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 Alumna Balances Professional Life, Family

By Caitlin Meyers
University Relations Intern

Western Illinois University alumna Julie Foy (1990) is a model for WIU graduates and current students endeavoring for success in sales, marketing and human resources, while balancing a family and continuing to serve the community.

Foy has held three major positions in the retail/wholesale fashion industry since she left WIU. Foy joined Dansko Footwear’s staff in April 2014 and is currently the national accounts manager.

Prior to her current job with Dansko Footwear, Foy was the divisional merchandise manager of footwear and accessories for Lands’ End. She also worked for a privately held Midwest based retailer, where she managed multiple product categories, excelling in her many roles, and was promoted to general merchandise manager.

“It is unusual for someone to move from a successful retail career to a wholesale career. Dansko Footwear was looking for a new approach to their business and felt someone with a retail buying background would be a fresh approach,” said Foy.

As the national accounts manager, Foy manages many large retail accounts including Amazon, Dillards, Nordstrom, QVC and Zappos, just to name a few.

“I am always representing Dansko Footwear—from wearing the product every day to presenting the new products each season—partnering on a retailers Dansko sales plan to executing a marketing plan we help our retailers sell Dansko Footwear products from start to finish,” said Foy.


QVC is one of the national accounts that Foy manages for Dansko Footwear. She is on air at QVC when the brand is being offered for sale. Upcoming QVC appearances include Monday, Nov. 9 and Monday, Dec. 21 at 1 a.m. CST.

Foy says she attributes much of her success in her early years to her time at WIU.

Foy attended Griggsville High School in Pike County, Ill. with a graduating class of just 28.

“Being involved and attending a medium sized university was essential for my future success. I needed a balance of academic and campus involvement,” said Foy.

The desire for a medium-size student body led Foy to Macomb.

The student body was around 13,000 when Foy attended WIU in the late 1980s. According to Foy, this was perfect size to be involved in campus activities, prepare for a future career and build lifelong friendships.

Foy received a bachelor’s degree in communication, with a minor in marketing. While attending WIU, she was involved with the University Union Board, Student Government and Delta Zeta Sorority. Foy served as the Delta Zeta chapter secretary and chairperson for the Delta Zeta Illinois State Meeting, hosted at WIU in 1990.

“Like many students I worked multiple jobs to pay for my education. My campus job was working for Darrell Negley at the University Union Sign Shop. In May of 1990, I was awarded the University Union Employee of the Month. I also worked off campus as a waitress at a local restaurant,” said Foy.

Balancing work and extra-curricular activities, along with academic accomplishments was the just the beginning of what Foy needed to balance a successful career and a family.

She married her husband Jason in October 1994, and is mother to two sons, a 19-year-old named Jake and a 16-year-old named Justin, who is a junior at Rockridge High School. Foy is excited her son Jake will be transferring to WIU in Fall 2016.

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“I am able to work from home in this position but that also means I spend a lot of time on airplanes. Each week I am traveling somewhere either to work with accounts or attend meetings in our corporate offices in West Grove, PA. I have to work on balancing all aspects of my life,” said Foy.

Although the position is demanding at times, the job also comes with many perks.

“During my career in retail buying and wholesale I have been exposed to people and brands I really never imagined. I have traveled to New York City (Manhattan) over 175 times in the last 20 years. I have crossed the street alongside of Donald and Ivanka Trump. I have sat and talked with Russel Simmons for 45 minutes and didn’t even realize who he was. I was able to see Ralph Lauren in person and was surprised to see his stature was quite small. I even once ran into Hulk Hogan in the lobby of my New York hotel. I am often times mistaken for Tina Fey, Sandra Bullock or Sarah Palin. It really just depends their current look and if I am wearing glasses or not,” said Foy.

With a busy lifestyle, Foy wanted to find a meaningful way to give back to her community using the knowledge that she has gained from her career.

