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

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!

A Message of Appreciation to Macomb and Western Illinois University

by Meshari H. Alanazi

Meshari H. Alanazi is a graduate student in Western Illinois University’s School of Computer Science.

Meshari H. Alanazi is a graduate student in Western Illinois University’s School of Computer Science.

When I came to the United States in December 2012, I was worried about my new experience here because of the different language, culture, and religions. At the time, I did not know any English at all. I had come to Macomb to study English in Western’s English as a Second Language (WESL) Institute and had hopes to move on to pursue a master’s degree in computer science at WIU.

The beginning of this experience was amazing—from all of the great people who I met and dealt with. Everyone was very helpful and smiling all the time, which made the new experience much easier.

After I found a place to live, every day I was here in Macomb was becoming better more and more beautiful than the previous day. My neighbors, my teachers, and the members of the community created an environment for me that made me feel much more comfortable, and I even reached a point where I felt just as welcome here as I feel in my hometown. Everyone I interacted with was always smiling, and that is a great thing even in my religion. The Prophet Muhammad said, “A smile towards another is a charity.” It did not take long for the stereotypes that I had heard of to be proven inaccurate.

When I first came to Macomb, my wife was with me. Through all of the great experiences she had here, she came to the same conclusion. We have lived in happiness, safety, and comfort since we first came here.

In early February 2013, God blessed us both with the birth of my first son, Abdulrhman. Our experience with the hospital personnel and staff only increased our happiness and satisfaction with this great community. Every day, my love for the people and this city grows tremendously.

Meshari Alanazi near the Islamic Center of Macomb

Meshari Alanazi near the Islamic Center of Macomb.

Now, after being the vice president of the Islamic Center of Macomb for nearly two years and the president, from September 2015 until I graduate this May, I have found our community and all of its members love Macomb, Western Illinois University, and the people and friends who live here.

I wanted to write this message with all of the truth, respect, and love from my heart—and from the hearts of all of the members of the Islamic community—to convey how much I have come to love this place and this university. In our religion, we are taught to respect everyone, be truthful to everyone, love everyone, and wish peace upon everyone who we know and interact with.

Within the time I have been here in the United States (three years and four months), I learned so much about the U.S. as a country and as a society, and I have realized Americans are amazing, trustworthy, helpful, friendly, and respectful people. This is why I decided to write this message.

I ask that you please do not believe the negative image that I believe the media has created for Muslims. There are 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, and yet, unfortunately, some of those people—a very small number, less than 0.01 percent—are the bad people who have caused problems. Those people are acting on their own, not on the behalf of Islam; thus the people of Islamic countries, with Saudi Arabia as their leader, are working even harder to bring peace to this whole world.

In the end, this is a message and a truth from me for the purpose of portraying my love and respect to you all after living among you for the past three or so years. In my mind, I have a great relationship with all whom I have lived amongst and interacted with. I hope you all will continue to live in peace and happiness.

Finally, this May after graduation, I will go back to my country to live alongside my family in the great country, Saudi Arabia. I will never forget the wonderful life that I have lived amongst you all, and I thank you deeply and genuinely.
••••••••
Meshari H. Alanazi is a graduate student in Western Illinois University’s School of Computer Science.

Meet Michelle Howe from WIU’s Career Development Center

Michelle Howe

Michelle Howe (right), her husband Matt (a 2009 graduate of WIU’s School of Agriculture), and their Future Leatherneck daughter, Macie. Michelle is an assistant director in Western’s Career Development Center, which provides career services for WIU students and alumni.

Ever wish you had a go-to person to help you with career advice or to critique your résumé?

As one of the dedicated members of the Western Illinois University Career Development Center (CDC) staff, CDC Assistant Director Michelle Howe is one of these “go-to” individuals who students (as well as WIU Alumni) seek out for help when it comes to preparing for a job search and the employment-searching process itself.

Michelle, who is also a WIU alumna, graciously agreed to be featured for the second installment of the Council of Administrative Personnel (COAP) Employee Spotlight, a monthly feature (sponsored by the COAP organization) to showcase the varied jobs, talents, services, and resources COAP employees do, have, provide, and share as employees of Western. (Read the inaugural installment, “Meet One Tough (and Fun) Mudder: Tim Hallinan” at wiurelations.wordpress.com/2015/02/10/coap-spotlight-hallinan/.)

Learn more about Michelle and what she does at Western’s CDC below.

•••••••••

Q. Tell me a bit about your background. How did your employment with WIU come about?

Michelle: I attended WIU as a transfer student to complete my bachelor of science degree in agriculture. At the time, I was engaged to a local Lewistown farmer, Matt [who is also a WIU alum], and I knew I would be living in this area. I decided to attend graduate school at WIU to pursue a new career in student affairs, rather than agriculture. I graduated from the WIU’s College Student Personnel program in 2011 and was fortunate to apply for a job at the Career Development Center, where I had completed my two years as a graduate assistant.

