Cortez ready to serve on WIU-QC’s growing SGA

What’s the story behind a guy who says the love of a big river, and of museums, brought him to Western Illinois University-Quad Cities — and what’s he planning to do to bring more students together on the Quad Cities campus?

2017-05-SGA-president-Michael-Cortez-sitting-VPC-color-correctedMichael (“Mike) Cortez, a graduate student in Museum Studies at Western Illinois University-Quad Cities, has been elected president of the WIU-QC Student Government Association (SGA). And he’s got big plans on where he wants to see SGA go.

Back Story:

  • hometown: Des Moines, IA
  • bachelor’s degree in history in May 2015, Grand View University
  • first-year graduate student in Museum Studies program

Why Does He Want to Lead?

Cortez was elected by the student body in April, after a two-day process, he says, of meeting as many people as he could by “…shaking hands with people, introducing myself, just poking into classrooms or the library and I think I walked the campus six or seven times, if not more, over a two-day period.

“I try to get the message out to students that ‘this is your campus,’” he continued. “As soon as you walk through the doors, you take control of your journey, educationally and intellectually, so why not have a voice? Why not get involved?”

Cortez previously served SGA as a senator for GEMS, the Graduate Experience in Museum Studies student organization.

“Now that I’ve had a year to settle in, I’m really excited to take this next big step,” he said.

As an undergraduate student at Grand View, Cortez served as vice president of the history club and and the president of the LGBTQ student organization.

“I’ve always been actively involved,” he said. “I enjoy talking with people, giving speeches, going to meetings, being hands-on and being part of something bigger than myself.”

Growing Student Government on a Commuter Campus – More Events for All

“In the past, SGA wasn’t getting the student involvement that it should, with maybe one executive officer attending meetings. We have about 10 people who come to meetings now. It has grown quite a bit in the last three to four years, and we’re on much more solid footing now.

“My first priority is to make sure that every student voice is heard,” he continued. Second, I’d like to see increased involvement with activities on campus, and third, to strengthen the bond and relationship with the Macomb campus. We’ll continue having wonderful events such as Casino Night. I’d love to see us add a fall concert, art shows, and a Multicultural Night.

“WIU-QC really embraces non-traditional students who have families and who work, and we have a lot of veterans, but we also have traditional-aged college students. So one of my big priorities over the summer is to be thinking about, ‘How do we involve all types of students and not just one group?”

Why Western?: Tuition, location, and….the Mighty Mississip.’

“A big factor was in-state tuition, because in-state tuition announcement,” he said. “But another reason is  I’m a huge water person — love large bodies of water. And the Mississippi River is a beautiful sight to see. Also, the Quad Cities is kind of a gateway to anywhere you need to go — Chicago, Des Moines, St. Louis. It’s kind of centralized to all these fantastic places.

“I also love the program, mostly because of Dr. Pamela J. White, the museum studies director. “She’s been a phenomenal advisor and mentor. I really think it’s because of her that the program is as big as it is.”

What’s After Western?

Cortez is pursuing the degree in museum studies with plans to work in visitor services.

“I’ve loved museums ever since I was a child,” he said. “In Des Moines, there was a state historical society museum downtown, and and I used to beg my mom to take me every week. I love history. I love reading history books, on many topics, including European history, U.S. history, even African history.”

More info:

Also elected:

  • Caroline Sipiera of Galena, IL, senior communication major, as vice president
  • Benjamin Brondos of Brookfield, IL, senior engineering major, as attorney general.
  • (…and a special goodbye to graduating past-president Nicholas “Nico” Moreno

“I’d like to give a shout-out to Nico for running a tight ship, and I’m incredibly thankful for what he did for SGA,” Cortez said.

More information on the WIU-QC SGA

Meet One Tough (and Fun) Mudder: Tim Hallinan

If you were among the record-number of participants—509, who raised more than $20,000 for the Fallen Soldiers Scholarship Fund (October 2014)—in Western Illinois University’s third annual Fallen Soldiers 5k Run/Walk, you probably saw the guy in the gas mask. If you weren’t able to be there that beautiful autumn day at WIU, you may have come across the photo on the event’s Facebook page. Or, maybe,  you’re seeing this photo for the first time.

