COAP Employee Spotlight: Kenny Wheeler

Kenny Wheeler

Kenny Wheeler, an academic advisor at the WIU-QC campus, is regularly nominated by students for the award, according to Michele Aurand, academic honors advisor for the WIU Centennial Honors College. However, for February, he was nominated by Bradley Heitz (Rock Island, IL), a senior Bachelor of Arts in General Studies (BGS) major.

“Because of Kenny’s hard work and countless hours of advising, I am on track to graduate from Western Illinois University in 2015, a goal that I once assumed was unachievable. Kenny took the time to fully understand my academic and professional goals and aligned those interests with a course schedule that reflected them.” — Bradley Heitz, Senior, Bachelor of Arts in General Studies Program

Kenny Wheeler is one of the many Council of Administrative Personnel (COAP) employees at Western integral to the success of WIU students and to the University overall. In his role as an academic advisor, he is one of the front-line individuals who serves students in the all-important task of developing their course schedules (every semester that they are at WIU) so they can stay on track to graduate.

Kenny’s outstanding work was recently recognized when we was named COAA (Council of Academic Advisors) Advisor of the Month last February.

“[Kenny] is regularly nominated by students for the award, according to Michele Aurand, academic honors advisor for the WIU Centennial Honors College. However, for February, he was nominated by Bradley Heitz (Rock Island, IL),” noted the release about Kenny’s award.

Kenny agreed to be featured in the April installment of the COAP Employee Spotlight and was kind enough to answers a few questions about his work at Western and what he enjoys outside of his job.

•••

Q. Tell me a bit about your background… How did you wind up working at WIU?

Kenny: I’ve been working in higher ed and student affairs for about 13 years now. I worked in admissions previously at two small private institutions, focusing on recruiting under-represented students and increasing ethnic and racial diversity on campus. I was fortunate enough to attend graduate school with two classmates (and now colleagues) here at Western that gently pulled me into the WIU family. I am now in my seventh year at WIU, and I continue to find the challenges and successes I’ve had along the way to be rewarding and motivating.

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

Kenny: Returning e-mails, phone calls, meeting with students, setting up appointments, and becoming involved in the evolution of the WIU-Quad Cities’ campus continues to take up much of my time from day to day. I always find it important to me to head home for lunch and get away from the office to just take a moment to breath. And if I can’t get away, I’ll usually take a couple of moments a day to get around and talk to folks so I’m not staring at my computer all day. :)

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

Kenny: One of the best aspects of this job is helping students meet their academic and professional goals, but I also enjoy getting to know them on a personal level. It is so important in education to develop a personal connection with students, to have empathy and understanding of their experiences, and to treat them with respect no matter who they are. If I can do those things, the rest of my job seems to fall into place and students can feel comfortable meeting with me as their advisor.

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

Kenny: One of the more challenging aspects of my job is knowing that we can’t meet all the needs of every student, and you have to learn to be okay with that. You just have to provide as much information, resource, and opportunity that you can, and make a reasonable effort to be of as much assistance as possible.

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

Kenny: My two favorite activities outside of my job is spending time with my family and coaching track and field. My wife and my two daughters are some of the greatest blessings God has granted me with, and coming home to see them after work is the most rewarding part of the day…especially after a tough day in the office.

I am also in my 15th year of coaching track and field at the college and high school levels, and am now in my eighth season coaching girls track and field at a large high school in Iowa. I love motivating the young individuals I coach in a sport that I participated in through college and has been a part of my life since grade school.

Q. What is your favorite quote?

Kenny: I have a lot of favorite quotes that I use year to year as a coach, but the quote I really admire speaks to our strength, diversity, our uniqueness as individuals, and community:

“Be strong enough to stand alone. Be yourself enough to stand apart. But be wise enough to stand together when the time comes.” — Mark Arends

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 résumé?

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.

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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 résumés, 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 résumés, 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: Qi Qi

Qi Qi - WIU International Student

Qi Qi, an international graduate student in WIU’s MBA program, said her ability to study business abroad (outside of her home country of China) is a dream come true.

Qi Qi, a master’s of business administration (MBA) program graduate candidate at Western, is currently achieving one her dreams: studying outside of her home country (China) to pursue her advanced degree in business.

Before coming to WIU, she had worked in marketing and product management in China. Since enrolling in Western’s MBA program, she has found that she is particularly interested in supply chain management, so she has chose that area of concentration her advanced business administration studies.

For the March installment of the “International Student Success Spotlight” (sponsored by Western’s Center for International Studies), Qi Qi shared how and why she chose Western to achieve her dream of studying business abroad, as well as how the services and academic resources at WIU have helped her with her success so far as an international graduate student.