Working in career development was the reason I decided to apply for the CSP program, so I am very blessed to be working at the CDC today! WIU has been a great place to learn, grow, and develop lifelong friendships.

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

Michelle: As with most jobs, my days are not always “typical,” but my main responsibility as the assistant director is to assist students with the job search and career development process. Many days are spent in one-on-one sessions with students, advising them on career planning (deciding which career path to take and figuring out what they should “do” at WIU to be prepared for this career field) and advising them on job-searching strategies. This includes critiquing résumés, cover letters, graduate school essays, and other professional correspondence.

I also conduct mock interviews with students to give them constructive feedback on their interviewing skills using an iPad, so that they can see their strengths and areas for improvement. I also teach students how to use LinkedIn as a professional networking and job searching tool. Each week, I also conduct daytime/evening workshops to student organizations, classrooms, fraternities/sororities, etc., on career development topics, especially LinkedIn. Each semester, I teach a career-preparation class, which teaches the job-searching process to students.

Throughout the year, I serve on a few committees, conduct outreach efforts to academic departments, research current trends in career development, write newsletter articles on behalf of the office, create flyers for our workshops and other events, and supervise the CDC graduate assistants.

That is what I love about my job—I do so many different things each day that it keeps my life interesting!

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

The best thing about my job is the PEOPLE! Most of the students I work with are hard-working students, who just need a little guidance on their job searches. Many of our students are first-generation college students, and since I was also a first-gen student, I can relate to how they are feeling about college and about the job-searching process. Some of the students visit me more than once, to make sure their interviewing skills are getting better, or to get new advice on their future goals.

It is rewarding to see a student get the job he or she was hoping for, or land an interview for an internship.

I also LOVE my coworkers and appreciate the uniqueness we each bring to the CDC… we are definitely a family!

The most challenging aspect about my job is seeing students who NEVER stop by the CDC to get help with the job-searching process. Some students don’t know our office exists, some do not think they need help with their résumés, and others plan to make an appointment and do not follow through. I wish every student would stop by our office at least once!

Q. What do you like to do in your time away from work?

Michelle: Though I am professionally fulfilled by working at WIU, my heart is at home! I have an 18-month old daughter, Macie, who is an energetic, lovable, stubborn toddler. Recently, we purchased a bike with a trailer and plan to ride around with Macie and make bike riding a new hobby.

I enjoy spending time with my husband on our rural Lewistown farm, where we raise cows, corn, soybeans, and wheat. Together, we enjoy doing landscaping and home improvement projects. We love to have family and friends stop by the farm to ride in the John Deere gator, sit on the deck to watch the fire pit, and enjoy the scenery.

I also enjoy reading books, watching movies, and shopping for good deals at garage sales! I am also very active in my faith and enjoy going to church and studying the Bible.

Q. What is your favorite quote?

Michelle: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” — Steve Jobs

International Student Success Spotlight: Qi Qi

Qi Qi - WIU International Student

Qi Qi, an international graduate student in WIU’s MBA program, said her ability to study business abroad (outside of her home country of China) is a dream come true.

Qi Qi, a master’s of business administration (MBA) program graduate candidate at Western, is currently achieving one her dreams: studying outside of her home country (China) to pursue her advanced degree in business.

Before coming to WIU, she had worked in marketing and product management in China. Since enrolling in Western’s MBA program, she has found that she is particularly interested in supply chain management, so she has chose that area of concentration her advanced business administration studies.

For the March installment of the “International Student Success Spotlight” (sponsored by Western’s Center for International Studies), Qi Qi shared how and why she chose Western to achieve her dream of studying business abroad, as well as how the services and academic resources at WIU have helped her with her success so far as an international graduate student.

Q. How did you learn about WIU and why did you decide to apply to and attend Western?

Qi Qi: Studying business abroad was my dream, due to my working experience with various enterprises after graduating from a college in Beijing, China. However, I had to consider the most efficient and effective way to realize my dream, because I came from a working-class family. I have limited savings, and the tuition and living expenses are high in developed countries. My hope was that I could leverage my limited resources to achieve the best result for my studies, and my “dream” universities would have the best cost/effect ratio.

Then I started a comprehensive search, both online and offline. I finally narrowed it down to WIU, State University of New York, Texas A&M, Cleveland State University, and Pittsburg State University. With any effort and luck, I would be accepted by each school’s MBA program candidate.

Then, I compared the programs, environment, and the procedures at each school.

Firstly, WIU has been listed as a “Best Midwestern College” and “Top Tier Midwestern University” for many consecutive years. AACSB International [“the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business”] not only accredited WIU’s MBA program, but also ranked Western’s College of Business and Technology among the top 25 percent of business schools in the world.

I was also amazed by the many unique and creative arrangements for international students, i.e. Ambassadors Program, temporary housing, Western’s English as a Second Language (WESL) Conversation Mentors program, Conversation Partners, American Culture Night, etc. WIU has become the ideal university for me. I also think Western has the best student services. I am so glad I made the correct decision and came to WIU!

