and other professional correspondence.

I also conduct mock interviews with students to give them constructive feedback on their interviewing skills using an iPad, so that they can see their strengths and areas for improvement. I also teach students how to use LinkedIn as a professional networking and job searching tool. Each week, I also conduct daytime/evening workshops to student organizations, classrooms, fraternities/sororities, etc., on career development topics, especially LinkedIn. Each semester, I teach a career-preparation class, which teaches the job-searching process to students.

Throughout the year, I serve on a few committees, conduct outreach efforts to academic departments, research current trends in career development, write newsletter articles on behalf of the office, create flyers for our workshops and other events, and supervise the CDC graduate assistants.

That is what I love about my job–I do so many different things each day that it keeps my life interesting!

Q. What are some of the best aspects of your job? What are some of the most challenging aspects?

The best thing about my job is the PEOPLE! Most of the students I work with are hard-working students, who just need a little guidance on their job searches. Many of our students are first-generation college students, and since I was also a first-gen student, I can relate to how they are feeling about college and about the job-searching process. Some of the students visit me more than once, to make sure their interviewing skills are getting better, or to get new advice on their future goals.

It is rewarding to see a student get the job he or she was hoping for, or land an interview for an internship.

I also LOVE my coworkers and appreciate the uniqueness we each bring to the CDC… we are definitely a family!

The most challenging aspect about my job is seeing students who NEVER stop by the CDC to get help with the job-searching process. Some students don’t know our office exists, some do not think they need help with their r?sum?s, and others plan to make an appointment and do not follow through. I wish every student would stop by our office at least once!

Q. What do you like to do in your time away from work?

Michelle: Though I am professionally fulfilled by working at WIU, my heart is at home! I have an 18-month old daughter, Macie, who is an energetic, lovable, stubborn toddler. Recently, we purchased a bike with a trailer and plan to ride around with Macie and make bike riding a new hobby.

I enjoy spending time with my husband on our rural Lewistown farm, where we raise cows, corn, soybeans, and wheat. Together, we enjoy doing landscaping and home improvement projects. We love to have family and friends stop by the farm to ride in the John Deere gator, sit on the deck to watch the fire pit, and enjoy the scenery.

I also enjoy reading books, watching movies, and shopping for good deals at garage sales! I am also very active in my faith and enjoy going to church and studying the Bible.

Q. What is your favorite quote?

Michelle: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” — Steve Jobs

International Student Success Spotlight: Omotola Ashafa

Western Illinois University international graduate student Omotola Ashafa’s interest in public health first began when she served in Nigeria’s National Youth Service Corps.

Omotola Ashafa at Hueco Tanks State Park in El Paso, TX

Omotola Ashafa, an international graduate student studying public health at Western Illinois University, recently traveled with the WIU Campus Students for Christ group to Hueco Tanks State Park in El Paso, TX (pictured in the background) on their way to a mission trip to Juarez, Mexico.

“I was deployed to a rural area in Southwest Nigeria. This opened my eyes to how prevention medicine could, and will, greatly benefit a rural community,” she said.

Currently a graduate student in Western’s public health M.S. program (situated in the health sciences and social work department), Omotola hopes to get a job (after she completes her master’s degree) in health program intervention or as a wellness program coordinator.

“My ultimate goal is to become a community health director and health program coordinator in rural communities in my country,” Omotola noted.

Omotola recently took time out of her busy graduate-student schedule and answered a few questions about herself, her time here at Western, and a recent mission trip she took with WIU’s Campus Students for Christ group to Juarez, Mexico.

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

Omotola: During the time I was in college for my bachelor’s degree, I knew I was going to pursue my graduate degree right after finishing my undergraduate degree. What I didn’t know then was where–until my mum brought up the idea of going to study in United States, and it kind of stuck with me. She mentioned to me that I should meet with her friend who is familiar with schools in U.S. I met with him, and he told me about WIU and two other universities. I applied to all three schools, but I was particularly taken by the swift response I got from Western. The international admission officer was very helpful and answered my questions no matter how silly I felt they were. Then I found out about the Nigerians and other international students on campus… all this just made my “pros” list for WIU even longer.

Omotola and WIU student members of Campus Students for Christ

Omotola and WIU student members of Campus Students for Christ

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

Omotola: I had not been outside of my country until I came to the U.S. Even though I already speak English (because English is our official language in Nigeria), people had a difficult time understanding me because of my accent. In my head, all I wanted to do was shout at them and say, “If only you will be patient, then you will understand that we are speaking the same language.”