“I currently manage the “Rocket Shop” for the Rockridge Boosters Organization. This means designing screen prints, ordering merchandise, managing the inventory and marketing the products. Each year we are able to keep the school spirit strong, our fans excited about ‘what is new’ at each game and raise money to support all extracurricular activities,” said Foy.

The Foy family had a scare this past year and learned that its oldest son, Jake was diagnosed Hodgkin Lymphoma. Foy said her Dansko family was very supportive and provided her with time off necessary to travel with Jake to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN for treatments.

“I can’t say enough about the support, care and flexibility Dansko provided as we were managing the unexpected,” said Foy. “Jake is now cancer-free and is looking forward to attending WIU and majoring in agricultural business. As a WIU alumna, I am ecstatic about his choice and know that his experience and career opportunities will be limitless.”

October COAP Employee Spotlight: Joe Roselieb

Joe Roselieb and Col. Rock III

Joe Roselieb and Col. Rock III

The Western Illinois University Council of Administrative Personnel (COAP) employee featured in this month’s COAP Spotlight is usually the individual at the other end of Col. Rock III “Rocky‘s” leash…

In his day job, Joe Roselieb serves as the director of residential facilities for University Housing and Dining Services (UHDS). But at night—and at Western Illinois Athletics‘ games, and in parades, and at WIU AdmissionsDiscover Western open house events, and at many, many student activities, and at alumni events—his main job is to serve as Rocky’s person.

Rocky joined the WIU family in May 2010 as a 10-week-old pup. Since then, Joe has been providing him with a loving home, teaching him tricks, making sure he’s healthy and chauffeuring him to numerous WIU and community events each year.

“It’s been a terrific experience taking care of WIU’s mascot,” Joe noted. “My day-to-day job isn’t always that glamorous, so it’s a real treat to get to be able to take Rocky around and see the positive impact around both the campus and community.”

Joe took time out his (and Rocky’s) busy schedule to provide a little bit of background about himself and he how strives for “paw”fection in his role at UHDS.

Q. Tell me a bit about your background. How did you end up working at Western Illinois University?

Joe and Rocky take a rest at the 2015 WIU Homecoming Leatherneck Football Game.

Joe and Rocky take a rest at the 2014 WIU Homecoming Leatherneck Football Game.

Joe: I’m originally from Prophetstown (IL). I came to WIU in 2003 to attend for my undergraduate degree and graduated in 2007 with my bachelor’s degree. All through college I worked in UHDS as a student worker and was offered an assistantship in housing following graduation, which I accepted and did for one year. In 2008, I had the rare opportunity to apply for an assistant director position for facilities and was selected, and I started my full-time career that July. I finished my master’s later that spring in 2009. In 2012, I was promoted to director of residential facilities.

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

Joe: Every day is a little different and that is what makes it exciting. Most days start at 8 a.m. or a little before and are filled with meetings, walk-throughs of facilities, and a lot of planning. In my area, looking forward is essential, so I spend a lot of time working with members of Facilities Management, University Technology, and other campus entities mapping out things for the future.

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

Joe: My favorite job memory is probably finishing up renovation Corbin and Olson after three years of planning and construction. It taught me a lot about construction, communication, and just the overall process. When you have a project that big, there is a lot to keep track of and it was a great feeling when it was all done and completed.

Rocky and His Person, Joe Roselieb, in 2010

Rocky and His Person, Joe Roselieb, in 2010

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

Joe: My most rewarding professional experience has been being selected as the 2011 Administrator of the Year from Western’s Division of Student Services.

Q. How do you juggle Rocky’s busy appearance schedule?

Joe: It can be very difficult at times, but we try to attend as much as possible. I’m pretty selective of the events we choose to attend, and I always make sure it coincides with the mission and values of the institution. Looking back at the last five years of the live-mascot program, it has been a gratifying experience to see how far it’s come and the amount of people it has impacted.

Q. Tell me a little about your favorite activities outside of your job (e.g., hobbies, family or friend activities, etc.).