Q. What do you hope to do with your master’s degree in business administration once you graduate?

Qi Qi: I plan to work as a supply chain analyst after graduation, once I get more experience in the area. I hope to become a supply chain manager.

I am very happy to have discovered my career direction here, so I can be equipped for my future.

Q. How did you adjust to your new home as a person who had never traveled to the U.S. before?

Qi Qi: When I first arrived, I was faced with new study challenges, a new living environment, new social relationships, and a totally different culture when I just came to Macomb.

First of all, the language issue impacted my performance, because I couldn’t get used to each instructor’s speed and tempo when he or she was lecturing.

Secondly, I experienced serious homesickness, because I had never been so far away from home before.

Thirdly, everything was new to me; however, I did not feel lonely and helpless at all. The friendly and responsible professors answered my questions patiently, gave me a lot of useful advice, and helped me pick up information more quickly. In addition, the international student services staff arranged a lot of activities for me to get familiar with the community, meet a lot of new friends, improve my English, and learn about the culture. The International Neighbors program, particularly, makes me feel that I have another home at Macomb. The host family has become my second home, and I feel I am the part of the community. I can’t believe I have become accustomed to my new life so quickly!

Q. What have been (or are) your favorite courses and instructors and why?

Qi Qi: My favorite course is in small business management. The course covers how to operate a small business. In this course, there are many guest speakers sharing the experiences about their businesses. Mrs. Gates, the instructor, also provides information and cases about various interesting small businesses.

Although the assignments in this course are challenging, Mrs. [Janice] Gates is one of my favorite instructors. She is very nice and helpful. She likes students to raise questions, and she replies to their email messages quickly. Even on the weekend, she still provides feedback to students’ concerns in time.

Another professor I adore is Dr. Deboeuf. I took his two courses, “Introduction to Finance” and “Financial Management.” His classes are well organized, and he helped me understand the complicated financial concepts presented.

Q. Any additional information that you would like to include?

Qi Qi: I have to mention Macomb when talking about my feeling about WIU. It provides me a welcoming, friendly, convenient, safe, hometown, and rich atmosphere to pursue my study objectives. I love Macomb!

International Student Success Spotlight: Omotola Ashafa

Western Illinois University international graduate student Omotola Ashafa’s interest in public health first began when she served in Nigeria’s National Youth Service Corps.

Omotola Ashafa at Hueco Tanks State Park in El Paso, TX

Omotola Ashafa, an international graduate student studying public health at Western Illinois University, recently traveled with the WIU Campus Students for Christ group to Hueco Tanks State Park in El Paso, TX (pictured in the background) on their way to a mission trip to Juarez, Mexico.

“I was deployed to a rural area in Southwest Nigeria. This opened my eyes to how prevention medicine could, and will, greatly benefit a rural community,” she said.

Currently a graduate student in Western’s public health M.S. program (situated in the health sciences and social work department), Omotola hopes to get a job (after she completes her master’s degree) in health program intervention or as a wellness program coordinator.

“My ultimate goal is to become a community health director and health program coordinator in rural communities in my country,” Omotola noted.

Omotola recently took time out of her busy graduate-student schedule and answered a few questions about herself, her time here at Western, and a recent mission trip she took with WIU’s Campus Students for Christ group to Juarez, Mexico.

Q. How did you learn about Western Illinois University? Why did you decide to apply to and attend Western?

Omotola: During the time I was in college for my bachelor’s degree, I knew I was going to pursue my graduate degree right after finishing my undergraduate degree. What I didn’t know then was where—until my mum brought up the idea of going to study in United States, and it kind of stuck with me. She mentioned to me that I should meet with her friend who is familiar with schools in U.S. I met with him, and he told me about WIU and two other universities. I applied to all three schools, but I was particularly taken by the swift response I got from Western. The international admission officer was very helpful and answered my questions no matter how silly I felt they were. Then I found out about the Nigerians and other international students on campus… all this just made my “pros” list for WIU even longer.

Omotola and WIU student members of Campus Students for Christ

Omotola and WIU student members of Campus Students for Christ

Q. How did you adjust to your new home as someone who had never traveled to/in the U.S. before?

Omotola: I had not been outside of my country until I came to the U.S. Even though I already speak English (because English is our official language in Nigeria), people had a difficult time understanding me because of my accent. In my head, all I wanted to do was shout at them and say, “If only you will be patient, then you will understand that we are speaking the same language.”

I must acknowledge that international student orientation was a great help with my adjusting to the new environment and meeting people. The volunteers and staff were great, and it was at this time I met another student from Nigeria, and he really helped me understand the way things work around campus and other things he knew that I was unfamiliar with. I must say that most people I met recently after I got here where very helpful and nice and this made settling in easier for me.

I did experience some culture shock, like riding in the bus and hearing curse words being used, but nothing really major, and making friends really did help me adjust.