I must acknowledge that international student orientation was a great help with my adjusting to the new environment and meeting people. The volunteers and staff were great, and it was at this time I met another student from Nigeria, and he really helped me understand the way things work around campus and other things he knew that I was unfamiliar with. I must say that most people I met recently after I got here where very helpful and nice and this made settling in easier for me.

I did experience some culture shock, like riding in the bus and hearing curse words being used, but nothing really major, and making friends really did help me adjust.

Q. What are your favorite courses and why? Who or are your favorite instructors and why?

Omotola: My favorite courses are my emergency management classes, epidemiology and health behavior theory. Emergency management has always been fascinating to me, mostly because it involves a lot of hands-on experiences; I even took certificate courses in Nigeria. It was fun to use theories to understand human behavior in my health behavior theory class and try to develop models to alter unhealthy behavior. I am familiar with infectious disease because of where I am from, but this made understanding epidemiology a little bit easier.

WIU Campus Students for Christ preparing to help build a house on a mission trip the group took to Juarez, Mexico, in January.

WIU Campus Students for Christ preparing to help build a house on a mission trip the group took to Juarez, Mexico, in January.

Two professors I adore are Dr. Wen and Dr. Johnson. Dr. Wen because she readily offers to help in every step of the way, breaks confusing complex things to simple teachings for you to understand, and she is also full encouragement until you get it right. Dr. Johnson, because at first he makes it seem hard and forces you to push your limit, which I really like. They have been both very helpful.

Q. Tell me about the mission trip you recently took to Mexico: what organization did you travel with? Why did you want to take part in this trip? What kind of work/mission did you do while you were there?

Omotola: The Nigerian student I met during orientation week introduced me to a campus ministry at WIU called Campus Students for Christ (CSC), which is a student organization. This organization has been really good to me, and the members have been a major part of my adjustment to WIU. I currently live in the CSC house.

Omotola Ashafa in Juarez, Mexico

Omotola helping to build a house on a recent WIU Campus Students for Christ mission trip to Juarez, Mexico.

This student organization, CSC, takes a group of student to Juarez, Mexico, every year to build a house for a family who cannot afford one. I showed up to an interest meeting for the trip in 2014, because I thought will be a great opportunity and a memorable experience, but I did not go because I could not afford the trip. I also thought crossing the border could be a challenge, because I am international student.

I did not make it to the interest meeting for the 2015 trip because of a conflicting meeting, and I thought the trip was going to be at a time when I was to start work for graduate assistantship duties.

It was until I was talking to Barry Reed, the director of the Campus Ministry, and also the staff leading the group to Mexico. He told me the trip will be from Jan 3-10, and I resumed work Jan 11, so it worked out fine. He also told me that there was full funding for a student if he/she is interested. This was a donation from a family member that knows about CSC. This was very exciting news for me to get this opportunity and I did not have plans for the break anyway.

WIU Campus Students for Christ in Juarez, Mexico, January 2015

Members of WIU’s Campus Students for Christ group pose in front of the house they built on a recent trip to Juarez, Mexico.

The trip was fun, exhausting, and awesome at the same time. We visited Hueco Tanks State Park in El Paso, TX, before we crossed into Mexico. We were in Mexico for four days, and we built a house and gave some donations we had taken with us to the family. We started with a flat ground surface, and by the time we were done on the third day, there was a house standing.

We did all the work: we cleared the ground for foundation, built the walls and roof, insulated them, put them up, put in the dry wall, put in electric wire and appliances, before it actually started to come together and looked like a house. I remember looking at the house and was so proud of myself to have been a part of that. We presented the keys for the house to the family and prayed with them and we also gave them some donations. It was AWE-INSPIRING!

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.

Alum gets dream job at Grant’s Farm

From the time Katie Vecchi was a small child, she knew she wanted to work with animals. Her childhood wish has come to fruition, thanks, in part, to her studies at WIU.

Katie Vecchi, who earned her post-baccalaureate certificate (PBC) in zoo and aquarium studies in 2012 through WIU's Department of Biological Sciences, is an elephant keeper/trainer at Grant's Farm in St. Louis (MO).

Katie Vecchi, who earned her post-baccalaureate certificate (PBC) in zoo and aquarium studies in 2012 through WIU’s Department of Biological Sciences, is an elephant keeper/trainer at Grant’s Farm in St. Louis (MO). She is posed here with Bud.

