What do you call a ‘jungle gym’ when it’s actually in a …marsh? These RPTA students can tell you.

A group of Western Illinois University-Quad Cities students recently put the finishing touches on a project that gave them class credit for working outdoors, creating something for kids, and improving a part of the Quad Cities community.

And perhaps even more interesting for nature-lovers: they did the entire thing with almost 100-percent natural materials.

“My classmates and I were taking a geographic information system (GIS) class last fall (2016), Site Planning, and we had to design something for our final project,” explained Maddie Kull, a senior recreation, park and tourism administration (RPTA) major from Morrison, IL. “It just so happened that around the same time, Nahant Marsh received a donation to create a natural play area for children who visit the marsh.”

Kull and the rest of the group members worked from the beginning of their class in the fall semester, and into the summer, to create an all-natural “playscape.”

“Nahant wanted an area that was safe and engaging which would spotlight the area’s natural landscape,” added Jennifer Swofford, an RPTA major from Coal Valley, IL. “The request fit perfectly with our class’s emphasis on wise land-use through inclusive community recreation and conservation.”

Maddie Kull at the Nahant Marsh “playscape”

What’s That Word?

“We use the word “playscape” instead of “playground” because, rather than this being an area separate from its surroundings in what it offers, it blends the natural elements of the marsh into a space that encourages free play and imaginative interaction with the environment,” Swofford explained. “Many of us on the project have very fond memories of playing in nature as children, so this allowed us tap into our experiences in a fun and creative way.”

photo of an outdoor playground made of all-natural materials

Wiki-up and wingspan: Nahant Marsh all-natural playscape created by WIU-QC students

What’s That Stuff?

The all-natural playscape consists of

  • a living fence made of different bushes all with edible fruits,
  • a large balance beam,
  • stepping stumps,
  • a wikki-up, which is a Native American hut made up of brushwood or covered with mats (“We created ours with willow saplings from the marsh,” Kull explained),
  • a loose play-area where children can play with cut-up pieces of small logs, and
  • bird silhouettes kids on which kids measure their “wingspan”

But Didn’t They Have to Kill Some Nature to Make Something out of Nature?

“Most of the materials used to make this project were gathered here at the marsh,” said Jevonnah Prashaw, Nahant Marsh Education Center natural resources manager, who oversaw the construction.They cut willows and used them to make the wikki, the stepping stones, and balance beam, and the loose play logs were all from trees here at the marsh that were taken down either because they were hazard trees or were non-native (a lot of it was mulberry, green ash, and boxelder). The ‘living border’ around the playscape is made of native shrubs, including aronia berry, hazelnut, serviceberry, and crab-apple.”

Prashaw noted the improvement that the playscape brings to the site. “It adds an enriching experience to the younger children that visit the marsh and gives them a chance to play with and experience natural materials in a safe learning environment,” she said.

Another fulfilling achievement from the project was working with RiverStone Group of Moline to secure a donation of crushed limestone to use as substrate, said Kull, who is also minoring in environmental studies.

“The best thing about this project for me was being part of it every step of the way,” Kull said. “I was there from the very beginning until the very end, and it’s wonderful seeing your ideas actually come to life!”

What RPTA Work Is All About, Inside and Outside the Classroom

“The class project was designed around wise land-use,” Swofford said. “There were so many things that I enjoyed both while in the class and while doing the project. The class is extremely helpful in focusing on all of the considerations that arise during park planning. Not only do you learn about the physical and technical aspects of planning through GIS, but you also incorporate the human and conservation side of planning that allows you better serve the community in a thoughtful and educated way.”

Swofford said she also enjoyed putting the classroom work into a collaborative, practical application.

“We worked as a team to create, work, and present our plan as would any company,” she said. “It was very helpful in shining a light on what we are able to do well and what considerations we should make in the future. Our professor, Rob Porter, did an excellent job of guiding us when necessary, but giving us enough freedom to experience the project from a professional point of view.”

Swofford reflected on what she’ll take away from the project overall.

“The greatest thing I learned from both the project and the class is that wise land use is really a balancing act wherein you must consider many different elements of planning,” she said. “Recreation is not always about what attracts the most people to an area, but how well both the community and environment is cared for when they do come. Effective planners have to take into account all aspects of a landscape and community to bring a service that will be both fun and functional, while being considerate of the surrounding environment.”

Summer Love

Even once the project was finished, Kull was happy to remain at the Marsh this summer as an intern doing animal care as an intern.