Q. What are your favorite courses and why? Who or are your favorite instructors and why?

Omotola: My favorite courses are my emergency management classes, epidemiology and health behavior theory. Emergency management has always been fascinating to me, mostly because it involves a lot of hands-on experiences; I even took certificate courses in Nigeria. It was fun to use theories to understand human behavior in my health behavior theory class and try to develop models to alter unhealthy behavior. I am familiar with infectious disease because of where I am from, but this made understanding epidemiology a little bit easier.

WIU Campus Students for Christ preparing to help build a house on a mission trip the group took to Juarez, Mexico, in January.

WIU Campus Students for Christ preparing to help build a house on a mission trip the group took to Juarez, Mexico, in January.

Two professors I adore are Dr. Wen and Dr. Johnson. Dr. Wen because she readily offers to help in every step of the way, breaks confusing complex things to simple teachings for you to understand, and she is also full encouragement until you get it right. Dr. Johnson, because at first he makes it seem hard and forces you to push your limit, which I really like. They have been both very helpful.

Q. Tell me about the mission trip you recently took to Mexico: what organization did you travel with? Why did you want to take part in this trip? What kind of work/mission did you do while you were there?

Omotola: The Nigerian student I met during orientation week introduced me to a campus ministry at WIU called Campus Students for Christ (CSC), which is a student organization. This organization has been really good to me, and the members have been a major part of my adjustment to WIU. I currently live in the CSC house.

Omotola Ashafa in Juarez, Mexico

Omotola helping to build a house on a recent WIU Campus Students for Christ mission trip to Juarez, Mexico.

This student organization, CSC, takes a group of student to Juarez, Mexico, every year to build a house for a family who cannot afford one. I showed up to an interest meeting for the trip in 2014, because I thought will be a great opportunity and a memorable experience, but I did not go because I could not afford the trip. I also thought crossing the border could be a challenge, because I am international student.

I did not make it to the interest meeting for the 2015 trip because of a conflicting meeting, and I thought the trip was going to be at a time when I was to start work for graduate assistantship duties.

It was until I was talking to Barry Reed, the director of the Campus Ministry, and also the staff leading the group to Mexico. He told me the trip will be from Jan 3-10, and I resumed work Jan 11, so it worked out fine. He also told me that there was full funding for a student if he/she is interested. This was a donation from a family member that knows about CSC. This was very exciting news for me to get this opportunity and I did not have plans for the break anyway.

WIU Campus Students for Christ in Juarez, Mexico, January 2015

Members of WIU’s Campus Students for Christ group pose in front of the house they built on a recent trip to Juarez, Mexico.

The trip was fun, exhausting, and awesome at the same time. We visited Hueco Tanks State Park in El Paso, TX, before we crossed into Mexico. We were in Mexico for four days, and we built a house and gave some donations we had taken with us to the family. We started with a flat ground surface, and by the time we were done on the third day, there was a house standing.

We did all the work: we cleared the ground for foundation, built the walls and roof, insulated them, put them up, put in the dry wall, put in electric wire and appliances, before it actually started to come together and looked like a house. I remember looking at the house and was so proud of myself to have been a part of that. We presented the keys for the house to the family and prayed with them and we also gave them some donations. It was AWE-INSPIRING!

Kowal: Leathernecks Help Leathernecks

Connie Kowal at WIU Feb. 9, 2015

Conrad “Connie” Kowal—who graduated with his bachelor’s degree from Western in 1974 and, that same year, played on Western’s baseball team, which was one of the most successful baseball teams in WIU history–spoke to students in a few management and marketing classes Monday, Feb. 9.

Last Monday, Western Illinois University students were able to meet—and learn from—one of Western’s many accomplished legacies.

Conrad “Connie” Kowal, who was named one of Western’s “Distinguished Alumni” in 1992, traveled back to his alma mater to attend the third annual Western Illinois Baseball Lead Off Dinner Sunday, Feb. 8.

Although he’s a busy sports marketing executive—Connie is currently the director of the Libertyville Sports Complex & Recreation Department (he also served as a sports executive with the Chicago Cubs for 14 years, 1985-98, and was the senior director of marketing and business development/business chief of staff for the NFL’s New Orleans Saints from 2003-05)—Connie stayed over in Macomb through Monday in order to share his 30+ years of experience in the sports marketing/management industry with many soon-to-be fellow Leatherneck alumni.

WIU Management and Marketing Assistant Professor Cathy Onion “booked” Connie—who graduated with his bachelor’s degree in 1974 and, that same year, played on Western’s baseball team, which was one of the most successful baseball teams in WIU history—to speak to students taking courses in business communications, management principles, direct marketing management, marketing management, and recreation sport principles, as well as to members of the Marketing Club and Sport Management Association student organizations.

While many Western students didn’t get to meet Connie last week, Professor Onion shared some nuggets of Connie’s wisdom (and stories about his career and WIU experiences) below.

WIU Alumnus '74 Connie Kowal

WIU Alum (’74) Connie Kowal

Q). Why do you feel it’s important to invite successful alumni back to talk with students?

