Success by Design: Internship Adds to Graphic Communication Repertoire for New WIU Alumna

Mariah Bartz, a brand new alumna of Western Illinois University, with the Pokémon Go map she designed for WIU's Macomb campus.

Mariah Bartz, a brand new alumna of Western Illinois University, with the Pokémon Go map she designed for WIU’s Macomb campus.

What experiences in an internship can help make it “awesome” for a college student?

Just ask Macomb native and brand new Western Illinois University alumna Mariah Bartz. This summer, those of us who work in University Relations had the great pleasure of working with Mariah—she has been in our office every morning since May 24 working to complete a design internship, the final requirement for her bachelor’s degree in graphic communication.

“Working with University Relations allowed me to utilize my skills in a real-world setting. I had to apply many things I had learned in my courses, and this served as both continued practice and as a reminder for the tips and tricks I needed to make something look the way I imagined it to be,” Mariah noted. “During this internship, I designed posters, postcards, birthday cards, advertisements, booklet pages, maps, and a social media directory webpage and a blog directory webpage for Western’s website. I was fortunate to be given such a wide variety of projects during my time there, and it was particularly awesome to get to work both with page layout and web design.”

Throughout much of her time at Western, Mariah has truly embraced the University’s core values of educational opportunity and personal growth and has the projects/creations now under her belt to prove it. Not only has she created a number of real-world projects this summer we’re using in University Relations—e.g., the Pokémon Go map for campus and she completed a much-needed update to our social media directory—but she also has been doing so since at least 2015 as a Western student.

Mariah with the Rocky statue she was selected to paint the 2015 edition of the Rocky on Parade campaign.

Mariah with the Rocky statue she was selected to paint the 2015 edition of the Rocky on Parade campaign.

In the fall last year, Mariah was selected to design the 2015 holiday card, which features an original watercolor lithograph of Sherman Hall. The card was sent to more than 750 friends of the WIU Foundation. Also in 2015, Mariah was chosen to design and paint the Foundation’s Rocky statue as a part of the 2015 Rocky on Parade campaign. Bartz’s “Molecule Dog,” featuring the chemical symbols for love and happiness, is now situated by the flagpole north of the University Union.

Mariah, who has also had her artwork featured at the Juried Student Exhibition at WIU, the Evanston Art Center (Evanston, IL), and the Figge Art Museum (Davenport, IA), shared a bit more about her background and her experiences at Western below…

Q. Where did you grow up? What are your interests outside of work/school?

Mariah: I grew up here in Macomb, so WIU has been a part of my life for a long time. Outside of work or school, my interests include doing small art projects, playing video games, and watching movies. I am very much a homebody.

Q. What have been some of your most memorable experiences as a student at WIU?

Rocky on Parade statue painted by WIU alumna Mariah Bartz (pictured here with Mariah's aunt, grandmother, and mother) on the north side of the Western Illinois University Union.

The 2015 Rocky on Parade statue painted by WIU alumna Mariah Bartz (pictured here with Mariah’s aunt, grandmother, and mother). The statue is located on the north side of the Western Illinois University Union.

Mariah: The most memorable experience was getting drafted by the WIU Foundation to paint their Rocky sculpture for Rocky on Parade in 2015. It was fun for me to paint it, and now that my “molecule dog” is under the flag post by the Union, it’s fun to see people interact with the dog and take photos of it.

Q. What are your career plans?

Mariah: For the future, I plan to move into a city to get a broader use for my degree, with either printed media or web design. I may also consider continuing my education—if I later feel that it would be a good direction for me to go.

Q. How do you think your studies have prepared you for your career?

Mariah: I feel like many of the courses I took benefitted me greatly, and I had some excellent instruction from a few teachers along the way. There are some good habits I have formed through my advanced design classes that have made me prepared to handle a variety of professional circumstances.

Q. What advice do you have for current and future WIU students?

Mariah: Between my sophomore and junior year, I ended up taking some time off from school. For me, this was a benefit, because I needed to sort of recharge my batteries. When I returned to WIU, I was more motivated and dedicated, and it absolutely paid off then.

