COAP Employee Spotlight: Seth Miner

Western Illinois University Director of Admissions Seth Miner

“No matter how intense meetings can be or the amount of pressure that comes with working in admissions, I have never dreaded going to work. In admissions, we have an opportunity to open the doors to the future for prospective students and feed off the excitement they have in determining the next chapter in their lives.” — Western Illinois University Director of Admissions Seth Miner

One of the better feelings in life is landing a new job or reaching a career milestone in a field that you love. Seth Miner, Western Illinois University’s new director of undergraduate admissions, has accomplished both with his new post at Western.

The director of admissions at any university can be considered the “hotseat,” depending on many internal and external circumstances that impact students’ choices of where to attend college; thus, it is often considered a stressful job. According to Seth, though, sometimes, that pressure can be useful.

No matter how intense meetings can be or the amount of pressure that comes with working in admissions, I have never dreaded going to work. In admissions, we have an opportunity to open the doors to the future for prospective students and feed off the excitement they have in determining the next chapter in their lives. I also love being challenged, which is something that we face on a daily basis in admissions,” he explained.

Seth agreed to share a bit more about himself in the Council of Administrative Personnel (COAP) Spotlight this month. More about his background and his work at Western so far, is below…

Welcome to Western Illinois University, Seth!

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

Seth: I was one of those students who never wanted to leave college, as I thoroughly enjoyed my college experience. I began my higher education career as the carpenter for Waldorf College in Forest City, IA. I was a proud alumnus who wanted to work at Waldorf and viewed the job as a foot in the door. After six months working at Waldorf College, a position opened in admissions. I applied, was offered, and accepted the position, and it was at that point that I was hooked!

Admissions is all about building relationships with prospective students and families, promoting the great things the institution has to offer—with the intent of the student choosing to enroll. After two years in admissions, I wanted to see what it was like building those relationships with students (once they were at the institution) as a way of retaining them. I then accepted a position at Luther College in Decorah, IA, in residence life.

At Luther College, I was the area coordinator for a complex that housed 750 upper-class students. It was a great experience, but it did not take long for me to realize I missed the fast-paced life of working in admissions. It was at this time that I got back into admissions at Upper Iowa University in Fayette, IA, as the associate director of admissions there.

During my time at Upper Iowa University, I co-supervised professional staff members, managed an in-state, as well as an out-of-state, territory, and also supervised the admissions student ambassador program and student call team. Up to that point, my experience had been working at small private institutions. I began to search for opportunities at small regional public institutions, as I felt I could incorporate my private experience and practices into public institution recruitment and be successful.

The next chapter in my career was at Bemidji State University in Bemidji, MN, as the associate director of admissions and scholarship coordinator. For two years I held that position, and in it, I also supervised  admissions representatives, in addition to coordinating scholarships and implementing the strategic recruitment plan of the admissions office.

My third and final year at Bemidji State University, I had the opportunity to serve as the interim director of admissions, and my additional responsibilities included coordinating community outreach programs, budget management, strategic planning, and supervising the entire admissions staff of nine professional staff members.

I found success in implementing more of a private recruitment strategy at a public institution. My career goals were to work at a larger public institution, and that is when I came across this opportunity at Western Illinois University.

What sparked my initial interest in WIU was the automatic merit-based scholarship program that WIU has. It is reminiscent of what private institutions do and what I was accustomed to in my past experience.

Another draw to WIU was the cost guarantee and no out-of-state tuition. Higher education is a competitive market, and WIU has made these decisions that will ensure that we are providing a quality education at an affordable price.

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

Seth: It has been great getting to meet all the people here at WIU and in the city of Macomb in the two months that I have been at WIU. One of the things that I love about working in admissions is that there is no such thing as a typical day. I often look at my calendar the night before to determine what I have going on the next day and that often changes. I rely heavily on my staff, and make it a point to visit with the processing staff right away in the morning, as it is a busy time of the year for them.

The majority of my days are spent in meetings, as well as looking at data to identify trends that we can capitalize on in the recruitment of students.

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

Seth: I am a competitor and enjoy a good challenge. The biggest challenge that we face in admissions is that our livelihood is determined by the decision-making ability of a 17- to 18-year old. We can do everything right in the recruitment process, provide the students all the information he or she needs about the institution and his or her program of interest, mutually determine that WIU is a good fit and what the student is looking for, and yet, he or she can still decide to go elsewhere. There are many outside variables that beyond our immediate control.