Prof. Onion: It’s one thing to hear tips and advice from your advisers and professors, but when an alum speaks to students, he/she lends credibility to what a professor is saying. In my experience, the alumni who return to campus to speak typically share three traits:

  1. They love the institution and value the education they earned at WIU.
  2. They want to offer advice and expertise in their markets (areas of work or study).
  3. They want to help students. As Connie says, “Leathernecks Help Leathernecks.”

Q). What was his presentation about?

Onion: He talked about his experience with the Cubs and his good friend Ernie Banks. He also discussed his work with the National Football League’s New Orleans Saints in 2003, 2004, as well as in 2005—the Hurricane Katrina year.

WIU alumnus Connie Kowal's presentation to WIU students Feb. 9, 2015.

WIU alumnus Connie Kowal’s presentation to WIU students Feb. 9, 2015.

In April of 2005 (draft day), he established the marketing theme “Ya Gotta Have Faith.” As he shared his experiences with WIU students, he noted: “Little did we know that just a few months later, when Katrina hit New Orleans August 29, our marketing campaign would have two meanings.”

He continued:

“We evacuated New Orleans and moved our operation to the San Antonio’s Alamodome. Our operation was set up in the basement of the Alamodome with piping and drapes. We were a glorified trade show. We put in 23-hour days, and I grew a beard because I simply did not have time to shave. We were managing our jobs, but we were also managing lives of players and personnel. Everything they had was eight hours away. The NFL season—which was only two weeks away—was not going to wait on us. We had to do whatever it took to be ready. We had guys (players) practicing in parking lots and just anywhere they could find a space. When we won that opening game September 11 by three points (23-20) against the Carolina Panthers, there was not a dry eye in the locker room—not one. It was the most emotional win I’ve ever experienced. I’ll never forget it.”

When a student asked Connie: “Can you tell us a story of compassion shown after Hurricane Katrina?” He replied:

“All of America reached out to us. Everyone. Everywhere. Whatever they could do to help, they did.”

Below are some of his Connie “isms” he shared, too:

  • Mind your ABCs — Be Accessible, Be Reliable, Be Credible
  • Be the #1 fan of your own fan club
  • Work hard, do your job, work hard, do your job, work hard, do your job. Grinders win in life!
  • If I can do it, you can do it. I’m not that good. I just out-hustled people
  • Sports is a perishable product. If you don’t sell the seat today, you can’t resell it tomorrow—game over. Do your job.
  • The smallest task can lead to the biggest accomplishment.
  • Business is a contact sport. Learn to talk to people. I’ve never hired thumbs. I hire people.
  • Never pretend to be someone you are not.
  • This is not a one-and-done relationship. You have my contact information. If I can help you in anyway, please get in touch with me and remember: Leathernecks Help Leathernecks!

Q). Anything else you want to highlight about Connie’s presentations to students?

Onion: Just one of the stories he shared… His freshman year, Connie tried out for the WIU baseball team. He was cut.

“I didn’t blame the coach or say I got a bad deal. I worked at it and came back the next year,” he explained.

He watched every WIU baseball game from the stands and played in a summer league. The next year, he went back to the tryouts and introduced himself to Coach Pawlow again. He made the team. He was a utility player—until his senior year. Then the coach put him in as a back up at third base, and he went 4 for 4 at the plate. He never came out of the lineup again.

“I’m 5’5, my name is Connie for goodness sake, I have an overbite, and I’ve lost my hair,” he told students. “I had a lot of things to overcome, but I did it.”

The 1974 team he played on was one game away from the College World Series, when they lost in the bottom of the 11th inning, 0-1, due to a walk off.

Int’l Student Success Spotlight: Xitong “Rebecca” Chen

Xitong "Rebecca" Chen Portrait of WIU President Jack Thomas

Dr. Rick Carter, executive director of Western Illinois University’s School of Distance Learning, International Studies and Outreach, Xitong “Rebecca” Chen, WIU President Jack Thomas, and Jenny Knavel, art professor. Rebecca designed and created the portrait she is holding with Dr. Thomas. It took her 57 hours to complete.

A few years ago, two of Western Illinois University’s leaders made a huge impression on Xitong “Rebecca” Chen when she met them in her native country, China. In fact, according to Rebecca, meeting Western President Dr. Jack Thomas and Dr. Richard Carter (executive director of WIU’s School of Distance Learning, International Studies and Outreach) provided the tipping point in the process of her decision about where to go to college in the United States.

This Fall 2014 semester, Rebecca, a sophomore with a double major in art and journalism, expressed just how much the initial impression that Dr. Thomas made on her with an impression of her own. For a project assigned in one of her art/design classes (taught by WIU Art Professor Jenny Knavel), Rebecca spent 57 hours working on a portrait of Dr. Thomas (see photo below). She presented the work to the President late last week.

So, for the December (and second) installment of Western’s “International Student Success Spotlight” series, I asked Rebecca to answer a few questions about her experiences with WIU. She shared a little bit about the first time she met President Thomas and Dr. Carter, as well as a bit about some of her experiences at Western and in North America so far.