If you are a student who feels stressed or pressured, please understand that everyone’s life is different, and that if you want to progress somewhere, you can do so when the time is right for you.

•••••••••

Although we’re proud that Mariah seemed to enjoy and benefit immensely her time with us here in University Relations this summer, we’re even more proud that she chose Western and she will go forth and represent her alma mater well… yet another WIU Success Story!

Educational Exchange: Faculty Swap Lives for a Year of Scholarly Studies Abroad

Here in the Midwest U.S., it’s that time of year when people are taking advantage of the more leisurely summertime months. Area Midwesterners are happily planning and taking vacations, as well as enjoying the bounty of nature western Illinois offers for inhabitants and visitors, alike. One thing about time spent away from home—whether it’s a weekend a short distance from your house or a yearlong stint in a different country—it’s hard to argue with the fact a change of scenery can have a rejuvenating effect. Still, there’s nothing quite like that feeling of coming home.

Horstmann Family of Denmark

Horstmann Family of Denmark

For the Horstmann Family of Denmark and the Hancks Family of the United States, both are likely experiencing what can be a mixed bag of emotions that comes when you leave a special place—yet you are glad to be on your way home. The two families are about settle back into their home lives, in their home countries and, hopefully, reap the benefits of their living abroad experiences over the last year.

A “Scholar Swap”
Through WIU’s Center for International Studies and University Libraries, Jens has been a visiting scholar at Western since the summer of 2015. Through a unique “scholar swap” idea, Jens was able to “swap lives” with WIU Archivist and Professor at University Libraries Dr. Jeff Hancks. The exchange enabled Jens and his family to live in Macomb, and for Jeff and his family (with his wife, Meredith, who works in WIU’s Foundation and Development Office, and twin sons Anders and Torben and their little sister, Svea) to live in Rødding, Denmark for approximately one year.

Hancks Family of the U.S.

Hancks Family of the U.S.

On Saturday July 16, Jeff will share his experiences in Scandinavian culture in “A Taste of the Archives.” The event is set to start at 5:30 p.m. in the University Libraries’ Archives (located on the sixth floor of the Leslie F. Malpass Library), and the evening will feature a presentation by Jeff, who will talk about his sabbatical experiences at Denmark’s oldest folk high school, Rødding Højskole. In addition, attendees will be able to enjoy a five-course Scandinavian meal (see www.wiu.edu/libraries/news/2010s/2016/tasteofarchives.php for the menu and how to register).

The Horstmanns, too, will share their living-abroad experiences with their fellow Danes when they return there; but before they left Macomb, they shared some of what they learned while living here.

Q. Tell me about your family and how you became a visiting scholar at WIU.

A. We are Signe and Jens Horstmann from Denmark, and we have been living in Macomb for the past year with our two daughters, Kamille, 7, and Selma, 5. I have been a visiting scholar with Western Illinois University, and Signe has been working part time for her company back home—she is an attorney—and has also been a stay-at-home mom over here.

Selma, 5 (in WIU headband), her mother, Signe, and her sister, Kamille (7), enjoy a Leatherneck Football Game at Western.

Selma, 5 (right, in WIU headband), her mother, Signe, and her sister, Kamille (7), enjoy a Leatherneck Football game at Western during Fall 2015.

We came to Macomb pretty much out of coincidence. Two years ago, Jeff Hancks, a professor at Western Illinois University Libraries, wrote a letter to my school in Denmark, asking if we would be interested in having him teach and conduct research for a year since he had a sabbatical coming up and wanted to explore our form of school (a Danish Folk School). He would need a place to stay with his family, too.

My school jumped at the idea right away, and a few days later, I sent Jeff an email basically asking: “Ok, so this may be crazy, but what do you say we swap lives for a year?” My wife and I had always been talking about staying abroad for a period of time, and I, too, had the possibility to apply for a sabbatical—and here was the opportunity to solve a lot of practical questions. Jeff was in on the idea, so was WIU, and 200 emails later, here we are.

Q.What has your family been doing since you arrived in Macomb?