Tim Hallinan particpating in the third annual Fallen Soldiers 5k at Western Illinois University October 2014

But no matter how you encountered it, after you have looked at it, one thought and/or question likely comes to mind: “Is this guy crazy?”

Crazy like a fox.

Underneath that MOPP (mission oriented protective posture) gear is Army National Guard Veteran Tim Hallinan, the director of annual giving at Western. Tim, who competes in obstacle course races for fun, knows the value of “creating a ruckus” to draw attention to a cause. Last year, when the WIU community was furiously participating in the NCAA’s “6th Fan” contest for $100K in scholarship funds, Tim spearheaded voting marathons/parties to help Western’s cause. Alas, we didn’t win… but the event—and Tim’s efforts to unite the campus through voting events—served as a rallying force for Fighting Leathernecks everywhere.

This month, as the inaugural installment of the Council of Administrative Personnel (COAP) Employee Spotlight, we focus on Tim, one of Western’s many dedicated and talented COAP employees. He was gracious enough to be the first victim… ahem, subject… and answered a few questions about himself (the man who is also behind the chucklesome, “Things overheard at the Hallinan house“).

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

I graduated from Western in 1995 with a B.A. in sociology and began working as an advocate for people with disabilities in Macomb. In that position, I had the opportunity to network with the local school district, as well as many social service and non-profit organizations in the area. In 2000, I was approached to head up the new Big Brothers Big Sisters chapter, and I jumped at the chance to help build a new agency from the ground up. I gained a lot of experience with grants and fundraising in my eight years in this position. When the opportunity arose to come back to Western to raise funds for students in my alma mater, I saw it as a way to come “full circle” and was fortunate to have been selected as Director of Annual Giving.

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

My hours are a bit unconventional, as they mirror that of our Phonathon operations—mostly evenings and Sundays. I spend a lot of time collaborating with students and departments in preparing our direct mail outreach, designing solicitations, tracking our progress and researching trends and emerging technology in the area of annual giving that can benefit our university.

Tim Hallinan, WIU '95 and the director of annual giving in Western's Foundation and Development Office, earned "Trifecta" status in 2013 in the Spartan Race series.

Tim Hallinan, WIU ’95 and the director of annual giving in Western’s Foundation and Development Office, earned “Trifecta” status in 2013 in the Spartan Race series.

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

First and foremost, about 75 percent of the work I do is in cooperation with our students. Regardless if they are callers for our Phonathon or sharing their Western experiences in annual fund letters, I’m honored to be able to facilitate that connection between our students and alumni, and I feel rewarded in having the flexibility to showcase the impact of our donors’ collective giving on our students and our university. Alumni participation rates are declining industry-wide, and each year it is a challenge for me and others in the field to keep the need for alumni support in the forefront.

Q. What do you like to do in your time away from work?
In addition to as much “family time” as I can do with my wife, Jeri, and our three boys, I have served on several non-profit boards including – Western Illinois Service Coordination (WISC) and Big Brothers Big Sisters – for many years. This year, I have also begun serving on the board for our local Roller Derby team – The Macomb Bombshells. I admire this team for their hard work and dedication to themselves, the sport and our community, as well as their philanthropic efforts in donating their proceeds to local charities. But aside from my work and family, OCR (Obstacle Course Racing) is my passion.

Q. Tell me a little about your fitness activities (as I know you compete in those crazy obstacle course races), e.g., how and why did you get into this area of fitness? What is the next race you plan to compete in?

I served for 20 years in the Illinois National Guard, and I retired shortly before working for Western. In the military, even part time, there is the excitement, travel opportunities and challenges that appeal to me. I find that in OCR, as well as in fitness, benefits training for and competing in races. I have found it is a unique way to not only challenge myself, but also raise donations to fund a new scholarship at Western.

Impact and emotion certainly have a place in philanthropy, but I feel that adding an element of uniqueness or sensationalizing a philanthropic endeavor, to a degree, can also be beneficial and make it exciting. I can run a 5K and am grateful for a few that will sponsor me, but if I run a 5K in a gas mask or holding a Western flag, I find people are more inclined to be a part of the effort – especially if they have no other connection to our university. The underlying message is basically, “If I can do ‘this’ for a cause, you can help with a modest donation.”
This year, both my wife and I will be running a Tough Mudder, a Spartan Race, two Warrior Dashes and a marathon in hopes of securing a place in the OCR World Championships in Ohio this October.