Q. How did you learn about Western Illinois University and why did you decide to apply to and attend Western?

Xitong (Rebecca): As I grew up in Shanghai, which is the largest city in China, as well as the global financial center, I learned more and more about foreign countries and had an increasing interest in studying abroad. When I had almost finished my high school studies, I heard about Western Illinois University from one of my mom’s friends. When I began the application process to apply to Western, I found that WIU has an English as second language program called the “WESL Institute” [Western English as a Second Language Institute], with a low cost. I thought it would be a good program for me to improve my English and prepare for college life in the U.S.

Although I thought Western was definitely a good choice for my college study, I was still struggling with the decision about where I should go, since I received several offers from other good universities in the U.K., Canada, Australia and in other countries.

Xitong "Rebecca" Chen and WIU President Jack Thomas in China

This photo documents the first time Xitong “Rebecca” Chen (far right) met WIU President Jack Thomas (second from left) in China.

I had this struggle until I met President Jack Thomas and Dr. Rick Carter in Shanghai when they traveled to China. After talking to them, I unhesitatingly decided WIU would be my university in the coming four years, because it had two nice leaders who cared about their students in their university with their full hearts.

Q. What do you hope to do with your degrees in journalism and art once you graduate?

Xitong (Rebecca): I want to be a missionary and work in the Middle East in the future. I joined Campus Students for Christ (CSC) at WIU, and received help from several of the American students there. Just like the help I received, I also want to offer my help to others who need it. I hope through my studies in journalism and art, I can use my writing, my words, my actions, and my artwork as a missionary.

Q. How did you adjust to your new home as a person who had never traveled to/in the U.S. before?

Xitong (Rebecca): When I first came to the U.S., I was only 17 years old. The language problem was definitely a huge struggle for me. Whenever an American talked to me, I could not understand; whenever I spoke to someone who was not Chinese, he or she could not understand either. Due to that, I tended to avoid making any more American friends. I felt my accent was ugly; I felt no American would like to talk with me. I felt deep loneliness from living in a foreign country.

Besides that, I also had a huge culture shock, because the U.S. is so much different compared with China. The types of food, the ways we do laundry, the transportation systems, and the etiquette in daily life were all something new to me that I needed to learn from the beginning. It almost seemed easier to just give up instead of overcoming all of these difficulties; however, my faith helped get me through. I also met nice teachers, who took their time to help me, at the WESL Institute, as well as friendly classmates who came from such other countries as Japan, Korea, and Saudi Arabia and who were willing to share with me information about their similar difficulties when coming to the U.S.

I also met nice Americans from Campus Students for Christ who invited me to their activities and helped me to understand American culture. These people gave me encouragement and helped boost my confidence to help me face the difficulties. I gradually solved more and more problems with their help and support.

Then, I shared my experience with other Chinese students and told them about never giving up. In 2013, I became the president of the Chinese Student Association, and I also volunteered in orientation for international students every year to share my experiences.

Q. What have been (or are) your favorite courses and why?

Xitong (Rebecca): My favorite course at WIU so far has been English 100, taught by Jacqueline Wilson-Jordan. After graduating from the WESL Institute, I took this course in my first semester of my studies at WIU. Although I learned a lot in WESL classes, I still could not fully understand the professors and my new American classmates. Professor Wilson was a nice and patient professor with a lot of teaching experience. She tried her best to understand the difficult situation of being an international student studying in a foreign country and helped me in any way she could. I enjoyed her classes with organized handouts, detailed explanations, vivid writing examples, and a friendly environment in the class. I not only learned a lot of helpful knowledge in her class, but I also experienced more Americans’ good personalities. My first semester was really the most memorable one in my college study. Later, I recommended Professor Wilson’s classes to other international students, and they all loved her teaching and gained useful tips on English writing.

Q. Tell me about one or two of your most memorable experiences yet as a student at Western.

Xitong "Rebecca" Chen with WIU Campus Students for Christ in Juarez, Mexico

Xitong “Rebecca” Chen volunteering with Campus Students for Christ in Juarez, Mexico, in 2014.

Xitong (Rebecca): In 2012, I went to Juarez, Mexico, with 18 other students from Campus Students for Christ. We went there to build a house for a Mexican family who did not have a home to stay in.

We drove three days from Macomb to Mexico. It was hard for us to sit in a vehicle for such a long time, as well as for the drivers to keep focusing on driving. We stayed in different churches on the way to Mexico, but there were not comfortable beds in the churches, so we either slept on the floor or brought  “easy beds” with us.

Conditions were more uncomfortable after arriving in Mexico. We could not take showers for three days, and during those three days, we worked from 7 a.m.–5 p.m. with only one half-hour for lunch. The weather there was also harsh. It was hot like summer in daytime, but cold like winter, without sunshine, at night. On the third day of building the house, it was even snowy. When I was in China, I was always a “princess” who did not need to do any rough work (even something simple such as washing the dishes), so, of course, building a house in Mexico is not something I had ever done before!