Q. Tell me a little about your favorite activities outside of your job.

Seth: I am currently working on my doctorate degree, so my activities have been limited. However, I do have three children (Brooks, who is 10, Cameron, who is 7, and Kaitlyn, who is 1) that I enjoy taking to the park with my wife (Jennifer). Family is a big part of my life, and the move to Macomb has also brought us closer to extended family. Our two boys are at the age where they are becoming more active in extracurricular activities, such as football, soccer, basketball, and baseball and we are excited to get them involved in all the Macomb community has to offer.

Q. What is your go-to advice?

Seth: My go-to advice would have to be to challenge yourself every day and step out of your comfort zone. It is only when you step out of your comfort zone that you truly find what you are capable of and can continually raise the bar! It is something that I have lived my life by, and if I would not have stepped out of my comfort zone and made an 11-hour move, I would not have had the opportunity to meet so many great individuals here in Macomb and at Western Illinois University.

Alum Spearheads Backpacks for Homeless Project in Chicago

On Dec. 26, DeAngelo Gerald, a 2014 graduate of Western Illinois University’s social work program, will distribute backpacks to homeless individuals in Chicago. The packs and the items in them are the fruits of his labor in the “Backpacks for the Homeless – Chicago” project. Currently, DeAngelo has a GoFundMe campaign and a Facebook page to help publicize and support his project, which he started last year.

The day after Santa is officially done this year, Western Illinois University alumnus DeAngelo Gerald will spearhead his own gift-giving operation in a typically cold northern location.

On December 26, DeAngelo — a 2014 WIU social work graduate — will hand out backpacks (filled with hats, gloves, food, toiletry items, and other necessary items) to homeless individuals in Chicago. The items he will distribute are the fruits of his labor for his “Backpacks for the Homeless – Chicago” project. Currently, he has a GoFundMe campaign and a Facebook page to help publicize his project, which he started last year.

This year, DeAngelo — who is pursuing a master’s degree in social work at Aurora University and serving as a social work intern at Metea Valley High School (Aurora, IL) — is receiving help for the project from a few suburban organizations, including Metea Valley High School, Vernon Hills Park District, and the Mundelein/Vernon Hills Rotary Club, too.

DeAngelo recently reached out to his undergraduate alma mater to let us know about the project, and I asked him a few questions about his “Backpacks for the Homeless – Chicago” campaign/project and his service in the social work field.

Q. What have you been doing since you left Western?

DeAngelo: Upon graduating from WIU, I immediately began working in the social services field, primarily working with youth with such barriers as homelessness, disability, high school dropouts, etc. In addition to currently serving in my social work internship at Metea Valley High School, I also serve as the assistant football coach there.

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Items that have been donated or purchased for the “Backpacks for the Homeless – Chicago” project.

Q. Tell me about the “Backpacks for the Homeless” project was started.

DeAngelo: I began the campaign last year. I was able to collect 60 backpacks filled with such items as hats, gloves, jackets, food, water, toothbrushes, feminine products, etc.,  and after all of the backpacks were collected, I, with the help of my family, and friends, walked the streets of downtown Chicago and distributed the backpacks to those in need. We were able to give out all of the backpacks, as well as some gift cards to restaurants.

This year, with the organizations helping us, as well as family and friends, we have been able to collect more than 120 backpacks thus far! Just as we did last year, with the help of friends and family, the backpacks will be hand delivered December 26 to the homeless throughout the Chicagoland area.

Some of the donate items, pictured on the "Backpacks for the Homeless - Chicago" Facebook page December 7, 2016.

Some of the donated items in 2016 (pictured on the “Backpacks for the Homeless – Chicago” Facebook page December 7, 2016). The caption reads: “More donations from the Vernon Hills Park District! Thank you so much for all that you have done this far!!!”

Q. How can people help with the project?

DeAngelo: For individuals looking to donate goods to the cause, they can reach out to me via Facebook , by email, or by phone (call or text), and share with me the items they want to donate. Once I receive their information, I can coordinate a time and place to meet with them in order to pick up the donation.

For individuals looking to donate funds to the cause, go to www.Gofundme.com/Backpacks2016. I encourage anyone who donated funds to GoFund Me to like the “Backpacks for the Homeless” Facebook page, so they may see photos of all of the items that have been purchased with their donations.

For individuals looking to assist with the distribution of the backpacks, they too can contact me via Facebook, email, or by phone (call or text). Once I make contact with them, I provide them with detailed information regarding when and where to meet on the distribution day. Once it gets closer to the distribution day, I will touch base with them in order to confirm that they will be helping to distribute the backpacks.