Q. What is your favorite quote?

“Doubt kills more dreams that failure ever has.”

eXtreme Social Responsibility

Social responsibility is taken eXtremely seriously at WIU. It’s one of the University’s four core values (academic excellence, educational opportunity, personal growth, and social responsibility), and throughout each academic year, many students and student organizations put innumerable hours into planning, publicizing, and implementing an array of events that raise funds for good causes.

From Big Pink Volleyball (also known at BPV, a breast cancer fundraiser held every fall semester at Western) and eXtreme Dodgeball for Diabetes held in the spring (both held at the WIU Campus Recreation Donald S. Spencer Student Recreation Center) to such fundraisers as St. Baldrick’s and Haunted Higgins 19 (planned through students and staff working in University Housing and Dining Services) and community service and philanthropy via the University’s Greek organizations (in Fall 2011, 28 Greek organizations performed 3,530 hours of community service and contributed nearly $18,875 in chapter philanthropy), the events generate thousands of dollars and provide students with fun ways to contribute to many causes that go way “beyond the bell tower.”

9th Annual eXtreme Dodgeball for Diabetes

See more photos from WIU’s 9th Annual eXtreme Dodgeball for Diabetes at

At last month’s 9th annual Dodgeball for Diabetes, 45 students participated, resulting in some awesome photos on the Western Illinois University Rec Events Facebook page.

According to Amber Bedee, who is studying in Western’s College Student Personnel program and serves as a graduate assistant at Campus Recreation, this year’s event raised $295 for the Illinois Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

“This foundation conducts research surrounding three facets of diabetes, including a cure, treatment, and prevention. Finding a cure for type 1 diabetes is the highest priority. In addition to funding research, the funds donated will also go toward education,” Bedee noted. “For this year’s event, Campus Recreation collaborated with the National Residence Hall Honorary (NRHH). Campus Recreation coordinated the marketing and t-shirt design, as well as sign-up and logistics of the event. NRHH was key to promoting the event in the residence halls and coordinated prizes for the top two teams. This year they sponsored purchasing t-shirts for the winning team.”

The events also enable students to hone their professional skills.

“Helping to organize this year’s Dodgeball for Diabetes enabled me to work on my skills in regard to planning and implementing a program of this size,” Bedee said.

Visual effects pioneer, Western IL native, Tom G. Smith visits WIU

Thomas G. Smith, Visual Effects Pioneer, spoke at Western Illinois University in Macomb Oct. 17, 2012

Noted filmmaker and Canton, IL, native Thomas G. Smith—renowned for his special effects work on such iconic American films as E.T., Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, and Raiders of the Lost Ark—spoke at Western Illinois University Sandburg Theatre in the University Union Oct. 17. His lecture, “Movie Magic—My Thirty Years in Visual Effects,” was illustrated with clips from his film career.

“I tell young people who ask me how to get into filmmaking: ‘Start making some movies.’ And it’s not an unreasonable request. If I said that 40 years ago to someone, that person would have asked: ‘Well, where am I going to get the $5,000 to make even make a short one?’ But nowadays, if you have a computer and a video camera, you can do it.”

This plain-dealing advice came from Thomas G. Smith, someone who knows about making and whose long career in film is anything but plain.

Renowned for his special effects work on such films as George Lucas’s Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back and Steven Spielberg’s E.T., Smith, a Canton, IL, native, recently treated students, faculty, and staff to an in-person account of his career in filmmaking and visual effects production. During his two-day tour of Western Illinois University last week, Smith gave students an insider’s insight into filmmaking and the use of visual effects in feature films in his presentations in a couple of introduction to film courses. He also presented “Movie Magic—My Thirty Years in Visual Effects” (on Oct. 17), a University-wide lecture replete with compelling still and video images that illustrated Smith’s long career in both educational and commercial moviemaking.