Joe: I enjoy music and sports. I try to attend at least one or two Chicago Bears’ games a year, even though this year I think I’ll save my money. I also purchased a new house last March and work on it when I can. I also became an uncle for the first time on Sept. 28… to a niece.

Q. What is your favorite quote?

Joe: “Don’t let your failures define you, let them refine you.”

People of WIU

Dallas Boswell - People of WIU

In Fall 2014, Western Illinois University Anthropology Professor Heather McIlvaine-Newsad asked her students to use “two of the ethnographic research tools that anthropologists use—cameras and talking to, or interviewing, people” to emulate the “Humans of New York” (HONY) project for a “People of WIU” assignment.

Last week, the new best-selling book “Humans of New York” was released. You may or may not know the blog—created by Brandon Stanton—upon which the book is based.

If you do, you may have encountered the Humans of New York (HONY) project behind the blog via its huge Facebook or Twitter following. (The HONY Facebook page has close to 16 million likes and the HONY Twitter feed has more than 360K followers.)

According to the Oct. 12 ABC news article “Humans of New York Creator Reveals How He Gets People to Share Life’s Intimate Details,” over the last five years, the blog has transformed from featuring only pictures [of New Yorkers] to also telling stories”—basically, an anthology (the definition, per Merriam-Webster Unabridged, “a usually representative collection of selected literary pieces or passages”).

Bre Bracey - People of WIUSuch a project was a natural fit for an assignment in two “Introduction to Cultural Anthropology FYE” (First Year Experience) classes taught by Western Illinois University Anthropology Professor Heather McIlvaine-Newsad.

So in Fall 2014, she did just that—asked her students to use “two of the ethnographic research tools that anthropologists use—cameras and talking to, or interviewing, people” to emulate the project for a “People of WIU” assignment.

“Anthropology is about telling a story. Sometimes the story is written and sometimes it includes images. Your assignment is to tell a story about the People of WIU. The people—students, faculty, administration, individuals who work in the cafeteria, the Beu Health Center, the construction workers—are all fascinating, but we seldom take time to talk to them and find out their stories,” her instructions noted.

To complete the assignment, McIlvaine-Newsad asked her students to “write three questions that you will ask all of the people you photograph.”

Sawhney_Surya“You will need to photograph and interview a minimum of 10 people and take a minimum of 10 photos of each individual. Make sure you have your subjects complete and sign the Model Release Form, which will allow us to use their images on the WIU website. Select your three best photos and quotes, and put them in a PowerPoint presentation.”

McIlvaine-Newsad, who has been a faculty member for 15 years, said she is “constantly amazed at who my students are and what they bring to the classroom.”

“They have many stories to tell. In virtually all my classes, from study abroad courses to Germany and India or methods classes, we explore ways in which people can tell us what is important to them. Often we discover that people who may seem so very different than we are share similar powerful stories. I especially wanted to bring this message to first-year students, who are making adjusting to a new way of life as university students. Using a visual anthropology format that includes both the power of images and written word, like those from HONY, seemed like a great assignment for my students.

Kathy Clauson - People of WIUWhen asked why she had her students use the digital storytelling technique:

“The reasons for doing so vary with each course: sometimes it’s to focus a student’s research interest. Other times it’s to develop communication skills in visual or audio media. In another class, it may be to relate an experience that is more personal in nature—too personal for a more formal academic paper format,” she noted.

In this post are some of the results from her students’ completion of the assignment. These are just a smattering of the stories of the all of the “People of WIU.”

Feel free to share your story—about something that matters to you or share a lingering question you have about your life or something that is on your mind (no profanity or references to alcohol or drug use please; comments will be moderated)—in the comments below.

Imani Kutti - People of WIUDamien Pickens - People of WIU
Jodie Tan Qiu Yu - People of WIUMary Street - People of WIU

What’s in a Name?

by Darcie Shinberger

For nearly nine decades Western Illinois University has been known as the Leathernecks or the Fighting Leathernecks, but how did the University go from the “Fighting Teachers” to the Leathernecks? There’s only one answer …. because of one man.