Q. How did you learn about WIU and why did you decide to apply to and attend Western?

Qi Qi: Studying business abroad was my dream, due to my working experience with various enterprises after graduating from a college in Beijing, China. However, I had to consider the most efficient and effective way to realize my dream, because I came from a working-class family. I have limited savings, and the tuition and living expenses are high in developed countries. My hope was that I could leverage my limited resources to achieve the best result for my studies, and my “dream” universities would have the best cost/effect ratio.

Then I started a comprehensive search, both online and offline. I finally narrowed it down to WIU, State University of New York, Texas A&M, Cleveland State University, and Pittsburg State University. With any effort and luck, I would be accepted by each school’s MBA program candidate.

Then, I compared the programs, environment, and the procedures at each school.

Firstly, WIU has been listed as a “Best Midwestern College” and “Top Tier Midwestern University” for many consecutive years. AACSB International [“the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business”] not only accredited WIU’s MBA program, but also ranked Western’s College of Business and Technology among the top 25 percent of business schools in the world.

I was also amazed by the many unique and creative arrangements for international students, i.e. Ambassadors Program, temporary housing, Western’s English as a Second Language (WESL) Conversation Mentors program, Conversation Partners, American Culture Night, etc. WIU has become the ideal university for me. I also think Western has the best student services. I am so glad I made the correct decision and came to WIU!

Q. What do you hope to do with your master’s degree in business administration once you graduate?

Qi Qi: I plan to work as a supply chain analyst after graduation, once I get more experience in the area. I hope to become a supply chain manager.

I am very happy to have discovered my career direction here, so I can be equipped for my future.

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

Qi Qi: When I first arrived, I was faced with new study challenges, a new living environment, new social relationships, and a totally different culture when I just came to Macomb.

First of all, the language issue impacted my performance, because I couldn’t get used to each instructor’s speed and tempo when he or she was lecturing.

Secondly, I experienced serious homesickness, because I had never been so far away from home before.

Thirdly, everything was new to me; however, I did not feel lonely and helpless at all. The friendly and responsible professors answered my questions patiently, gave me a lot of useful advice, and helped me pick up information more quickly. In addition, the international student services staff arranged a lot of activities for me to get familiar with the community, meet a lot of new friends, improve my English, and learn about the culture. The International Neighbors program, particularly, makes me feel that I have another home at Macomb. The host family has become my second home, and I feel I am the part of the community. I can’t believe I have become accustomed to my new life so quickly!

Q. What have been (or are) your favorite courses and instructors and why?

Qi Qi: My favorite course is in small business management. The course covers how to operate a small business. In this course, there are many guest speakers sharing the experiences about their businesses. Mrs. Gates, the instructor, also provides information and cases about various interesting small businesses.

Although the assignments in this course are challenging, Mrs. [Janice] Gates is one of my favorite instructors. She is very nice and helpful. She likes students to raise questions, and she replies to their email messages quickly. Even on the weekend, she still provides feedback to students’ concerns in time.

Another professor I adore is Dr. Deboeuf. I took his two courses, “Introduction to Finance” and “Financial Management.” His classes are well organized, and he helped me understand the complicated financial concepts presented.

Q. Any additional information that you would like to include?

Qi Qi: I have to mention Macomb when talking about my feeling about WIU. It provides me a welcoming, friendly, convenient, safe, hometown, and rich atmosphere to pursue my study objectives. I love Macomb!

WIU Alum’s Cubs Victory Song Makes Final 4 Cut in Tribune Contest

Joey White - WIU Baseball 2013

Western Illinois University alumnus and former WIU Baseball student athlete Joey White knows which song he’d like tried-and-true Cubs fans to sing. The song, “Raise the W,” composed by White and his brother, Jimmy, might just have a shot at being the one.

“What should we sing after a Cubs win?” asks Mark Caro in a March 23 Chicago Tribune article, “Go song go: Final four voting for the next Cubs hit.”

Western Illinois University alumnus and former WIU Baseball student athlete Joey White knows which song he’d like tried-and-true Cubs fans to sing. The song, “Raise the W,” composed by White and his brother, Jimmy, might just have a shot at being the one.

The White brothers’ song is now in the “Final Four” of the Tribune’s Cubs victory song contest,  which began in January.

White, who grew up in Downers Grove (IL) and graduated last May with his bachelor’s of business in marketing, is a lifelong Cubs fan, as are his family members “for a few generations,” he explained. (As a former North Side Chicagoan, I too have a fondness for the Cubbies; thus, I can appreciate the White family’s dedication to their team.) The contest’s final showdown—between the two final songs that garner the most votes—is slated to begin next Monday, March 30.