Smith also took time during his visit to Macomb to visit University Relations, where I had the opportunity to talk to him about his fascinating time working in “big” feature film production, a career that many creative types would consider to be a series of “dream” jobs.

An image slide that was presented in Tom G. Smith's "Movie Magic—My Thirty Years in Visual Effects" presentation at WIU Oct. 17

During his Oct. 17 presentation, “Movie Magic—My Thirty Years in Visual Effects” at WIU, Tom G. Smith showed images and movie clips from his long career in educational and commercial filmmaking. This image is of Smith working on a editing machine in the pre-digital editing software days.

The Move to Making Movie Magic in Marin
Smith’s work as manager of the creative team at George Lucas’s Industrial Light and Magic (ILM)—a visual effects production house located in Marin County in northern California—began in 1980. Under his direction, ILM created the innumerably breathtaking visual effects on some of the most beloved movies in the American cinema, including: Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, E.T., Poltergeist, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Dragonslayer, and two Star Trek films. But before he got to ILM, Smith “paid his dues,” so to speak, working for several years on educational films for Encyclopedia Britannica.

One of his productions for EB, The Solar System, a 1977 film narrated by Richard Basehart, provided the necessary platform for him to step into the visual effects realm of Hollywood feature filmmaking.

Smith: At the time, I had worked in film for Encyclopedia Britannica [near Chicago] making educational films for about 15 to 20 years. And then I was assigned to make a film about the solar system, and since I couldn’t go on location to film it, I had to manufacture it. That’s what got me into that. It was so difficult, so prone to error—you had to do things over again. When I finished that film I told my wife, “I never want to do a visual effects film again.”

But that film was my opening, and George Lucas hired me a few years later to run his Industrial Light and Magic, which is where they make visual effects for his films.

TK: What was it like being interviewed by George Lucas?

Image from slideshow that Thomas G. Smith presented at Western Illinois University Oct. 17, 2012, from his lecture, "Movie Magic—My Thirty Years in Visual Effects"

Tom G. Smith’s presentation (at Western Illinois University Oct. 17) “Movie Magic—My Thirty Years in Visual Effects” included images from his career as the manager of George Lucas’s Industrial Light and Magic production facility in California. Here, Smith’s photo shows how the team filmed the opening sequence of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.

Smith:It was a person who worked at ILM who had seen The Solar System who recommended me. I went through six interviews, and then the last interview was with George Lucas himself. The president of the company talked to me before I met George, and he said, “George is kind of an introvert. He doesn’t talk a lot. Don’t worry if he isn’t very conversational. He’s a very quiet guy.” So I was ready for that, and the day I interviewed, he came in and started talking, and I never got a chance to tell him anything.

During the interview, I remember him telling me, “If you go bankrupt, I’m not going to bail you out. You gotta stand on your own legs.”

I guess he knew I was already hired. We actually got along very well, I think because of my experience with film—he knew I had done a lot of things he had done. So I knew 16-millimeter film and all the cameras used and the sound equipment, and all the problems you can have. So we had sort of a similar background, in that regard. Of course, his background—I mean, he went right to the top with his films, American Graffiti… and Star Wars was a spectacular success.

When I got to ILM, they had already made Star Wars, and they were working on The Empire Strikes Back. There had been a gap between those two films, where they had shut the place down. George [Lucas] said, “I don’t want to do that anymore, I want to continue it as a service to the industry. So when my next Star Wars film comes [which turned out to be Return of the Jedi], we’ll have something going and the continuity of the people.”

So I took over as manager of ILM, and that was the first time that company became an independent service company, rather than just an arm of a production. There we did some very interesting films—E.T., Poltergeist, Star Trek, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. And then we came along to Return of the Jedi. And then the second Indiana Jones movie…

About that time, I was getting a little tired of just doing visual effects and I told George [Lucas], “Nothing against you guys, but I want to make movies.” So he gave me an assignment, because he didn’t want me to leave, and I made two, two-hour long ABC special movies on the Ewoks [The Ewok Adventure and Caravan of Courage]. We did those in northern California.

People often think that ILM must be in Hollywood, but it’s not. It’s north of San Francisco. When I arrived, it had about 100 people working there, all of them very creative, energetic and independent, rebellious… I’m still just amazed when I think of what talent we had there. And many of them have gone to become film directors and to win many Academy Awards in visual effects.