Col. Ray "Rock" Hanson

Legendary WWI and WWII Hero and decorated Marine Corps Colonel Ray “Rock” Hanson

Legendary WWI and WWII Hero and decorated Marine Corps Colonel Ray “Rock” Hanson began his long tenure at Western in 1926. It was because of Hanson’s determination and persistence, along with his Marine Corps legacy, that helped secure The Fighting Leathernecks as WIU’s team name in 1927. Today, Western remains the only public school in the U.S. with permission to use the Leathernecks as its nickname.

Hanson, who coached football, baseball, and basketball, served as director of the physical education department and is distinguished as the longest-serving athletic director at Western. Even after his retirement in 1964, Coach Hanson remained active at Western and in the Macomb community. He passed away Jan. 4, 1982, at the age of 86.

Hanson’s name lives on at Western not only through the school’s nickname, but Col. Rock III (a/k/a Rocky), an English bulldog and Western’s mascot, is named in honor of this brave recipient of the Silver Star citation for bravery, a French Croix de Guerre, and a Purple Heart.

The first English Bulldog, a symbol of the U.S. Marine Corps, arrived at WIU in September 1959 to serve as the first official Leathernecks mascot. A few weeks later, the Student Government Association Executive Council selected the name Col. Rock for the new mascot from more than 200 entries in a naming contest. WIU student Richard Stevenson submitted the winning name.

Pennants from the Rock Hanson Collection at the Western Illinois University Bookstore

Pennants from the Rock Hanson Collection at the Western Illinois University Bookstore

While Col. Hanson has been gone for nearly 30 years, his legacy continues each and every day at Western Illinois University.

And as we say at WIU… Every Day Is a Great Day to Be a Leatherneck!


Next time you’re at the WIU Bookstore, check out the new Ray “Rock” Hanson Vintage Collection! (You can also order online at Read more about it at

International Student Success Spotlight: Marloes van Eijkelenburg

International students find their way to Western Illinois University via many different pathways. One student, Netherlands-native Marloes van Eijkelenburg, had a bit of a unique experience that led her to the Midwestern region of western Illinois. She found her way to Western via a chance meeting in 2012 (in Europe) with students and faculty in the WIU sport management program.

For the Fall issue of Western News (WIU’s quarterly alumni newspaper), Marloes’ story was featured in the College of Education and Human Services‘ section, and the piece is also featured (below) for the September installment of the ongoing “International Student Success Spotlight.”

Netherlands-native Marloes van Eijkelenburg, a graduate student the Western Illinois University sport management graduate program, wound up as Western via a chance meeting with sport management faculty and students at a conference in Portugal.

Netherlands-native Marloes van Eijkelenburg, a graduate student in the Western Illinois University sport management graduate program, wound up at Western via a chance meeting with sport management faculty and students at a conference in Portugal.

Stepping Up the Game: Sport Management Program Offers International Student Multinational Perspective

Marloes van Eijkelenburg has hopes of again working at the Olympic Games. In 2012, before she came to the United States to study, the graduate student in Western Illinois University’s sport management program (offered through the WIU Department of Kinesiology) worked as a facility manager at the London Games. Although she described her job at the 2012 Summer Olympics as “amazing,” van Eijkelenburg admitted the sheer magnitude and pressure of the experience left her a bit depleted.

“I was very tired after that, so I took a little vacation by myself and I traveled to Porto, Portugal, to attend the annual conference held by the International Association for Philosophy of Sport [IAPS] in September of that year,” she explained.

It was the 2012 holiday that served as the catalyst for van Eijkelenburg’s trek to the U.S.—and eventually led to the pursuit of her master’s degree in sport management at WIU.

A Significant Score
Prior to coming to the Midwest, van Eijkelenburg had earned her bachelor’s degree in sport management from The Hague University of Applied Sciences (Netherlands), as well as completed postgraduate work in sport economics at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. While she wasn’t necessarily looking to come to North America to study, a chance meeting with Dr. Algerian Hart, assistant professor in kinesiology and graduate coordinator for the sport management program, and a few of his grad students, who were all attending the IASP conference that year, caused her to consider (and ultimately take) the path to WIU.