This year, any backpacks unable to be distributed on December 26, will be donated to Pads of Lake County. I have reached out to them and they are fully aware of the project and look forward to any donations that I am able to provide to them.

To reach DeAngelo, call, text, email, or inbox at:

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Creating Special Moments

Creating Special Moments

Editor’s Note: Western Illinois University Department of Communication Instructor David Zanolla is on sabbatical to broaden his understanding of organizational communication. Zanolla teaches Communication 379, “Disney and Universal Communication Culture,” a course that begins with eight weeks of classroom study about the organizational and communication culture of the Disney parks and culminates in a trip to Walt Disney World so students can observe the Disney communication culture in action.


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Hong Kong Disneyland on Lantau Island

Hong Kong Disneyland was definitely the smallest of the theme parks I visited while in Asia, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t provide a wealth of material to help me better understand the organizational culture of the Disney Parks.

One tenet of the Disney Parks’ culture is the importance of creating special moments for guests. Specifically, they refer to these opportunities as “Magical Moments.” It doesn’t matter how many times I visit a Disney Park, these moments where special attention is paid to me as a guest are always noteworthy.

At this particular park, I was looking forward to visiting Mystic Manor, an attraction that’s at the top of many Disney fans’ bucket lists.  The attraction is very similar to the Haunted Mansion rides in the American parks, but is done using state of the art special effects, including having ride vehicles running without being secured to a track.  Both the outside and inside of this attraction are gorgeous.

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The exterior of Mystic Manor.

While waiting in line to board the ride, a cast member asked my travel partner, Doug, why I was taking so many pictures. He explained the reason for my travels and my anticipation for getting to experience this attraction. She asked our names and then put us into a ride vehicle.

To make a long story short, the ride did not disappoint. The story, music (by film composer Danny Elfman) and ride effects all worked together perfectly.  As we were exiting our ride vehicle, the cast member approached us and handed us a certificate to commemorate our visit and first ride on Mystic Manor. In addition, she asked if we wanted to immediately ride again. We accepted without hesitation and were placed back in a vehicle without having to leave the building and come back through the main entrance.

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This free certificate is now in my office..

However, our positive experience with Mystic Point (the land where the ride was located) didn’t end there.  Doug and I decided to grab lunch at the fast food neighboring restaurant called “The Explorer’s Club.”

 

We had a fabulous lunch and, once again, I took a large amount of pictures of the interior of the restaurant. An assistant manager img_9539by the name of Simon came over and asked why I was taking so many photos (by now I should have just handed them a card).

After he talked with us about our travels for a few minutes, he asked if we’d be in the park the next day. When we told him that yes, we would be back, he asked if we wanted to come back for lunch. Having loved our meal, we immediately said that we’d love to come back.

Simon then said, “It’s going to be very busy tomorrow, so come back at 12:30, and I’ll have a table reserved for you.”  img_9492

Again, I must stress that I realize this gesture was nothing fancy, but being foreigners studying the culture of the international Disney parks, it was a perfect offer.

The next day, we returned to the restaurant at 12:30 and Simon was waiting for us. He brought us to the front to order and then to our table. He chatted with us again for a few moments and thanked us numerous times for coming back to the restaurant. As we were getting up to leave after finishing our meals, he asked if we would wait a minute before leaving.  Soon after, he came out with another manager and presented us with a complimentary dessert.

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We then asked if we could take a picture with him and the cast member that decorated our plate, and they were happy to oblige.

Why do I tell this story? Nothing overly grand took place. The dessert was simple and the gesture was even more so.

That said, it made us feel comfortable and special in a park in a country that was obviously not home.

img_9382Are there any opportunities for your organization to enact the principle of creating special moments for your employees or customers?

Obviously, providing free dessert may not always be fitting in your organization, but how can it be done where you work?

It didn’t take Simon and his crew very much time or money to make us feel special, but the fact that I’m writing about it once I returned home means it had the desired impact.


My Disney & Universal Communication Culture course (COMM 379) will be offered during the Spring 2017 semester.  For more information, visit the course webpage.

COAP Employee Spotlight: Dana Vizdal, WIU Center for International Studies

Dana Vizdal (second from left) and international students at the 2016 International Bazaar at WIU

Dana Vizdal (second from left) and international students at the 2016 International Bazaar at WIU

Traveling to and staying in a foreign country can be one of the most exhilarating experiences you can have. It can also be one of the most daunting, particularly if you’re a young college student.