TK: How did your background in educational film prepare you for that?

Tom G. Smith’s presentation (at Western Illinois University Oct. 17) “Movie Magic—My Thirty Years in Visual Effects” included images from his career as the manager of Industrial Light and Magic production facility in California. Here, Smith’s photo shows the miniature version of the house in Steven Spielberg’s Poltergeist.

Smith: Because I had worked so much in film, I really understood all of it. I have worked in every area except the developing of the film. I’ve worked as a cameraman, director… everything.

But the trick was—when we started doing work for people on the outside, and for Lucas, too—to stay on budget. That was the main challenge, because creative people tend to want to keep doing it and doing it, until it’s absolutely perfect. And so sometimes you have to have them keep their eyes on what we could afford. And one of the biggest helps was George Lucas, who understood that. I remember asking him, “How do I get these guys to understand that we have to stay on  budget?” And he said, “Involve them in it.” So, what we did… we would do a bit on a film, say on E.T. or Poltergeist, and when we were working on it every week, we would sit down and summarize how much we’d spent, how much we had left, and whether we were doing good (in terms of cost) or not. And we would review all the films. We usually did two or three films at once, and then we would review them with all those people. It was a bit of a competition then. “You know, this film is still doing well on budget. Theirs is a little over…” So that helped an awful lot.

But it is a difficult challenge, and as George Lucas said one time: “The visual effects are never done, they are just abandoned.”

TK: What were some of the processes of visual effects like in the pre-digital world?

Smith: The processes actually are no different in principle then when George Méliès, back at the turn of the century, was making films. It was re-photography of images. So you take an image of a spaceship, say you want it flying toward you. You would suspend it, and the camera would race in on the spaceship—by race in, I mean one frame at a time, very slowly. You would take that image, and then have another image of, let’s say, a star field, and then you would use the first image with the matted background that was blue and then matte out everything and then expose the star field. And that portion of the star field would be covering where the spaceship was, you would matte that out.

So you would put it together in re-photography. But you didn’t always succeed. Every morning we would review what we did. Very often there would be a mistake, and we’d have to do it over again, sending small pieces of film to the lab because what we worked with were just little pieces. It was tedious. It is tedious now digitally, but tedious in a different way.

Industrial Light and Magic: The Art of Special Effects by Thomas G. Smith

The year Smith left ILM, his book Industrial Light and Magic: The Art of Special Effects (1986) was published. A classic in the field, it went through a dozen printings, selling 100,000 copies, and helped to give Smith an international reputation. The original manuscript for that work and other materials are part of the Western Illinois University Libraries’ Thomas G. Smith Collection, which reflects the filmmaker’s achievement. Contact WIU Archives and Special Collections at (309) 298-2717 (or via email at for more info. about this collection.

TK: You also worked for Disney, right?

Smith: Yes, in 1986. I was sent there by George Lucas, because he was working on Captain EO with Michael Jackson, and they were having big trouble with the movie, because the visual effects were very difficult to do.

When I was through with that movie, Jeffrey Katzenberg asked me to come work for Disney, and I still wanted to make movies, so I went to Disney and then consulted on some of the theme-park visual effects production work. But then I was the executive producer of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. It was almost all visual effects and was a great idea for a movie. I did some other things while I was at Disney, too.

[Smith produced the visual effects for this high-budget, Disney theme-park 3D production, Captain EO, starring Jackson, which opened at Disney venues in California, Florida, France, and Japan. It is still showing as a theme park attraction after 26 years. Partly as a result of that acclaimed production, Smith was invited to join Walt Disney Studios as a feature film producer. His Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989) won a BAFTA (British Academy Award) for outstanding special effects.]

Smith: While I was Disney, Jim Henson was going to a 3D theme park film for them. At that point, I sort of became “Mr. 3D”—before Captain EO I had never done it. So I produced Jim Henson’s movie, Muppet Vision 3D. He died while we were doing it—it was quite a shock… He was only 53 years old.