Joey, who works in the Chicagoland area, answered a few questions about his and his brother’s song via email the other day. (And you can vote through 9 a.m. this Sunday, March 29, on the Tribune’s website.)

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Chicago Tribune Cubs Victory Song Contest: "Raise the W" by Jimmy and Joey White

You can vote for the White brothers’ song on the Chicago Tribune website until 9 a.m. Sunday, March 29.

Q: Why did you enter the contest?

Joey: My uncle actually saw the competition while he was reading the ‘Chicago Tribune’ and took a picture and sent it to my brother and me and suggested we create a song and submit it. When I saw the text message, my brother and I both thought it would be fun to do, and we started the process. As lifelong Cubs’ fans, we knew this would be a fun project to complete and share with friends and family.

Q: Tell me about the process of composing the song with your brother.

Joey: My brother lives in Fort Collins, Colorado, now so it was a long-distance project. We have created songs in the past for fun and have a good time doing it. After we decided we were going to create a Cubs song, my brother went to work on the instrumental (guitar, drums, bass). He has always been more inclined with the instruments and composing a beat. When he came up with his idea of how he wanted the song to go, he sent me a rough draft recorded through a text message. When he completed the instrumental, which took about two days, he sent it to me so I could start on the lyrics. I watched some Cubs videos on YouTube and a DVD that I have to help me with some ideas.

The writing process took about another two days, and then I went to my friend Justin Harzich’s house and recorded the song. With the instrumental that my brother sent, we uploaded it onto the program we used to record the song, then sent it back to my brother. After the song was complete, my brother created a video to go along with the song and posted it onto YouTube and emailed the final product to the ‘Chicago Tribune.’

Q: What are you doing now that you’ve graduated from Western?

Joey: At the moment I am gaining professional experience in sales. My future career goals consist of working with Live Nation. I’ve heard it is a great company to work for, and I am very interested in that industry. I’m interested in entertainment, like professional sports and music, and this company works with both.

Q. Anything you would like to highlight about your time at Western?

Joey: I walked on to the baseball team and played in 2012-13. My time at Western was very enjoyable and cherish the experience and education I received from the institution. The years I attended came and went too fast, but are very memorable!

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Hope springs eternal, as the White brothers and all those who entered the contest have demonstrated with their songs. So those of us Leathernecks who are Cubs’ fans keep heart… in this “lucky” (?) “Year of the Goat” — and now with a WIU alumnus possibly the author of the Cubs victory song — just maybe the infamous curse will end its reign!

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!

WIU Ski Trip on Lincoln’s Birthday Doubles in Size

Kickstart (Ski+Jump)

Ski-Snowstar

A collaborative project between Western Illinois University’s Campus Recreation Outdoor Pursuits program and International Studies program offered 130 members of the campus community a ski trip during Lincoln’s birthday Thursday, Feb. 12.

A combination of 128 WIU students, staff and family members traveled to Ski Snowstar Winter Sports Park in Andalusia, IL, by bus.

According to Pat McGrath, the assistant director of Aquatics and Outdoor Pursuits at Western, the trip included a mix of first-time and experiences skiers.

“Despite the daily high temperature of 16 degrees, everyone had a great time on the slopes and warming up in the lodge,” said McGrath. “We plan to continue growing the trip next year, potentially adding the opportunity for participants to snow tube, as well as ski and snowboard.”

The trip’s $30 registration fee included transportation, ski rental, a lift ticket, a one-hour ski lesson and a voucher for pizza and a drink. Students also had the chance to sample new products from Kickstart and Ubr Water, provided by Pepsi.

The number of participants in this year’s trip doubled last year’s Lincoln birthday event, which had 62 participants.

For more information about the annual trip, contact Campus Recreation at (309) 298-1228.

Kowal: Leathernecks Help Leathernecks

Connie Kowal at WIU Feb. 9, 2015

Conrad “Connie” Kowal—who graduated with his bachelor’s degree from Western in 1974 and, that same year, played on Western’s baseball team, which was one of the most successful baseball teams in WIU history–spoke to students in a few management and marketing classes Monday, Feb. 9.

Last Monday, Western Illinois University students were able to meet—and learn from—one of Western’s many accomplished legacies.

Conrad “Connie” Kowal, who was named one of Western’s “Distinguished Alumni” in 1992, traveled back to his alma mater to attend the third annual Western Illinois Baseball Lead Off Dinner Sunday, Feb. 8.