“We have a variety of reptiles and amphibians that call the education center their home,” she said. “I also work on the natural resource team, working on restoring prairie and making sure the marsh is a thriving healthy ecosystem. I’ve fallen too deeply in love with the animals and the marsh to leave!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

WIU alumnus, zoo director in Ohio, involved in search for exotic animals

With headlines like “Exotic animals escape from Ohio farm” and “Schools closed as exotic animals prowl,” the situation that unfolded on Oct. 18 and 19 sounded like something straight from a movie rather than from actual news sources.

But the very real situation is that dozens of exotic animals, including lions, tigers and cheetahs, escaped from a Zanesville, Ohio preserve following the death of its owner. According to CNN.com, a number of animals thought to be dangerous were still on the loose as of 8:35 a.m. (EST) today (Oct. 19).

Tom Stalf, a WIU graduate, is among the officials trying to get the situation under control. Stalf, who until recently served as director of the Niabi Zoo in the Quad Cities, is now the senior vice president of the Columbus (Ohio) Zoo. The 1992 WIU alum was interviewed on TODAY this morning about the danger that these animals present on the loose.

Screen shot of Tom Stalf on Today show

Stalf earned a bachelor’s degree in biology with a minor geology from WIU. He left the QC area for Ohio only recently, according to KWQC.com, to take the position in Ohio. Watch him being interviewed on the TODAY show here. (Stalf’s interview begins at approximately the 2:35 mark).

‘Riding the wave of awareness’

‘Riding the wave of awareness’

Student helps organizes preventative screening for those in need

Kymberly Miller is excited about educating people on a topic that few like to talk about.

Miller, a non-traditional student who is taking courses at Western Illinois University-Quad Cities while working full-time for Trinity Regional Health System in Rock Island, Ill., organized a free colorectal cancer-screening event earlier this month for qualifying people in the Quad Cities region, the first event of its kind in the area. (Click here to see Miller receiving the Lujack’s Extra Mile Award on WQAD Channel 8).

Miller, who works in Trinity’s GI Lab, took on the additional responsibilities of an internship for the organization, through which she helped provide preventative screenings to the uninsured or to those would not have been able to afford the procedure otherwise. Since last fall, Miller has been working to coordinate donations, medical staff, and patients who meet the qualifications. Her efforts resulted in five doctors and 35 staff members volunteering their time on a Saturday (March 5, during Colon Cancer Awareness Month), providing preventative procedures to as many as 15 patients who could be at risk for the disease–which include factors such as family history and being over the age of 40.

“Our main goal with this has been to educate people, raise awareness, and provide the screening for people who’ve met the criteria,” she said. “Getting screened is the best way to diagnose cancer. There is no better way.”

(More, below the photo)

photo of Kymberly Miller
Kymberly Miller, WIU-QC student

In her position at Trinity, Miller is responsible for assisting with basic operations of the department. While she doesn’t have a history of colon cancer in her family, she has seen firsthand the benefits of early screening–and, at the same time, the devastating news that a cancer has been found too late, and could have been easily prevented.

“I’ve seen people who’ve put it off and put it off… and then it’s too late, and you just feel bad. It’s such a preventable cancer. If you get it early, there’s a 90 percent chance you’re going to be fine. You hear so much about breast cancer, and colon cancer actually kills more women, but you don’t hear about it as much because nobody wants to talk about colon cancer preparedness. But it’s not anything to be scared of. The screening is usually done in 15 minutes.”

A new kind of lab, a new direction

Not long after beginning her new life as a student and full-time worker, Miller took on an internship, which consisted of coordinating the free screening event. And though the event may have only been one day, it became a reality through Miller’s efforts to coordinate patient care technicians and secure donations from medical supply companies. She wrote proposals that resulted in a company providing all of the day’s pathology reports for free, to the scope provider donating extra scopes for the day.

Miller explained that she was a facilitator for an idea that had long been in the works in the community. Trinity has representatives on the Colon Cancer Free QCA Consortium, through which area doctors’ offices collaborate to raise awareness and educate the public, and general practitioners ensure that people are getting screenings if they meet the risk factors. Trinity and the consortium partnered with a free clinic in the area that offers services to the working uninsured to identify individuals who would qualify for the free screening.

Miller came to her job and her internship at Trinity after having worked for several years in quality control in a chemical plant. But a few years ago, she found herself unemployed. So she took an entry-level position as a technician in the GI Lab at Trinity, and at the same time decided to pursue a degree in general studies at WIU.

“I’ve taken several classes over the years, and with the job market the way it is, I definitely wanted to go back and finish that up,” she explained.