Xitong "Rebecca" Chen and fellow WIU Campus for Christ volunteers

Xitong “Rebecca” Chen and fellow WIU Campus for Christ volunteers in Juarez, Mexico.

We cut the wood, shoveled stone and sand, mixed the concrete, finished the foundation of the house on the empty sandy, ground, all on the first day. We hammered the wood sticks together and stood the wood frames on the foundation on the second day. On the third day, we filled insulation in the wood frame, added chicken wires out of the wall, covered the wires with concrete, helped with the electricity, made the roof, installed windows and doors for the house.

I learned all these English words and how to do this work in those three days. And the pain that came from the work (and affected every corner of my body) made me swear never join this activity again! But before we left Mexico, when we gave the Mexican family the keys of the house and prayed for them and their house, that changed my idea about this. All of this work was done to help others in God’s Kingdom.

In 2013, I went to Juarez, Mexico, with CSC again to build another house for another family. And I have registered for building another house in Juarez this year, too.

CSP Grad Candidate’s Social Media Work Helps Beu Health Ed Reach Out to WIU Students

Rebecca Novick

Rebecca Novick, a grad student in Western’s college student personnel program, posing with a puppy named Roscoe. As the person in charge of Beu Health Education’s social media accounts this semester, Novick has worked to reach out to WIU students about health and wellness issues.

Northport, New York, native Rebecca Novick, who is currently a graduate student in Western’s college student personnel (CSP) program, applied to the program after hearing about it from those she worked with at her undergraduate institution, University at Buffalo (UB).

“While there, I became heavily involved in on-campus student leadership positions, such as student union manager, as well as served in an internship for the Center for Student Leadership and Community Engagement. Toward the end of my sophomore year, I took some time to reflect on what it was I enjoyed most about my undergraduate experience. What I found was that my positions on campus were where I found the most fulfillment and enjoyment, so I decided to pursue the field of student affairs. After speaking with some of my professional staff members, I found that many of them had attended WIU for their degrees in CSP. After researching the CSP program here and finding how well known and well respected it is, I decided I would apply,” she explained.

From her experiences at UB, as well as the knowledge she has gained as a WIU CSP grad student, Rebecca has been using social media for Beu Health Education to reach out to WIU students and provide them with important information about Beu’s resources, as well as about health and wellness issues in general.

Recently, she answered a few questions about the kind of work she is doing for Beu Health Ed, as well as how the work will help her in her future student affairs career.

Q. What do you do for Beu Health Education?

Novick: I am a practicum student for Beu Health Education, and my main responsibility is to manage all social media outlets. I mostly focus on our Facebook and Twitter communications and schedule posts and tweets for each week.

In the beginning of the semester, we (a few other staff members and myself) brainstormed a list of themes we could use for each week. The themes were picked based on current issues facing students, as well as the time of the semester. As I construct posts and tweets, I think of ways in which I can engage students to use the tips and resources shared in our posts and then reflect on how they can improve upon their own practices. In order to do this, I post a series of tips and tricks and then ask if our followers could share their own thoughts or helpful practices.

Q. What have you learned while working in this role for Beu Health Education?

Novick: During my time in Beu Health Education, I have learned that wellness means much more than just taking care of yourself, in terms of exercise, nutrition, and illness. I have come to learn that wellness incorporates many aspects of being, such as financial, spiritual, and intellectual wellness.

Over the course of this semester, I have also learned there are many wellness issues students face that are not always viewed as pertinent concerns. For instance, it is common for students to experience stress, sleep deprivation, and caffeine addiction. Although these may seem like common symptoms of merely being a college student, these practices can become areas of concern if not addressed. I have found Beu Health Center to be well equipped with resources to help students form healthy habits and work through such issues.

Lastly, I have found that social media can be an effective way to communicate the resources and tips needed to help work through common issues on college campuses. As our social media community grows, we are not only able to share information, but we have also been learning new practices, ways to remain relevant to our students, and find helpful resources.

Q. What are your career plans?

Novick: Following my intended graduation this spring, I hope to return to New York and work within the State University of New York (SUNY) or City University of New York (CUNY) public higher education systems. Ideally, I aspire to work within student union management or student leadership development, but I am open to many possibilities.

Q. How do you think you’ll be able to apply what you have learned working for Beu Health Education to your future career?

Novick: As social media continues to grow as an information-sharing platform, I would like to use it as a source for cross-promotion of not only offices across a university’s campus, but also to cross-promote other institutions, as well as the surrounding community. I think there are many benefits of institutions and their communities working together to help raise awareness of all opportunities and resources available to students and community members.

I also feel the knowledge I have gained relating to student wellness can help me to be a more aware and empathetic student affairs professional. In order for me to be able to effectively help students grow, I must understand their struggles and barriers. Having learned how to identify symptoms of many health concerns students face, the more I can do to help.