Luckily, at Western Illinois University, international students have a well-developed support system that is the team of committed individuals who work in WIU’s Center for International Studies (CIS).

And although it’s not quite yet time for International Education Week (that occurs in November, and is set from Nov. 14-18 this year), it’s never too early to recognize the work that international educators do. Over the years, I have had the pleasure of collaborating with a few of the staff members at the CIS. I quickly picked up on the fact that they take their jobs—working with the many international students who come to Western—very seriously.

One of those dedicated staff members is CIS Assistant Director Dana Vizdal, who once was an international student herself during a semester-long study abroad program in Europe. So with International Education Week just around the corner, and to recognize Western’s commitment to international studies for both American and international students, this month, for the the Council of Administrative Personnel (COAP) Spotlight, we’re featuring Dana.

Below, she talks a bit about her background and what she does here for the many individuals who travel tens of thousands of miles to come and study in Macomb at WIU.

Q. How did you end up working at Western?

Dana: I actually grew up in Macomb and earned both of my degrees from WIU. I was fortunate to study abroad in Spain for a semester, which really got me interested in international affairs. I have had the opportunity to work at WIU as a student worker, a graduate assistant, a civil service employee and now as an administrator in my current position.

Dana Vizdal and Western Illinois Univeristy international students visiting the Illinois State Capitol Building in Springfield.

Dana Vizdal and Western Illinois University and a group of international students visiting the Illinois State Capitol Building in Springfield.

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

Dana: There really isn’t a typical day for me. I work closely with my graduate assistants, collaborate with many offices across campus, and help students with any questions or issues. It’s important to me that the international students know there is someone advocating for them and someone they can always approach. My door is always open, and if it’s not, there is a note on my door saying when I’ll be back.

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

Dana: I love following our students on Facebook and witnessing them experience real American culture. Seeing their reactions to and pictures of their first autumn experiences or snowfall in the Midwest is priceless.

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

Dana: One of the most rewarding experiences was learning that a student decided to attend WIU because I spoke with his sibling at a recruitment fair abroad!

Q. What are your favorite activities outside of your job?

Dana: When I’m not working, I love traveling, eating good food, and spending time with my boyfriend, family, and friends.

Q. What is your favorite quote or quotes?

Dana: I really like “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences,” by Audre Lorde, as well as “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much,” by Helen Keller.

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Follow Western’s Center for International Studies on Facebook at www.facebook.com/WIUCenterforInternationalStudies/.

Who are your organization’s MVPs?

Who are your organization’s MVPs?

Editor’s Note: Western Illinois University Department of Communication Instructor David Zanolla is on sabbatical to broaden his understanding of organizational communication. Zanolla teaches Communication 379, “Disney and Universal Communication Culture,” a course that begins with eight weeks of classroom study about the organizational and communication culture of the Disney parks and culminates in a trip to Walt Disney World so students can observe the Disney communication culture in action.


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The Partners Statue and Cinderella Castle in Tokyo Disneyland

Upon returning to Illinois after visiting the Disney Parks in China, Hong Kong and Japan, one of the most common questions I’m asked is, “So, what did you learn?”

To be honest, this is a question that turns out to be difficult to answer because I experienced so much. I walked 168 miles while touring the four Asian Disney parks.  I communicated with people who had never been to the United States and only spoke simple English phrases.

When I visit the American Disney parks, I am the “local,” but this time, I was on their turf and I was the outsider. In spite of all that, I enjoyed myself immensely and gained valuable insight into how a tried-and-tested organizational model was implemented outside of the U.S.

The final parks I visited were in Tokyo, Japan (Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea). As a fan of Disney parks, it did not take long for me to rank these destinations at the top of my list. While the rides were spectacular and the entertainment was top-of-the-line, the thing that impressed me most was a group of employees who most would tend to overlook.

Who were they?  The custodial staff.

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Mount Prometheus: The park icon of Tokyo DisneySea

These parks were immaculately clean.

A friend I spoke with shortly after returning echoed this sentiment.

“I seriously would not have been afraid to eat off the ground,” he told me.

While that statement may have been a bit tongue in cheek, I agreed with his thinking. However, the ability to keep the parks physically clean was not the only reason the custodial staff is worth noting. Cleaning is, of course, part of all their jobs, but it’s what they did to go above and beyond their job expectations that made them the MVPs of these two parks.

It seemed as if you couldn’t walk more than 50 feet in these parks without seeing a custodial cast member. Their presence was noticeable in every area of the park, as were their interactions with guests.