Now in her second year of studies at WIU, Miller has focused on management and communications courses, and her classes–particularly those with Mary Hogg, associate professor of communication at WIU-QC–have helped her with her with the internship, and vice versa.

“Mary Hogg had me speak about the screening event in class, and she ran off the flyer that I’d made up, offering extra credit to students who want to come and write something up about it.

“I’ve had to speak with doctors, with the president of Trinity, present my progress to the senior team, the CEO and COO,” she added. “It has helped me build confidence, definitely. A lot of doctors have been very supportive. When they tell you how proud they are and give you words of encouragement, it’s nice. And it all boils down to the fact that you’re helping people.”

One giant team

Miller explained that in addition to donations secured for the screening day, the Trinity Foundation provided funding for the event. But Miller got so involved in the cause, she decided to create her own fundraiser to help out even more–a Taco Tuesday at a local pub that donates proceeds to local causes.

“I just felt like this event was something worth growing and sustaining,” she said. “So I hit up local business to provide certificates and baskets for a silent auction. But it was also just a way for all the volunteers to blow off steam, have a good time, and kind of ride the wave of awareness we’ve been going on.

“What keeps me motivated is that I’m helping people, and the fact that this has never been done before,” she continued. “I’ve enjoyed the people-contact, too; I love to talk to people, and when I can get people to feel good about giving to the cause, when it becomes a giant team, that’s fulfilling, also. It’s a huge project, and I feel blessed that I got such a cool project to work on. And to be the first one to do it is pretty cool too.”

Like this post? Be sure to Like WIU on Facebook, share via Twitter, or subscribe!

WIU professor helps bring comic strip to the stage

WIU professor helps bring comic strip to the stage

One father’s love for his son has gone from a pent and paper (a cartoon strip), to Facebook fans, to a touring production. And he has a WIU theatre and dance professor to thank, in part, for taking his show on the road.

Jason Platt, a single dad who lives and works in the Quad Cities, (IL/IA), was featured in a story in the Quad City Times over the weekend. The story details how Platt’s comic strip about him and his son, Mister & Me, has been turned into a play for kids, thanks to Platt’s partnership with Ray Gabica, professor in the theatre and dance department at WIU. (And to add to the WIU connection to this story, Platt works for LinguiSystems, which happens to have been founded by two WIU alumnae!)

Screen shot QC Times story

a screen shot QC Times story

Professor profile: Ray Gabica

As the QC Times‘ story explains, children in the area got to enjoy the comic-turned play through a performance by the Western Illinois University Regional Touring Theatre Company (RTTC), which is known for putting on touring productions of kids’ shows like The Lion and the Mouse, The Tree House, and Free to Be…You and Me.

Gabica not only leads and designs the RTTC shows, but, in addition, designs from four to six productions a year, and can count among his accomplishments the more than 48 Summer Music Theatre productions, plus more than 60 main-stage shows. Gabica, who has an M.F.A in costume and make-up design from Michigan State University, teaches the costume design sequences on the undergraduate and graduate levels, as well as theatrical make-up and visual concepts for the stage.

As the story points out, Platt is also involved in local theater, which is how he connected with Gabica, who adapted and directed the play:

“I kind of let him run amok with it,” Platt said. “I love and trust Ray so much that I knew he would handle the material with respect. I had no problem with how he was going to adapt the comic.”

Out of the bunkers and back to broadcasting

[Editor’s note: Last week, University Relations Student Writer Jared Dye gave us a taste of what he was up to last summer. This week, he continues with the lessons learned over the summer and why he’s glad to be back on campus–one of which may be no longer having to get up before 5 a.m.!]

What’s it like when the location of your slow summer job is suddenly in the spotlight? As I mentioned earlier, I had a connection through my family to get a summer job at TPC Deere Run in Silvis, IL, and I had never done any work like this in my life.

The John Deere Classic ended up being our easiest week of work, despite split shifts where we would work 5 a.m.-9:30 a.m. before returning for a 4-8 p.m. shift. It was exciting to see everything going on around the golf course before the tournament; bleachers were being constructed, businesses were coming in as sponsors and having tents set up, professional golfers were coming in to get a feel for the course and we felt like our work was really meaningful in preparation for the Classic. We were told that we were doing a good job for the first time all summer when our bosses’ bosses came in for the week.

picture of Jared Dye's summer-job crew

That's me, fourth from the right in the front row (squint and you can see me!)

Then John Deere brought in some of their finer equipment to be set up so all the spectators coming in could see it. All in all, the course had thousands of dollars worth of John Deere equipment, for display and for use by the workers. We were told that every 2-4 years John Deere sends new machines, and they auction off or get rid of the “old” equipment that had being used. They take this stuff seriously.