A. Signe has been doing a few hours of work every day online for her company back home, and has been a mom a lot too. Our girls are in [first] grade and Pre-K, but we both wanted to have a lot more time together as a family during the sabbatical. I have been a visiting scholar with a work station at the Archives in University Libraries. My field is political science, so I have been guest lecturing different classes. I have been doing research on how the American college tradition with students living on campus, getting involved in sports, etc., affects the academic output… in other words: Do you get better students if you get the students engaged in activities outside class as you do here in the U.S.—compared to the European tradition of universities being strictly a place for academia? I am writing a report on the subject for an organization back home.

Jens Horstmann at Western Illinois University, Fall 2015

Jens Horstmann at Western Illinois University, Fall 2015

I also  have spent a lot of time being a dad, exploring the U.S., meeting interesting people and generally living life!

Q. What have you learned about the United States and the rural Midwest after living here for the last year? Was living here different than you expected it to be? Why or why not?

A. This is not our first time in the U.S., and back home, I even teach a class called “Understanding America,” so we didn’t come unprepared. But being able to actually live here and be part of a community (not just visiting) has taught us something about the American sense of participation and contribution. We realize it might be different in big cities, but we have come to appreciate very much how much you all seem to want to contribute to your communities. You are very involved, spend time and money on a lot of organizations, churches, etc.—it seems as if many Americans have a better understanding of having society resting on your shoulders, rather than the other way around, than most Danes. So this is definitely a generous society.

It is, however, also a somewhat irrational society compared to our country; as a society, it seems, you guys tend to make rules based more on intuition and gut feeling than on research and facts. It ranges from funny details, such as in traffic (“all-way stops” are a waste of everyone’s time and gas compared to roundabouts) or in office layout (in Denmark, it is illegal to have an office without windows, because daylight is proven to significantly enhance well being and productivity; here, it seems you try to stay away from daylight because you think it is a distraction), to more serious issues like minimum wage and gun control.

Living here has actually been easier than we expected—and the next answer will explain why…

Q. Tell me about your favorite experiences in Macomb and at WIU since you arrived here.

A. The one thing that comes to mind is definitely all the people we have met. Everyone has been so welcoming, so inclusive—it has been much easier than we thought it would be to feel as a part of the city and the community. The number of people who have offered help and invitations to everything is just fantastic, and we will miss them very much. We have never before experienced such a massive warm welcome that has stretched throughout the year. We feel encouraged to return to stay in the U.S. again sometime—and we are grateful and humble! Our kids, of course, were thrown into school and new friends without speaking a word of English, so it has been a lot more work for them, but that also worked out perfectly (and making them bilingual was a major reason for us going in the first place).

Q. How do you think your time spent living in Macomb and working at WIU will impact your professional and personal lives when you return home?

A. On a personal note, we have already discussed how we can transfer some of the sense of community back home. What can we do better to be more involved and meet more people? The stay here has been such an inspiration. We are also more focused on work and career not being the most important thing in life—we have spent so much time together as a family, which is much more rewarding. Not sure our coworkers are going to appreciate that change as much, though.

We just want to thank the people at WIU and in the community that made our stay possible—from being in on the idea from the beginning and welcoming us into their lives all along. It will be hard going home.

Tracking the Best: WIU-QC Academic Advisor Wheeler Recognized for Coaching in Iowa

Kenny and Jane Wheeler

Kenny and Jane Wheeler

Last year, Kenny Wheeler was in the spotlight for his outstanding work at Western Illinois University. In April 2015, Kenny was named the COAA (Council of Academic Advisors) Advisor of the Month.

Later that same month, he provided a bit of background about himself and his passions (at work and outside of it) in that month’s Council of Administrative Personnel Employee Spotlight.

“My two favorite activities outside of my job are 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,” he explained in the COAP Employee Spotlight Q&A. “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.” (See Kenny’s full interview at wiurelations.wordpress.com/2015/04/29/coap-spotlight-wheeler/.)

This year, Kenny is, once again, being recognized publicly for his work… this time in conjunction with his wife, Jane.