[In 1995, Smith left Disney to produce the science fiction film The Arrival starring Charlie Sheen. In 1999, he worked on the visual effects and directed second unit on the Jim Henson Co. film Muppets from Space. In 2001, he produced the Jim Henson Company/CBS’s, Jack and the Beanstalk , a four-hour movie of the week running in two parts on two successive CBS nights. His last feature film was as the visual effects producer and second unit director for Ted Turner’s Civil War epic, Gods and Generals (2003). The year he finished work on Gods and Generals, Tom wrote and published  the civil war novel, Massacre At Baxter Springs (2004).]

Smith: I wrote a book on the Civil War, which after Gods and Generals I became more intimate with—I learned more about what it must of have been like to be a Civil War soldier. So I began thinking about my great grandfather, who died in Kansas in the Civil War, and I did a lot research on that. That is what the book is about… about his experience. He was about 17 years old , and he died about six weeks after he enlisted in Wisconsin. It is interesting what you can find out if you really dig. I actually got down to a handwritten description about what happened during the battle in which he died.

Gods and Generals was the very last feature film I worked on. After that, I went back and resurrected a film I worked on when I was working in 16 millimeter, which involves the geographic region of Western Illinois, the film Spoon River Anthology. It was pretty successful in 16 mm, but I wanted to do a bigger film, so I expanded the one I had, and it’s now being released by Phoenix [out of St. Louis]. It’s now around 90 minutes interactive—I designed it on the DVD so you can see the Spoon River part, or you can see a section on Edgar Lee Masters.

That project actually is what brought me in contact with WIU, because [Western Illinois University Distinguished Professor Emeritus] John Hallwas had written the introduction to the Spoon River Anthology book that came out, and he seemed to know a lot about it. So when I was expanding the project, I contacted him and interviewed him, and we’ve kept in contact ever since.


These days, Smith continues to write. Recently, he wrote the introduction to the new Oxford University Press book about educational movies, Learning with the Lights Off (2011), and he is currently writing a series of film history articles for “Insider” magazine.

View Smith’s Internet Movie Database (IMDb) bio at

Editor’ s Note: Notes from John Hallwas were used to help provide background information about Thomas G. Smith’s career. More information about Smith is also available in the University Relations’ press release that was disseminated prior to Smith’s Oct. 17 lecture at WIU.

Food, fun, (and studyin’) in the sun

Students had the chance to take a quick break from classes last Wednesday (May 5) to take in some free food and bags games during the annual Union Block Party, which was held
 at noon  in the University Union Plaza.

University photographers caught some of the highlights.

If you were there and see yourself in these pics, leave us a comment below! Be sure to see the whole batch of photos here.

picture of a student studying at Union Block Party 2010

studying=more fun when it's in the sun

picture of students playing bags during 2010 Union Block Party

Students posing for photo during Union Block Party 2010

Say cheese! (Or...say "cotton"?)

picture of students playing bags at Union Block Party 2010

Dude! Where'd you get that Ninja Turtles shirt?

picture of President Goldfarb & Jack Thomas at Union Block Party 2010

What's better than food served up by the provost and president? (Well...maybe the fact that it's free!)

For this graduate, plastics really did matter.

In that oft-quoted moment in film history, Dustin Hoffman’s character in “The Graduate”—facing his uncertain future—gets sage advice about what to do with his life. And that advice became a punchline for a generation.

YouTube clip

But for Ron Sherga, a 1976 WIU biology and geology graduate, plastics have been anything but a joke. Recycling plastics, in fact, has led him to an environmentally conscious career.Ron Sherga '76

Sherga is the owner of Sher-Results LLC, (Arlington, TX), which assists companies and organizations with recycling and sustainability issues, and has been a leader in plastics recycling for 30 years.

During his time at WIU, Sherga was a Member of Theta Chi, and the campus groups including Interhall Council and University Union Board. He will return to his alma mater on April 7 to deliver the keynote speech at Western’s Seventh Annual Environmental Summit.

And perhaps he can be said to have erased his own carboon footprint: the facilities he has managed or owned have been responsible for reusing two billion pounds of scrap plastics.

Will you be at this year’s summit?

Looking for what you might be able to do with a biology major?

Or are you a 70s-era alum who remembers Ron?

We want to hear from you. Leave your comments below.