Despite all that, the real experience was just being there and interacting with everyone. We had an interesting staff to say the least; it was made up of a large number of Mexican workers, lifers, and college kids home for the summer–in the heat and long hours, we were like a team made up of people who equally did not want to be there. After taking four years of Spanish in high school, I had not really had the chance to apply my Spanish National Honor Society skills until this summer. I would have conversations in Spanish with some of my co-workers, and I learned a lot about their lives through our part-English, part-Spanish conversations. I will also say that I feel like I improved my “man” skills quite a bit; I can do a lot more than I could before this summer. But I was asked if I would like to come back next year, and… I don’t think so. I should be looking for some kind of job related to my major by then, and I don’t think waking up at 5 a.m. for manual labor will fit in.

I also returned to the Quad City Times for occasional hours, like I have in the past during breaks. I worked in the Sports department there for over two years while attending Black Hawk College and have continued to stay in touch with them and be available to work when I’m home. The only problem with this was it was a night job; I would show up at 7 p.m. and not leave until about 11 p.m. I would do this and then be up bright and early for a long day at the links.

‘Toys’ and ‘Scrubs’–That’s Right, I Like ‘Em!

Outside of work, as you could expect, my summer was a bit dull. I found myself feeling like an old man day after day when I was tired by 10 p.m. and needed to get some sleep. But, I still managed to have some fun during a work-filled summer. Even though a good number of my friends were not home for the summer I still met up with the ones who were in town and played basketball, hung out and vented about the long days. The most excitement I saw this summer included my trips to Chicago and St. Louis, both which revolved around watching the “Scrubs,” or the Cubs for those who still believe.

picture of Jared Dye

Jared Dye, Cubs fan

I did see Toy Story 3, and loved it. I didn’t care if people at work wanted to make fun of me for seeing it; I had seen the first two so naturally I was going to see the third and final of the series.

Towards the end of the summer my family and I made a trip to Cedar Rapids, Iowa for my cousin Liz’s wedding. Liz is my first first-cousin to get married, so I guess it was a big deal. The wedding went as most weddings go, but the real story was the after party, or reception, where things got interesting. We were at Elmcrest Country Club, home of professional golfer Zach Johnson, and one of the first things we noticed was a cookie station set up. My aunt and some friends made just about any cookie imaginable, and it was something that I had never seen at a wedding.

The rest of the wedding was usual; my brother and I danced a bit, not together, and then it was time to throw the garter. I was positioned towards the front of the pack of eligible bachelors, and I had a plan. I was going to leap when I saw it go up and just see what happens. My new family member Tim, my cousins’ husband, tossed it, and just as I had planned, I leaped–and before anyone even knew what hit them, I had it. I had caught the Iowa Hawkeyes-themed garter and was receiving cheers from the crowd.

But, despite all that excitement, by the end of the summer I started feeling drained and my work performance probably started to suffer. And that put me in an unusual position: actually wanting to get back to school.

Senior-year starting line

Maybe this was because it would be my final year of college, I don’t know, but I think that I just wanted to get back into a routine and just forget about summer ’10. Even though I may not have a set plan after college, this is still my final year of school and that is something.

I really like the campus here; probably the main reason I didn’t stay in the Quad Cities to go to WIU’s QC branch is that until the new riverfront campus opens, it’s only one building. It’s nice here and I feel comfortable when I’m in my school and work routine.

I had stayed in contact with my roommate and some others from WIU, and that just kept building up my excitement. I had one class I had to get switched, and I was ready to go for the fall semester of my senior year. I wanted to come down a week before school started to get my apartment situated and to be able to relax and enjoy what was left of the summer. It turned out to be a great week since so many of my friends were already back as well.

And now I’m back, taking five classes (I’m majoring in communication and minoring in broadcasting) and getting used to my schedule. After having all but one or two of my classes in Sallee Hall last year, my classes are actually spread out so I get to see more of the campus and the buildings. I’ve got a new bike this year, too. Things are really starting to come together nicely.

I think that my classes will be fine and my only real obstacle is getting through Comm. 311 so I can take two 400-level writing classes next semester. (If senior year is supposed to be the easiest, wildest and most fun, then no one told me!) I knew that from the start though, so I feel ready to go and get through my final semesters as a Leatherneck.

How did *you* pass the days away? Student writer gives his take on the cheesy-but-classic ‘How I Spent My Summer Vacation’

[Editor’s note: Meet Jared Dye, a senior communication major from Moline, Ill., who works as a student writer in Western’s Office of University Relations. As one of his first assignments back on the job, Jared was asked to reflect on his summer experiences and share them on this blog.]