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Look closely… Can you find three custodial cast members (in white) in this one picture?

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I saw custodial staff constantly stopping to take photos for guests. At one point, a custodial cast member had formed a line of people for whom he was taking photos. He didn’t seem to be frustrated that he got stuck taking photos; he seemed to enjoy the ability to interact with guests. In fact, I marveled at his ability to have fun with one couple while taking their photo.

In this instance, he set them up to snap their picture, and I watched him fiddling with one of their phones. As a spectator, I assumed he was having trouble finding the shutter button. Instead, I learned he had taken a picture of the guests first and then flipped the camera around to “selfie” mode.

Imagine the hilarity that ensued when he showed these guests the photo he had taken for them, only for it to be of his face instead. The look of shock on their faces was quickly followed by him showing them the “real” photo of them he captured.
img_1446I spent nearly 15 minutes watching this custodial worker make these guests smile through the simple task of taking a photo. I then got in line and, when it was my turn, I didn’t ask for a photo of me alone… I asked him to pose in a photo with me. He seemed surprised and honored.

More evidence to showcase the contribution of the custodial staff is found in the broom art created by this group of employees. In the pictures below, not only can you see the custodians creating these drawings using their brooms, but you can see the group of visitors putting rides on hold while they watched this art come to life.

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To me, the custodial staff members were the unsung heroes of the Tokyo parks. You don’t think about them being important, but them fulfilling their roles in the organization is crucial toward their culture being a success.

This is true in all organizations.

Who are the MVPs of your organization? Who is often overlooked but without whom your culture would not be maintained effectively?


My Disney & Universal Communication Culture course (COMM 379) will be offered during the Spring 2017 semester. For more information, visit www.wiu.edu/comm/disney.

It’s All About the Students… COAP Employee Spotlight: Tracy Scott

Editor’s Note: After a bit of hiatus, the Council of Administrative Personnel Employee Spotlight is back. This month features Tracy Scott, who was named the COAP Employee of the Year (EOY) in 2016 and was recognized at last week’s (along with other award-winning employees) 23rd annual Founders’ Day celebration at Western Illinois University.

Right before the semester got underway this fall, Tracy Scott, the director of Western Illinois University’s Student Development Office (SDO), posted this to his Facebook profile:

Tracy Scott Facebook Post: "Seeing returning students who see each other for the first time since last semester never gets old! Love the hugs and the squeals!"While he’s been at WIU for nearly 30 years, it’s clear he still loves what he does at Western—most of which involves working with students. In his answers below, he explains his history with one of his alma maters and demonstrates why he was nominated for and ultimately chosen as COAP EOY.

Tracy Scott: WIU COAP Employee of the Year

Tracy Scott (center), director of the Western Illinois University Student Development Office, was named the WIU 2016 Employee of the Year by the Council of Administrative Personnel (COAP). He is pictured here with his two nominators, Vian Neally, assistant director of marketing at Campus Recreation, and Associate Vice President for Student Services John “JB” Biernbaum.

Q: Tell me a bit about your background: When did you start at WIU? What kinds of roles have you served in since you’ve been employed at Western?

Tracy: I first came to WIU in the fall of 1988 as a graduate student in the public communication program. I had an assistantship and primarily assisted with the Communication “Public Speaking” 241 course. For my thesis project, I worked on developing a brochure on cultural diversity to enhance the undergraduate admissions marketing plan. I also took graduate electives in WIU’s college student personnel program.

One of my favorite memories during this time was having then WIU President Ralph Wagoner co- teaching one of my courses. After receiving my master’s degree from WIU, I was hired by the Admissions Office as an admissions counselor.

Later, I was promoted to the assistant director of Admissions, where I was responsible for the reception center. After that, I was selected as the assistant director for the Student Development and Orientation Office (SDO) and then became the director of SDO in 2001. I also supervise the LGBT*QA Resource Center and serve as the Emergency Consultation team chair and co-chair of the Threat Assessment Team.

Q: On any given day, what kinds of tasks/duties do you undertake at WIU?

Tracy: One of the things I love most about my job is that every day is different. My day typically consists of assisting students in some form of crisis and helping them through that crisis. I also love the daily interaction of working with graduate students who are preparing for a career in higher education.

Q: What are some of the best parts of your job? What are some of the most challenging parts of your job?