Since last year, Katie has worked as an elephant keeper/trainer at Grant’s Farm (based in St. Louis, MO), a position she calls her “dream” job and one she landed, in part, because of the post-graduate work–resulting in her post-baccalaureate certificate (PBC) in zoo and aquarium studies in 2012–she did at Western.

In an email message she sent to Jeanette Thomas, a professor in WIU’s Department of Biological Sciences and the coordinator of the department’s PBC program in zoo and aquarium studies , Katie told her former teacher about how her graduate studies at WIU helped her get her Grant’s Farm gig.

“My boss informed me whenever I was hired that my graduate certificate and especially some of the classes that I took at Western made me one of the top candidates for the position right off the bat. So I truly appreciate all of your guidance and help. I think that you and WIU have really helped me achieve all of my goals,” she wrote to Dr. Thomas.

Since starting at Grant’s Farm last year as a temporary employee, Katie has been hired as a full-time, permanent employee. Recently, she shared with me a bit more about her background, how she learned about the position at Grant’s Farm, and what she does daily these days in her “dream” job.

Q. What interested you in studying animal biology? When did you receive your undergraduate degree?

I grew up in Western Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh. From the time I was a small child I knew I wanted to work with animals, so I decided I wanted to become an animal trainer. I tried to learn as much as I could about the animals that interested me. Through this passion, I was able to get my first few jobs working with animals in Pittsburgh while I was still in high school. I volunteered at the National Aviary and volunteered, interned, and worked at the Pittsburgh Zoo. I then moved to Florida, where I attended Saint Leo University (just north of Tampa Bay). I received a dual bachelor’s of science degree in biology and environmental science, with a minor in psychology, in 2010. During my time in college, I also volunteered at Lowry Park Zoo and a small carnivore sanctuary by my university.

Q. What interested you about WIU’s PBC program in zoo and aquarium studies?

Though most jobs in my field only require an undergraduate degree, going to graduate school was one of my own goals. I wanted to enroll in a program that would help me grow and develop in my profession. I thought WIU’s program was perfect. I believe the classes I took to obtain my certificate will help me throughout my career. For example, the animal training class I took not only has helped me with training at my job at Grant’s Farm, but it also has helped me to obtain the job itself. Also, I like that we were required to take business classes. I know that as I move up in my career, I will have to take on additional responsibilities. These classes, I think, have helped me prepare for this.

Q. How did your job at Grant’s Farm come about?

Grant’s Farm posted a position for an elephant intern on the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ website. The post was for a paid, full-time position, which would last from April through November of 2012. I applied for the position in February [2012], which was followed my two additional interview processes. I was offered the job in March. Throughout my time as the intern in the department, I was able to grow and develop as an elephant trainer. Also, my superiors were impressed with my knowledge and abilities. Toward the end of my internship, I was informed that some changes were being made in my department and a new position would be available. I was then offered the job to stay on as permanent, full-time staff member.

Q. What kinds of tasks make up your day?

The large majority of my day at Grant’s Farm is cleaning and husbandry care for our elephants. We have both barns and outside exhibits to clean each day. We also prepare diets, clean staff and preparation areas, move large amounts of hay and food, and keep very detailed records of our animals. And we perform three shows each day that we are open, as well. I can act as either the speaker of the show or the elephant handler. Additionally, we do training, medical procedures, and enrichment.

Q. How do you think your studies at WIU helped you get the full-time position at Grant’s Farm?

I believe the classes at WIU gave me a huge advantage. The class I believe helped me the most is the animal training class. That course enabled me to come to the position with an extensive knowledge or training and previous training experience. It also allowed me to prove my abilities as a trainer while training new behaviors to our elephants. Additionally, classes such as mammalogy gave me a greater understanding of not only elephants but other animals at Grant’s Farm, which makes me a better asset for the education of our visitors. Finally, the classes that focused on the business and backgrounds of zoos allowed me to have a better understanding of the way these facilities run. I believe that this is not only helpful now in my career, but will also be later on.

Q. Future plans?

I am very happy with my position at Grant’s Farm. My dream job was to work with African elephants, and I have been very lucky in the sense that shortly after completing the WIU program, I was able to obtain my dream job. I would like to continue to grow as an elephant trainer and handler into the future, and I am looking forward to where that will take me. I also participated in the Shedd Aquarium internship while I was completing my WIU certificate. I think being a part of the program helped me to obtain this position, as well.