I had never seen 5 a.m. until this summer. And that was when my cell phone alarm went off just days after returning from school. What was I thinking taking a job in maintenance at a golf course? For whatever reasons, I did, and I would be starting my days at 6 a.m. or earlier for the summer.

I had a connection through my family to get the job working out TPC Deere Run in Silvis, Ill. I had never done any work like this in my life, and thought working outside didn’t sound too bad. Eight to – days didn’t really intimidate too much, but I really had no idea what to expect. I quickly learned that things out there can be rough, intimidating, unpredictable and never-ending.

Every day started with a 6 a.m. meeting to go over what jobs we would be doing to start the long day. During my first week, you wouldn’t find me anywhere but in the bunkers picking weeds, raking, or doing whatever else had to be done for the part of the course that no one was trying to hit into. Those days were the worst, when you knew you were going to be in the bunkers. I’ve heard that the heat index is significantly higher when surrounded by sand, and I’m here to second that.

But, most of my mornings, there I was mowing the greens or tees. This was not your normal mowing, however; we had mowers designed just for mowing tees and greens. We were told what direction to cut, and what not to do. Next, we would check the board to see our next jobs; and even when all seemed to be done, we would be sent out to do something. We would work in the bunkers, fill divots, string trim around trees or the tall grass areas, trim sprinkler and irrigation heads or some other random job to keep us occupied. It was an everyday struggle, that’s for sure. Rainy days were hit-or-miss; we could be sent home early, but odds are we would either work through it or we would come back to the shop and wait it out. Imagine being soaking wet by 8 a.m. and having to stay out and work until 3:30 in the afternoon–not fun. I wouldn’t deny that towards the end of the summer there was an occasional drop in my productivity on tough days.

But I got through it. I was relieved and proud when I was finally done with my time there. And I made money and got to work at a nice golf course that hosted a PGA tournament. The best time of the whole summer was the week of the John Deere Classic.

Find out more about working the tourney, about the thing Jared “caught” this summer (and it wasn’t a fish or a cold!), and why he got teased about his taste in movies, in Jared’s next post.

History of Hero Street lives on (and has a descendant at WIU)!

Hero Street USA

Hero Street USA

Marc Wilson, author of the new book “Hero Street, U.S.A.: The Story of Little Mexico’s Fallen Soldiers,” spoke on campus Wed., Oct. 7–and brought with him an interesting companion.

Wilson, a former reporter and Associated Press executive now living in the Quad Cities area, researched the dramatic story of the “Little Mexico” neighborhood in Silvis, IL, which contributed 78 soldiers to the U.S. military during World War II and Korea, giving it the highest per-capita casualty rate of any street in the entire country. The neighborhood, established by immigrants from Guanajauto, Mexico, was officially renamed “Hero Street” in 1971.

But Wilson’s companion for the day could also be considered an expert on the topic: Tanilo “Tony” Sandoval, surviving younger brother of two of the eight soldiers from the block who were killed in action. As Wilson detailed his research, Sandoval provided his childhood memories about each of the eight soldiers killed in action.

Wilson, former owner of a newspaper in Montana, became interested in the story after hearing about it from a newspaper publisher in the Quad Cities.

“Many people in the Quad Cities still know nothing, or very little, about Hero Street,” he said.

Chronicling the prejudice, poverty, and other adversity the residents of Little Mexico had to deal with, especially during the Depression, Wilson pointed out that many of the veterans who gave their life for their country were never recognized as United States citizens, even being blackballed from the local VFW.

Their first-generation parents, unable to speak English, weren’t eligible to receive federal aid during the Depression due to their status as “aliens.” In fact, the street later recognized with the official “Hero Street” name was one of the last in the city to be paved, he said.

“These were ‘invisible’ people in many ways,” Wilson said.

At the end of the presentation, Sandoval shared with the audience the fact that, despite the poverty and prejudice he and his brothers experienced growing up, many from the younger generations of the Hero Street neighborhood, and in his family, have gone on to successful professional positions after earning an education.

Johnathon Sandoval, WIU sophomore

Johnathon Sandoval, WIU sophomore

And what could have been a better note to end on than this?:

Before the author and his guest speaker greeted audience members, Wilson explained they’d need to leave a bit early.

“We’re going to go try to catch the rest of the soccer game,” Wilson said. Sandoval’s grandson, Johnathan Sandoval, is a sophomore and Leatherneck soccer player at WIU.

Read more about the book and the story behind Hero Street in the University Relations news release and on the University Archives blog.