“I met Dr. Hart at a networking thing at the conference. We started talking, and I told him about working at the Olympics, as well as my undergraduate work in sport management. After hearing about my background, he thought it would be beneficial for me, and for the program, if I came to Western,” she noted. “There were six students with him, and he told me not to take his word for it, but to talk to his students so I could hear about the program from their perspectives.”

According to van Eijkelenburg, it was those conversations that convinced her to apply for the program so far away from her home in Europe.

“They really convinced me. I remember thinking, ‘Oh wow! If the students are talking so highly about this program, it must be good,'” she added.

After finishing up her studies at Vrije Universiteit Brussel, van Eijkelenburg worked another year (in 2013) and began her master’s program at WIU in August 2014. Now in her second year, she said the program continues to offer her valuable educational opportunities.

“My professors are extremely approachable here, and I really enjoy that. I am also a teaching assistant, and I have a little cubicle in same office space as my professors have, so they are accessible and easy to reach out to when I have a question or concern about my studies or my classes,” she noted.

Marloes (center) and some of the friends she's met as a student in WIU's graduate sport management program.

Marloes (center) and some of the friends she’s met as a student in WIU’s graduate sport management program.

Although van Eijkelenburg, who described herself as “very competitive,” had considerable knowledge about the study of sport management from her courses in Europe, she said her classes at Western offer practical application of sport management skills and philosophies.

“In Europe, the dominating sport is European football, or soccer, as it’s called here in the U.S., but since being here, I have been introduced to many of the American sports. I think it’s amazing how sports are organized are here, and in my classes, we get to discuss what’s happening in the industry here a great deal. I remember when I first got to Western, the whole story about NFL player Ray Rice’s assault case had just come out in the media, and it was my first introduction to American football. In our classes, we discussed this story from its different perspectives, such as from the fan’s point of view or from the organization’s management’s perspective. We talked about how we may have to deal with such issues in our own jobs,” she explained.

In addition to her studies and serving as a teaching assistant, van Eijkelenburg is also active in the Sport Management Association (SMA), a student organization at WIU with the mission to “expand upon students’ professional access and to provide networking opportunities and expose to increase students’ marketability.”

“Taking part in this student organization has been significant for me. I have met many friends through SMA, and we have been able to travel to different places to experience various sports venues,” van Eijkelenburg noted. “One experience, through my involvement with the SMA, included a trip to Kansas City, where I watched my first baseball game in person. Those kinds of activities have enabled me to get to know my classmates a little bit better on a personal level, and I think the opportunity to get involved like this is one of the biggest advantages of the sport management program at WIU.”

The graduate candidate has plans to finish her degree next May and has hopes of, again, working at the Summer Olympics, slated to take place next year in Rio de Janeiro. Through her experience in European sports (in addition to her undergraduate studies and work at the Olympics, she has coached field hockey), and the experience and understanding she now has of the U.S. sports industry, she said could be interested in working for an international sports organization.

“My experiences here and in Europe have been so rich, I really would like to stay international, to serve both the European and the American markets,” she said. “There’s a really high job placement rate within the program—I think everyone who graduated last May has a job right now. But it really depends on what opportunity arises.”

Aug./Sept. COAP Employee Spotlight: Pedro Bidegaray

Last June, Dr. Pedro Bidegaray brought his extensive international education expertise to Western Illinois University. As the new director of WIU’s Office of Study Abroad and Outreach, Bidegaray said the opportunity offers him the “chance to make a difference” and “to work with a group of committed professionals in the provision of international opportunities and perspectives to students at WIU.”

Pedro Bidegaray (center) during his time with Educate Tanzania.

Pedro Bidegaray (center) during his time with Educate Tanzania.

