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.

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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.

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.

COAP Employee Spotlight: Judy Yeast

Courtney James and Judy Yeast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 2015 Fallen Soldiers 5K Run/Walk at WIU

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

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

Members of the Big Pink Volleyball Committee in 2015.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q. How did you end up working at Western?

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

Q. What was your graduate degree in?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet the Professor: Cindy Struthers, Sociology and Community & Economic Development

Cindy Struthers

Cindy Struthers

Next fall, WIU’s new Master of Arts in Community and Economic Development will begin. This degree program will cover a number of disciplines, including economics, geography, management, and sociology. I sat down with sociology professor Cindy Struthers to learn more about her.

Cindy is a native of Lansing, Michigan, and received her doctorate in sociology with emphases in family inequalities, rural sociology, and gender from Michigan State University. She received her M.A. and B.A. in sociology from MSU as well. Cindy is currently serving as the executive director/treasurer of the Rural Sociological Society, a professional social science association that seeks to enhance the quality of rural life, communities, and the environment.

Cindy teaches a number of courses at WIU, including “Community,” “American Family,” and “Women and Poverty.” She will be teaching “Advanced Community Development and Practice” as part of the M.A. program.

Q: What are you most looking forward to in this new degree program?

Cindy: It sounds funny, but a new course prep always reinvigorates my enthusiasm for teaching. New courses force you to really look at what is happening in the field, and it’s a lot like completing a puzzle. You have to make a whole bunch of decisions about what to include and how it fits with all the other pieces. You have to put yourself in the minds of your students and not just choose every quirky thing you want to read for the next 8 -16 weeks (though some of that is always involved).

I am also very excited to be working with a diverse group of students, some of whom might be on a traditional educational trajectory and some who have chosen to improve their credentials and some who are simply lifelong learners who want to give community development a look-see.

Q: What are you passionate about?

Cindy: Passionate? I grew up in the Midwest—we are not a passionate people. Family, friends, helping communities remain vital; maintaining a sense of optimism and hope for the future.

Q: Favorite thing(s) about WIU?

Cindy: The school colors: purple and yellow. The school colors are actually “purple and gold,” but yellow is my favorite color.

Q: What is your favorite quote?

Cindy: “They always say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.” – Andy Warhol

Q: What is your favorite place?

Cindy: New Orleans, Louisiana

Q: What are you reading right now? What’s next on the list?

Cindy: I can’t remember the name of the book I am reading right now (it’s an earlier book written by an author that has a new book on the New York Times bestseller list), and I am not organized enough to know what I’m reading next. However, two of the most fun and informative books I have read fairly recently are Novella Carpenter’s “Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer” and Aziz Ansari’s “Modern Romance.” I wish I had read Ansari’s book a little earlier in the year, because I would have assigned it to my Soc. 370 students this semester.

Q: Anything else you would like your prospective students to know about you?

Cindy: I have some real concerns about the continued vitality and future of rural places across the Midwest and the rest of the country. I can’t wait to hear what some of your observations and solutions might be. I have lived in four different small towns in Illinois since coming to WIU.

I’m a homebody who loves to travel. I’m always looking for a great cup of coffee, a quirky boutique, and a non-chain restaurant. I buy a lot of yarn (at independently owned shops), but never seem to complete any of the dozen or so projects I start. I have two Australian Shepherds; one is named Aussie and the other is Sydney, and two cats (Louis Armstrong and NOLA).

I have rather eclectic taste in music and books, but I tend to gravitate to blues music because I love the way different guitars and guitarists sound. Right now, I am primarily into “humor” and have read a couple Christopher Moore and Mindy Kaling books back to back.

Thanks to Cindy for taking the time to talk to me! 

Meet the Professor: Chris Merrett, Community and Economic Development

Meet the Professor: Chris Merrett, Community and Economic Development

Next fall, WIU will begin a new master’s degree program in Community and Economic Development. This new program will combine online learning with in-person class sessions and hands-on learning opportunities. The program is being offered through the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs (IIRA). We sat down with IIRA Director Chris Merrett to learn more about the program – and about him.merett

Chris Merrett is a native of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada. He earned undergraduate degrees in geography (University of Western Ontario) and political science (Lake Superior State University), before earning a master’s degree (University of Vermont) and Ph.D. in geography with a focus on regional development and international trade (University of Iowa). He loves to travel and learn about new places, and geography was a natural discipline to help guide these personal and professional intellectual pursuits. Chris has been married for 25 years and has two children.