Caring for Col. Rock

Col. Rock, the newest member of the Leatherneck family, hasn’t even arrived on campus yet and already he’s a star. But once he gets here, where will he live? Who will take care of him?

picture of Colonel Rock at 8 weeks old

Col. Rock, here at 8 weeks old, will arrive in Macomb on Saturday, May 15.

picture of Joe Roselieb

Joe Roselieb, assistant director of residential facilities, will welcome Col. Rock to his new home.

While the 10-week-old bulldog puppy will one day have the important job of riding in convertibles during Homecoming parades and making the rounds at football games, he still, of course, will need an “assistant.”

Enter Joe Roselieb, Western’s assistant director of residential facilities. Roselieb should have plenty of school spirit to be up to the job: he graduated from WIU with bachelor of arts in interdisciplinary studies in 2007, was hired to his position in 2008, and earned a master’s degree in recreation, park and tourism administration (RPTA) in 2009.

Find out how he became the keeper of Colonel Rock–and leave us your comments and questions–below!

Q&A

Can you tell us how you got this important new addition to your job duties?

It started with one of our football players, Victor Visoky, (a senior law enforcement and justice administration major from Northbrook, IL) when he was thinking of a way to try to generate more school spirit. Victor is from a big bulldog family; they have three they’ve adopted, rescued, or inherited. Then Victor bought one from the Siess Ranch in Kansas. Anyway, he was thinking about Western having that tradition of a four-legged mascot like some schools have, and his dad, George, just kind of took off. He contacted the Siess Ranch, he contacted the local [veterinarians], he got everyone on board. So then it came down to, “Who’s gonna take care of it?” So then, my director, John Biernbaum (University Housing and Dining Services), was at a Leatherneck Club meeting, and they were talking about it and John brought up my name.

So why did your boss suggest you? Are you a dog lover?

Well, my grandmother runs an animal shelter in Sterling (IL), and we always had animals when I was growing up. We’ve kind of accidentally become a lab family: we have three black labs. John loves them, too, and just because he’s my boss and we’ve talked about it before, he knew I was interested in dogs. I’ve always wanted a bulldog, but I knew they were kind of cashy–and my grandmother always said, “Don’t get a breed, get a rescued dog,” so that was always instilled in me. So then this opportunity came up. At first, I kind of met it with some resistance. I had three pages of questions, and when George called me we ended up talking for 45 minutes. After that, I was kind of excited and thought, “Why not?”

Will Col. Rock live with you in your house or apartment? Will he have a doghouse?

He’ll be indoors at my house. I bought my first house last March, and it’s really close to campus. I should never have an excuse not to come to work [laughs]. There’s a kennel in the house, there’s a big ‘W’ rug in front. It’s decorated with a Rocky logo above it just like the football players have above their lockers.

Are you going to have any help with taking care of him?

Yeah, my girlfriend will help out a little bit. She graduated from Western too, and she’s actually coming back here to do her master’s degree soon, so it’s perfect timing! I’ve found that so many people are excited about it, they just want to be part of it, be involved somehow. We’ve had a kennel in town offer to take care of him in case I ever need to leave for the weekend. I’m getting two to three people a day volunteering to babysit, walk him, etc., if I ever need help.

Will you be training the Colonel? Will he go to obedience school? What will be some of the day-to-day and larger responsibilities in taking care of him?

Obedience school is definitely on the plan. We’re still talking about it right now. I kind of want to get settled in, get to know him, get him into All Pets and get him checked out. Maybe we’ll do just a couple of sessions from some of the books that some of my grandma’s contacts have given me: just “sit,” “stay,” a few of those basic things. Potty training will be a big thing. That’s probably the biggest thing I’m not looking forward to.

Right now it will be about trying to get him acclimated to as many people as possible. It will be a little bit of a challenge to find events to take him to, since the school year just ended. But since he’s a puppy, he will naturally attract people when I’m out walking him, which will be nice. I’m going to bring him to Summer Orientation and Registration (SOAR), so that will take care of two things at once: get people excited about our new mascot, and also get him acclimated. It will also be about how I’m going to get him acclimated to environmental things he’ll need to become immune to, like… the cannon going off on the football game.

When will you actually meet your new “housemate”? How are you feeling about it right now?

I’m getting him at 11:30 a.m. on [May] 15th, [before Col. Rock will make his official debut at the Leathernecks Baseball game]. There are a lot of expectations. I know there’ll be some frustrations dealing with a new puppy, but I’m excited to see how people interact with him, how things go with him. I’m excited, I’m nervous…everything.