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! 

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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.