Kenny and Jane were recently named The Des Moines Register’s All-Iowa Girls’ Track Coaches of the Year.

“The husband-and-wife team led Pleasant Valley to a Class 4A state runner-up finish this spring,” notes John Naughton, in “All-Iowa girls’ track: Wheelers a potent Pleasant Valley coaching duo. “Jane and Kenny Wheeler have shared head coaching duties since 2012 and developed one of the state’s top programs,” he added.

Congratulations, Kenny and Jane!

#WIUPride

(Read the entire article at www.desmoinesregister.com/story/sports/high-school/all-iowa/2016/05/24/all-iowa-girls-track-wheelers-potent-pleasant-valley-coaching-duo/84782920/.)

A Message of Appreciation to Macomb and Western Illinois University

by Meshari H. Alanazi

Meshari H. Alanazi is a graduate student in Western Illinois University’s School of Computer Science.

Meshari H. Alanazi is a graduate student in Western Illinois University’s School of Computer Science.

When I came to the United States in December 2012, I was worried about my new experience here because of the different language, culture, and religions. At the time, I did not know any English at all. I had come to Macomb to study English in Western’s English as a Second Language (WESL) Institute and had hopes to move on to pursue a master’s degree in computer science at WIU.

The beginning of this experience was amazing—from all of the great people who I met and dealt with. Everyone was very helpful and smiling all the time, which made the new experience much easier.

After I found a place to live, every day I was here in Macomb was becoming better more and more beautiful than the previous day. My neighbors, my teachers, and the members of the community created an environment for me that made me feel much more comfortable, and I even reached a point where I felt just as welcome here as I feel in my hometown. Everyone I interacted with was always smiling, and that is a great thing even in my religion. The Prophet Muhammad said, “A smile towards another is a charity.” It did not take long for the stereotypes that I had heard of to be proven inaccurate.

When I first came to Macomb, my wife was with me. Through all of the great experiences she had here, she came to the same conclusion. We have lived in happiness, safety, and comfort since we first came here.

In early February 2013, God blessed us both with the birth of my first son, Abdulrhman. Our experience with the hospital personnel and staff only increased our happiness and satisfaction with this great community. Every day, my love for the people and this city grows tremendously.

Meshari Alanazi near the Islamic Center of Macomb

Meshari Alanazi near the Islamic Center of Macomb.

Now, after being the vice president of the Islamic Center of Macomb for nearly two years and the president, from September 2015 until I graduate this May, I have found our community and all of its members love Macomb, Western Illinois University, and the people and friends who live here.

I wanted to write this message with all of the truth, respect, and love from my heart—and from the hearts of all of the members of the Islamic community—to convey how much I have come to love this place and this university. In our religion, we are taught to respect everyone, be truthful to everyone, love everyone, and wish peace upon everyone who we know and interact with.

Within the time I have been here in the United States (three years and four months), I learned so much about the U.S. as a country and as a society, and I have realized Americans are amazing, trustworthy, helpful, friendly, and respectful people. This is why I decided to write this message.

I ask that you please do not believe the negative image that I believe the media has created for Muslims. There are 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, and yet, unfortunately, some of those people—a very small number, less than 0.01 percent—are the bad people who have caused problems. Those people are acting on their own, not on the behalf of Islam; thus the people of Islamic countries, with Saudi Arabia as their leader, are working even harder to bring peace to this whole world.

In the end, this is a message and a truth from me for the purpose of portraying my love and respect to you all after living among you for the past three or so years. In my mind, I have a great relationship with all whom I have lived amongst and interacted with. I hope you all will continue to live in peace and happiness.

Finally, this May after graduation, I will go back to my country to live alongside my family in the great country, Saudi Arabia. I will never forget the wonderful life that I have lived amongst you all, and I thank you deeply and genuinely.
••••••••
Meshari H. Alanazi is a graduate student in Western Illinois University’s School of Computer Science.