Since working at the IIRA, his love of geography has evolved to embrace local community and economic development, which is a kind of applied geography. As IIRA director, Merrett oversees a university-based research, outreach, teaching, and policy development unit comprised of 40 community development faculty and professionals. In addition to his management role, he teaches courses in Community Development, serves on the Governor’s Rural Affairs Council, is current chairperson of Rural Partners, and has raised more than $6 million in external grant funding to support community and economic development outreach and research, including a $200,000 USDA Rural Cooperative Development Grant for the IIRA.

His current research focuses on cooperatives and community development. Merrett co-edited two books on this topic, including A Cooperative Approach to Local Economic Development (2001) and Cooperatives and Local Development: Theory and Applications for the 21st Century (2003). He has also published in a range of journals on topics such as value-added agriculture, cooperatives, rural land use, social justice, and rural community and economic development.

In summer 2015, Chris participated in his fifth RAGBRAI, (The Des Moines Register’s Great Annual Bike Ride Across Iowa). This is a 7-day, 500+ mile ride across Iowa. Each night of the ride, participants camp out in a rural Iowa community. According to Chris, “It is a great way to see the rural Midwest while enjoying rural community development (and hospitality) at its best.”

Chris took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions about himself.

Q: What course(s) do you teach?

Chris: I teach several courses on the WIU campus including Principles of Community Development,” Rural Geography, Geography of the United States and Canada, and the History and Philosophy of Geography. The course I have devoted most energy to over the past half-decade has been Principles of Community Development, which enables me to link my theoretical interests in what makes communities thrive with concrete projects in rural Illinois.

Q: What are you most looking forward to in the new Master of Arts in Community Development program?

Chris: For more than 25 years, the IIRA has been delivering award-winning technical assistance to rural communities across rural Illinois and beyond. We have also published literally thousands of peer-reviewed journal articles, books, technical reports, and other essays. Teaching has been an important, but secondary, part of our mission. Our faculty members have always devoted a significant amount of energy to teaching courses in economic development, rural sociology, marketing, and geography, but have done so in other departments. In other words, our teaching efforts have been dispersed across several departments outside of the IIRA. By offering a graduate degree through the IIRA, we can offer our teaching expertise in a focused, concentrated, and coordinated manner which will increase our ability to share our expertise in community and economic development.

Q: What are you passionate about?

Chris: Professionally, I am passionate about how universities can serve as catalysts for social change, including community economic development. Public universities such as WIU have resources to help small communities identify their assets and deploy them in more effective ways. It is gratifying to see towns make meaningful change with assets and leadership skills developed from within their community.

At a personal level, I love to ski, bicycle, read, and spend time with friends and family.

Q: Favorite thing(s) about WIU?

Chris: There are many great things about WIU. It’s location in west central Illinois is just lovely. WIU is not like other larger public universities that are located in, but somehow separated from, their host regions. WIU is not just located in a rural region; it is deeply integrated into the region and hence is shaped by the culture and needs of the region. WIU also has a great faculty with a collaborative mindset. Our M.A. degree in CED, while hosted by the IIRA, has many opportunities to take great courses in other departments such as recreation, park and tourism administration; economics, geography, political science, and business administration. Great colleagues in the IIRA and partner departments help make WIU a great place.

Q: What is your favorite quote?

Chris: I have several quotes that are all related to community development in one way or another:

  • Education, therefore, is a process of living and not a preparation for future living. — John Dewey
  • A community is like a ship; everyone ought to be prepared to take the helm. — Henrik Ibsen
  • Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. — Thomas Edison
  • Be an opener of doors for such as come after thee, and do not try to make the universe a blind alley. — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Q: What is your favorite place?

Chris: This is a good question. I have several “happy places.” First, I love my summer cottage in Northern Ontario. It is located on clear, northern lake, with loons, moose, and bears in the surrounding forests. I also love rural roads in the Prairie State, when I am on my bicycle. The blue sky, green fields, goldfinches, farms, and gently rolling hills, make for a bucolic, enthralling scene.

Q: What are you reading right now? What’s next on the list?

Chris: In preparation for an upcoming course, I am currently reading Development as Freedom by Amartya Sen and The Price of Civilization by Jeffrey Sachs. On my bedside table, waiting to be finished is Capital by Thomas Piketty. It addresses the growing income inequality of capitalist economies in the 21st century.