Before arriving in western Illinois, Dr. Bidegaray was based in Minnesota, in a position at Educate Tanzania (a non-governmental organization) and supported efforts to develop an academic curriculum for a new agricultural college in Karagwe, Tanzania. Prior to that (2011-14), he was the director of international programs at the University of Minnesota College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resources Sciences. In that role, he was responsible for integrating an international perspective into the mission of the college, with an emphasis on internationalization of curriculum and global development. From 1995-2010, he worked for EARTH University in Costa Rica, serving as director of international academic programs from 2006-10.

As a new Council of Administrative Personnel (COAP) member at Western, Dr. Bidegaray agreed to share a bit more about his background and goals for his latest pursuits in international education on this Big Blue Planet.

Q: What interested you in coming to Western Illinois University?

Dr. Bidegaray: I was born in Peru and studied anthropology. I was intrigued by the idea of working with rural communities in my country. Later, I came to the U.S. to get my Ph.D. in cultural anthropology, and after I was awarded my degree, I traveled to Costa Rica to work in a small international college. Five years ago, we (my wife and two children) decided to come back to the U.S.

Q: What does a typical day at work at Western look like for you so far?

Dr. Bidegaray: It is becoming busier day after day. Since I started at WIU, I have dedicated a significant portion of my time to visit administration and faculty, in an attempt to get to know about the institution, content of their academic programs, and their understanding of the role that international education might (should) play in WIU.

Our unit, the Office of Study Abroad and Outreach, is a unit that provides services to faculty and students. In order to achieve this goal, we need to understand what is academically meaningful and feasible, and translate that understanding into initiatives that will encourage the adoption of international perspectives into their academic programs.

To succeed, we are committed to be prompt communicating with students and faculty, trying address their concerns and finding specific solutions to challenges they might face as they look to enrich their academic experiences.

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

Dr. Bidegaray: My favorite on-the-job experience has been through my interaction with co-workers in Costa Rica. I worked for an institution at which the employees cared deeply for their students and their abilities to succeed as professionals and citizens. We were a tight group of professionals from all over the world and disciplines, forever discussing how to engage students creatively and meaningfully in the classroom or when they were in the field visiting rural areas. We were all part of a learning community committed to the ideal of the education of leaders of change. Sounds corny, but that is what we believed.

Q: What has been the most rewarding professional experience in your career so far?

Dr. Bidegaray: Regarding my most rewarding experience in my career, well, I don’t know… I have several. As a professor and as a person who has traveled extensively, I have always been moved by people’s generosity and ability to connect, irrespective of cultural differences. People have an incredible ability to surprise me with unexpected reactions of kindness and creativity.

Q: What are some of your goals for Western’s Office of Study Abroad and Outreach?

Dr. Bidegaray: I have several goals, which include: to extend the benefits of international education to most WIU students. This is something we will achieve by developing a program that not only encourages students and faculty to go abroad, but also by developing an academic program and a university culture that integrates international perspectives comprehensively. It is not necessary to travel to other countries to develop an understanding and addressing cultural differences. The world as we know it is here around us. Here on campus, we have students from close to 60 different countries. Do we know who they are? What do we know about their countries? Do we bring that experience to our classrooms?

Another goal is to work toward making WIU a preeminent professional development destination for young professionals and college students. This goal corresponds to the outreach component of our office. Our goal is to identify those jewels of knowledge, unique pieces of information, and transform them into training opportunities that can be marketed globally.

Q: Tell me a little about your favorite activities outside of your job (e.g., hobbies, family or friend activities, etc.).

Dr. Bidegaray: I am a father of four kids. Two of them are still with us and are very much part of what we (my wife and I) do every day. We enjoy family life, and the times we spend together doing sports or enjoying a good meal.

I love doing sports, all kinds of music (indie and classical), good books, and international cuisine. My wife is a great cook, so that is an easy pick.

Q: What is your favorite quote?

It is difficult to say. I like to tell students that “they should dare to dream big.” Also, I like to paraphrase John F. Kennedy’s speech of 1961, when he tells his audience: “And so, my fellow Americans: Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”

I reference these words when I invite people to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.