Tracy: The best parts of my job is advocating for students and empowering students to take control of their challenges and watching them grow. Some of the most challenging parts of the job include working with situations of suicide, sexual assault, and other psychological situations that arise. It is also very challenging to work with students who have limited support.

Who We Are, What We Do: Piletic & Janisz

Tracy Scott came up with the idea of the “Who We Are, What We Do” series of posts about Western Illinois University employees. This installment featured Cindy Piletic and Michelle Janisz.

Q: Tell me about the “Who We Are, What We Do” campaign. How did this idea come about for you? Why do you think it’s important?

Tracy: I had the privilege of serving on the President’s Staff Roundtable this past year, and during one of our meetings we were discussing ways to counter all the negativity surrounding the state budget crisis. My idea was to highlight many of the positive things/people that we have in this community. I thought about how successful the ALS Facebook challenge was and thought could we do something similar where those with connections to WIU could share their stories and create interest while promoting positive stories during such a difficult time. I think it’s important because we have many, many success stories, and even in difficult times we have good things to be thankful for.

Leathernecks lapel pin

How do I stay on track to get good grades? What are my responsibilities as a student? How can I get involved on campus? These are common questions often asked by new college students, and a Western Illinois University committee, comprised of student services staff, came up with a “one stop shop,” so to speak, that provides direction and guidance to incoming students. The new site, wiu.edu/welcome, answers these questions and much more, and all new students were given a Leathernecks lapel pin, complete with the website on the pin’s card.

Q: Recently, you were part of the team who implemented a “Leatherneck Pin” and website resource project designed to support new students at Western: Tell me about how this project came about and why you think it’s important to provide resources like this for new students.

Tracy: Over the past several years, there have been several of us in student services who have come together in a collaborative effort to get important information to our students. We moved to creating one publication, the Student Planner/Handbook; however, due to the budget situation this year, we wanted to save money but still find a way to get the information out to new students. As a result of this, an online “Welcome” page was developed. As we were having discussions on how to inform students about this page, the idea of a Leatherneck Pin was mentioned. It is a way to have new students take pride in being a Leatherneck and share the message of what it means to be a Leatherneck, as well as provides a way to drive students to the Welcome page.

These things are important because we want our students to be proud to be here and to be a member of this community and we want them to have the information they need to be successful.

Q: What do you enjoy while you’re away from work?

Tracy: There are many things I like to do in my time away from work. I enjoy getting together with friends/family, having dinner, a game night or listening to live music. I also enjoy golfing with my dad and my favorite thing to do is spend time with my son, Tanner.

Q: Do you have any go-to advice for those who work with college students?

Tracy: Embrace each moment. We are very fortunate that we get to work with college students each and every day. We have the opportunity to have a positive impact on their development and in return they have a positive impact in our development, as well.

WIU Athletic Training Alumna at “Heart of Action” at Rio ’16 Paralympics

WIU alumna Mary Vacala and the U.S. Men's Paralympic basketball team.

WIU alumna Mary Vacala (on the left, short hair) and the U.S. Men’s Paralympic basketball team.

A Western Illinois University alumna was “at the heart of the action” at the Rio 2016 Paralympics, which wrapped up last weekend in Brazil.

Mary Vacala—who earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees in exercise physiology and athletic training  in 1979 and 1980 from WIU— serves as the head athletic trainer for the men’s Paralympic basketball team.

A recent article on the ADVANCE Healthcare Network’s website, “Going for the Gold: A PA’s Journey to the Paralympics,” highlights Vacala’s contributions to the team and tells her story about working with Olympic and Paralympic athletes since 1993.

“These athletes have changed me forever and made me a better clinician,” she said in the ADVANCE article by Autumn Heisler. “[They] have taught me the real definition of hard work, athleticism, perseverance and teamwork. I will be forever grateful for the experience and friendship.”

Mary Vacala, PA-C, ATC, MSPAS, Chatham Orthopaedic Associates

Mary Vacala, PA-C, ATC, MSPAS, Chatham Orthopaedic Associates

According to the Paralympics Team USA’s website, “The men’s win in basketball marked the first time since 1988 – or 28 years – that the U.S. men’s wheelchair basketball team won a gold medal.”

When she’s not working with the Paralympic athletes, Vacala works as a certified physician’s assistant at Chatham Orthopaedic Associates, which is based in Georgia.

“Mary is a published author, international speaker, and holds numerous awards in sports medicine and Physician assistant studies. In 2008 she was awarded The Distinguished Fellow Award of the American Academy of Physician Assistants,” notes the Chatham Orthopaedic Associates’ website.