COAP Employee Spotlight: Judy Yeast

Courtney James and Judy Yeast

According to Western Illinois University alumna Courtney James (left), who worked with Judy Yeast (right) on Big Pink Volleyball (BPV), WIU’s annual breast cancer fundraising volleyball tourney, Judy had a significant impact on her while she was a graduate student working on the BPV student organization team.

“You’re going to be doing the Fallen Soldier 5K, right, Teresa?”

The voice was coming from above me just as I was about to begin an early morning workout in September. I stopped, a couple of steps up from the landing, on my way to the upper level at the Donald S. Spencer Student Recreation Center, tilted my eyes toward the ceiling and saw Judy Yeast, associate director of Western Illinois University’s Campus Recreation. She was smiling down at me over the stairwell railing.

“I don’t really have the knees anymore for running, Judy.”

“You don’t have to run in it, Teresa. You can walk in it, too,” she said. By that point, she was beaming down at me.

While I personally usually try to stay away from distance walking and running events (which aggravate my unfortunate genetically determined arthritic knee condition), a few weeks later, I found myself walking in Western’s Fallen Soldiers 5K Run/Walk.

After the event, I can honestly say I was glad I did it—and I plan to “do” the Fallen Solider 5K Run/Walk again next year, aching knees and all.

The 2015 Fallen Soldiers 5K Run/Walk at WIU

The 2015 Fallen Soldiers 5K Run/Walk at WIU. See more photos of the annual event at bit.ly/WIUFS5K.

Judy has been an integral part of such WIU philanthropic events as the Fallen Soldiers 5K, which is a fundraiser for the Fallen Soldiers’ Scholarship Fund in honor of WIU alumni Capt. Derek Dobogai and Lt. Col. Robert Baldwin, who were killed in the line of duty, as well as the annual University Housing (Thompson Hall) and Campus Recreation breast cancer fundraising Big Pink Volleyball Tournament. The single-elimination Big Pink Volleyball tourney — which began at Western in 2002 and has spread to many campuses and even private-sector companies since — has raised nearly $120,000 at WIU alone to support the breast cancer cause.

Members of the Big Pink Volleyball Committee in 2015.

It was Judy Yeast (back row, left, wearing pink scarf) who first purchased a “big pink volleyball” for use at WIU’s Student Recreation Center. In 15 years, Big Pink Volleyball at WIU has raised $118,457. Of that, Susan G. Komen for the Cure has received $56,905.28 and McDonough District Hospital has received $61,550.84. Of the 70 percent donated to MDH, 35 percent is donated to Linda’s Fund and the other 35 percent is donated to Outreach Services.

“It started because of Judy,” noted WIU alumna Joni Burch (2004), who was part of the very first group of Thompson Hall resident assistants, or the “founding mothers,” involved with Big Pink Volleyball at Western. “When it began at WIU, Judy just had bought this big pink ball for the Student Recreation Center. During our winter training as resident assistants, we were having a social event, and she came up to me and said, ‘You should think of a program to use this ball,'” Burch explained. “We were having a lot of fun playing volleyball with the big pink ball, so, based on Judy’s suggestion, that’s what we decided we would do. Our first tourney was in April that year. We decided we liked it so much, we would hold it in October, too, and make it an annual thing in October for breast cancer awareness,” Burch added.

Although I have only known her since about 2008 (the year I began working at WIU), Judy has truly been an inspiration to me personally. I have had the fortunate circumstance to work with her, as well as run into her, many times on campus over the years. Each time, I can honestly say, I have come away with a positive sentiment or feeling to take me through the rest of the day.

After her 34 years at Western, I can imagine there are many, many people — students, faculty, staff, alumni — who have come into contact with Judy who have similar stories, anecdotes that included them taking part in, or implementing, an activity or idea she suggested.

“I always try to have people see the positive side of things and to stay positive and encourage people to invest in themselves,” she told me, when I recently asked her if she would be interested in being featured as the subject of the Nov./Dec. 2015 “Council of Administrative Personnel (COAP) Employee Spotlight,” a blog post the COAP Executive Committee sponsors every month or so.

Recently, I learned Judy has decided to retire, and to honor her dedicated service to Western, there is a reception in her honor from 2-4 p.m. this Thursday (Dec. 17) at the WIU Multicultural Center.