Q. What is the most rewarding project or enlightening activity you experienced in your work for Beu Health Education?

Novick: In general, I would say the most enlightening experiences I have had while working in Beu Health Education are the opportunities I have had to further my knowledge in WIU’s social media community. I have had numerous meetings with offices and representatives across campus to learn more about their approaches to marketing and building a social media presence. During this process, I have built many relationships and learned much about the functions of various offices around campus. I have been using these opportunities to make connections via social media to help cross-promote events and resources happening across campus.

Q. Anything else you think is important to share?

Novick: I have found the offices and staff associated with Beu Health Education to be extremely helpful and knowledgeable. There are such a large variety of resources and opportunities available to all students, not just those who are struggling with wellness. Not only is the professional staff at Beu Health Education friendly and accommodating, but student peer educators are also extremely knowledgeable and an asset to the office.

I hope students and community members continue to utilize the resources and services Beu Health Education has to offer, whether it is through attending a program, setting up an appointment for individual help, or just stopping by to find out more.

Follow Beu Health Education on Twitter at twitter.com/BeuHealthEd and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/BeuHealthCenter.

WIU International Student Success Spotlight: Bahar Mamedova

Bahar Mamedova

Bahar Mamedova is an international graduate student in Western’s Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Administration.

Recently, our office helped promote the fact that Western Illinois University’s international student enrollment has reached more than 500, thanks to the diligence of Center for International Studies (CIS), administrators, faculty and staff.

Rick Carter, executive director of the School of Distance Learning, International Studies and Outreach, along with WIU administrators and Western’s English as a Second Language (WESL) director, have crossed the oceans and traversed to embassies in Washington, D.C., establishing relationships, forging partnerships and spreading the good word about WIU. As a result, new international student enrollment has increased by 140 this fall to 511 students from 370 in Fall 2013.

Behind those numbers are the stories of the hundreds of international students who come to Western from faraway lands. To share their experiences, once a month, with the help of staff in the Center for International Studies, we’ll be spotlighting an international student.

This month, we start with graduate student Bahar Mamedova, who is from Turkmenistan.

Q: How did you learn about Western Illinois University and why did you decide to apply to and attend Western?

Bahar: My husband attended WIU, and after he graduated, I also decided to apply at Western to pursue my master’s degree. I always had a dream to study at an American university, and despite current criticism of American higher education, I still believe that it is among the most competitive higher education systems in the world. America, in the past, has made large investments in higher education and has built a tremendous infrastructure of universities, libraries, classrooms, and laboratories.

Personally, I applied here because Western is equipped well with updated electronic technologies and there are lots of different educational resources that I could benefit from. Additionally, at Western, international students are free to choose from vast programs of study and faculty members are always accessible and ready to help.

Q: What do you hope to do with your graduate degree in recreation, park and tourism administration (RPTA) once you graduate?

Bahar Mamedova - WESL Graduation

Bahar Mamedova (center) and Western Illinois University President Jack Thomas (left) and School of Distance Learning, International Studies and Outreach Executive Director Rick Carter at Bahar’s graduation ceremony from Western’s English as a Second Language (WESL) Institute.

Bahar: After I graduate from Western, I would like to utilize my knowledge and skills in international tourism administration in my home country, Turkmenistan. Currently, Turkmenistan is trying to develop its own tourism industry. New tourism-promoting ideas and innovative approaches are needed in Turkmenistan, and I believe I would be able to positively contribute to this process.

Q: What have been (or are) your RPTA favorite courses and why?

Bahar: My favorite RPTA classes include international tourism, statistics, and event planning.

From the international tourism course, I learned a lot about cultural diversity, multiculturalism, and globalization. In the statistics class, I significantly improved my ability to extract value from data and effectively communicate that value. The event planning class equipped me with important tools and skills and also provided me with a necessary foundation to organize high-quality events.

With all I have learned in my graduate courses at WIU, I am successfully utilizing during my internship at WIU’s Center for International Studies.

Q: What kinds of things did you learn during your internship at Western?

Bahar: My internship experience allows me to work with diverse international student populations. While at the Office of International Student Orientation and Activities, I had an opportunity to work in a friendly, professional, and exciting environment that provides a great potential for growth experiences and advancement. Over the course of the internship, I was involved with several projects aiming to improve international student experiences on campus. These experiences clearly defined my internship expectations and goals.

Overall, it was a valuable experience that gave me a greater appreciation for those who deal with a culturally diverse international student population within the university on a daily basis.

Q: Tell me about one of your most memorable experiences here at Western.

Bahar: One of my most enjoyable volunteer experiences was teaching children to speak Russian at the PACT Head Start. It was fun and exciting to see children trying to learn a new language. This experience gave me an understanding that even a little effort can make an impact in a child’s or anyone’s life. I deeply believe that being involved as a volunteer will make our community a better place to live, and it also enriches our own lives.

Q: What are some of your favorite activities to engage in while you’re here in the U.S.?

Bahar: I like to spend all my free time with my children by engaging them in different learning and recreational activities. I also like to travel to see new places. While in the U.S., I have learned skiing and ice-skating. It was a fun experience.