Although he’s a busy sports marketing executive—Connie is currently the director of the Libertyville Sports Complex & Recreation Department (he also served as a sports executive with the Chicago Cubs for 14 years, 1985-98, and was the senior director of marketing and business development/business chief of staff for the NFL’s New Orleans Saints from 2003-05)—Connie stayed over in Macomb through Monday in order to share his 30+ years of experience in the sports marketing/management industry with many soon-to-be fellow Leatherneck alumni.

WIU Management and Marketing Assistant Professor Cathy Onion “booked” Connie—who graduated with his bachelor’s degree in 1974 and, that same year, played on Western’s baseball team, which was one of the most successful baseball teams in WIU history—to speak to students taking courses in business communications, management principles, direct marketing management, marketing management, and recreation sport principles, as well as to members of the Marketing Club and Sport Management Association student organizations.

While many Western students didn’t get to meet Connie last week, Professor Onion shared some nuggets of Connie’s wisdom (and stories about his career and WIU experiences) below.

WIU Alumnus '74 Connie Kowal

WIU Alum (’74) Connie Kowal

Q). Why do you feel it’s important to invite successful alumni back to talk with students?

Prof. Onion: It’s one thing to hear tips and advice from your advisers and professors, but when an alum speaks to students, he/she lends credibility to what a professor is saying. In my experience, the alumni who return to campus to speak typically share three traits:

  1. They love the institution and value the education they earned at WIU.
  2. They want to offer advice and expertise in their markets (areas of work or study).
  3. They want to help students. As Connie says, “Leathernecks Help Leathernecks.”

Q). What was his presentation about?

Onion: He talked about his experience with the Cubs and his good friend Ernie Banks. He also discussed his work with the National Football League’s New Orleans Saints in 2003, 2004, as well as in 2005—the Hurricane Katrina year.

WIU alumnus Connie Kowal's presentation to WIU students Feb. 9, 2015.

WIU alumnus Connie Kowal’s presentation to WIU students Feb. 9, 2015.

In April of 2005 (draft day), he established the marketing theme “Ya Gotta Have Faith.” As he shared his experiences with WIU students, he noted: “Little did we know that just a few months later, when Katrina hit New Orleans August 29, our marketing campaign would have two meanings.”

He continued:

“We evacuated New Orleans and moved our operation to the San Antonio’s Alamodome. Our operation was set up in the basement of the Alamodome with piping and drapes. We were a glorified trade show. We put in 23-hour days, and I grew a beard because I simply did not have time to shave. We were managing our jobs, but we were also managing lives of players and personnel. Everything they had was eight hours away. The NFL season—which was only two weeks away—was not going to wait on us. We had to do whatever it took to be ready. We had guys (players) practicing in parking lots and just anywhere they could find a space. When we won that opening game September 11 by three points (23-20) against the Carolina Panthers, there was not a dry eye in the locker room—not one. It was the most emotional win I’ve ever experienced. I’ll never forget it.”

When a student asked Connie: “Can you tell us a story of compassion shown after Hurricane Katrina?” He replied:

“All of America reached out to us. Everyone. Everywhere. Whatever they could do to help, they did.”

Below are some of his Connie “isms” he shared, too:

  • Mind your ABCs — Be Accessible, Be Reliable, Be Credible
  • Be the #1 fan of your own fan club
  • Work hard, do your job, work hard, do your job, work hard, do your job. Grinders win in life!
  • If I can do it, you can do it. I’m not that good. I just out-hustled people
  • Sports is a perishable product. If you don’t sell the seat today, you can’t resell it tomorrow—game over. Do your job.
  • The smallest task can lead to the biggest accomplishment.
  • Business is a contact sport. Learn to talk to people. I’ve never hired thumbs. I hire people.
  • Never pretend to be someone you are not.
  • This is not a one-and-done relationship. You have my contact information. If I can help you in anyway, please get in touch with me and remember: Leathernecks Help Leathernecks!

Q). Anything else you want to highlight about Connie’s presentations to students?

Onion: Just one of the stories he shared… His freshman year, Connie tried out for the WIU baseball team. He was cut.

“I didn’t blame the coach or say I got a bad deal. I worked at it and came back the next year,” he explained.

He watched every WIU baseball game from the stands and played in a summer league. The next year, he went back to the tryouts and introduced himself to Coach Pawlow again. He made the team. He was a utility player—until his senior year. Then the coach put him in as a back up at third base, and he went 4 for 4 at the plate. He never came out of the lineup again.

“I’m 5’5, my name is Connie for goodness sake, I have an overbite, and I’ve lost my hair,” he told students. “I had a lot of things to overcome, but I did it.”

The 1974 team he played on was one game away from the College World Series, when they lost in the bottom of the 11th inning, 0-1, due to a walk off.