I hope this particular spotlight Q&A post also helps to honor her and her commitment to Western. Below are her answers to some questions I posed to her about her long-held position in WIU’s Campus Recreation.

Q. How did you end up working at Western?

Judy: I did my undergraduate degree at Quincy College (now University) in physical education, grades 6-12. Then I did my student teaching, and I decided I did not want to teach high school students, so I came to Western and got a graduate assistantship in women’s intramurals, and I thought, “This is really fun.” After I graduated, I obtained a teaching position at Monmouth College in their physical education program, and a year later, the position here for the Women’s Intramurals director opened up, and I came back to Western. That’s how I got back here, and I’ve been here since 1981.

Q. What was your graduate degree in?

Judy: My master’s degree was in athletic administration (but now it’s called “sport management“). I came into Western as the director of Women’s Intramurals, and that year, WIU renamed and combined men’s and women’s intramurals into Campus Recreation, and John Colgate became the director of campus recreation. I was assistant director of Campus Recreation, then I moved up to associate director. Then, in 1994-95, when we passed the student referendum for the Student Recreation Center, I served as the interim director for Campus Recreation for a time.

That’s probably the highlight of my career here—to see the passing of the student referendum so that we could build the Student Recreation Center.

Q. What did you use for recreational sports here at WIU before the Student Recreation Center was constructed?

Judy: We had the Brophy Hall gym from 6-10 p.m., and we used Brophy’s room 235 for a fitness studio. Whenever Athletics wasn’t using Western Hall, we would get to use Western Hall from 6-10 at night. We had pools in both spaces, but we only had room 235 for our aerobics classes. We might have two or three aerobics classes per day. Now, we have 49 classes throughout the week, and we have a pool that is open during prime times for students in the Recreation Center.

Q. What does a typical day look like for you these days?

Judy: I don’t have a typical day. Like today, I started off with a blood pressure screening and bone density screening for one of the Employee Wellness Committee’s programs. I’m one of 11 people on that committee. After I get done talking with you this morning, I will go and speak to group of graduate assistants to show them how to write their annual reports for the vice president’s office. This afternoon, I’ll be doing a wrap up meeting with the members of the Big Pink Volleyball committee, and tonight, I’ll go over and visit the art department for their program from 7-9 p.m. There are no typical days in Campus Recreation. But, as you know, working with college students keeps you young. And that is the neat thing about our program and my job—that I get to work with students.

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

Judy: I work with a lot of graduate students, and I love it when I see their individual “light bulbs” go on and I know they have passion that you have to have for the field of recreational sports. Watching them get their first jobs and being successful… and then watching them get those second jobs, and then seeing them move into positions they never thought they were capable of and then being able to tell people, “I got my degree here at Western Illinois University.” That is so rewarding for me.

In general, I love the fact I get to work with lots of students. With Big Pink Volleyball, I get to work with the students in Thompson Hall, because Big Pink is their capstone philanthropic project. Also, I work with students who work on Dodgeball for Diabetes, which is co-sponsored with the National Residence Hall Honorary (NRHH) on our WIU campus.

I have been able to work on a lot of different activities. It has been neat to see the success of the Fallen Soldier’s 5K, which began as a midnight basketball tournament in February 2012 that made $28.03. Who would have ever thought we would have endowed the Fallen Soldiers’ Scholarship Fund only a few years later?

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

Judy: I think that are only 24 hours in a day. Just like everybody else, I need my down time and need to follow the wellness models. I need to work out, I need to take care of myself, I need to eat right and have a balance of work and play in my life.

Q. What do you like to do outside of your job?

Judy: We have three children, and our first grandson lives in Denver, so we enjoy traveling. I also enjoy finishing furniture and woodworking, gardening, and doing athletic type of things to stay active.

Q. Do you have a favorite quote or some go-to advice you like or you like to tell people?

Judy: “If exercise could be packed into a pill, it would be the single most widely prescribed and beneficial medicine in the nation.” — Robert Butler

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.