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.

15321616_10154196086152613_1073731789_o

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:

••••••••

 

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.

•••

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

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.

 

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.