Learning from the Past

imageAs I enter this, my 12th year as a faculty member in the Western Illinois University Department of Communication, I am taking a sabbatical (technically called administrative leave) to broaden my understanding of organizational communication.  In addition to teaching a course in Organizational Communication, I also teach a special topics class about the communication culture of the Walt Disney theme parks.  This class, Communication 379, was born here at Western.  The class is only offered at this institution and offers students the opportunity to not only learn about the organizational communication of the Disney parks, but also allows them to immerse themselves in the world of those parks through a week-long visit at the end of the course.

My three-week journey to six Disney theme parks in four countries (the United States, China, Hong Kong and Japan), begins at Disneyland in Anaheim, California. Disneyland opened over 60 years ago in July of 1955 and was Walt Disney’s first theme park. As a result, the park is nearing the end of its ‘diamond’ celebration event. There are images of diamonds everywhere and homages to the history of this ground-breaking park at every turn. Even after 60+ years, this park and its employees (Disney calls them cast members) don’t want you to forget where it all started.


I think that’s an important lesson for us to remember whether we work in academia or elsewhere. The history of your organization is important, not only to see the successes, but also to learn from the mistakes. Since none of us have a DeLorean that can travel back in time (as far as I know), our way to learn from those that came before us is by learning the history of our organizations. It may not involve a massive year-long celebration complete with nightly fireworks like Disneyland, but the past is important, nonetheless. I believe each organization has its own unique way of life (often referred to as its culture) and, like a family, there are stories to be told about that life and its growth. As I learn about the culture of the Disney Parks, I hope you’ll find some time to learn about the history of your organization as well.



Scottish singer has impressive academic cred

Recently we told you about talented music alumna Aly Jados trying to get on the Road to Hollywood on the latest season of American Idol.

Also in the ranks of Western alumnae setting their sites on pop stardom? Michaela Wright, who graduated with bachelor’s (2003) and master’s (2005) degrees in communication from WIU. According to one news article, tour producer Simon Ellis—who has worked with Britney Spears—calls her the “real deal.”

Originally from Scotland, Wright was a member of the swim team while at WIU, and was also inducted into the Phi Eta Sigma honorary society her freshman year. Since graduating from Western, Wright has been working hard to make a name for herself in pop music, which you can read about in an article from an online UK newspaper. And according to her Twitter feed, the swimmer-turned-singer is currently working with producers in the studio in London.

Screen shot of Michaela Wright's MySpace page

Check out some of her music on Michael’s MySpace page at or follow her on Twitter. In the meantime, we here at WIU hope she hits the big time—and, of course, comes back to perform at her alma mater!

Out of the bunkers and back to broadcasting

[Editor’s note: Last week, University Relations Student Writer Jared Dye gave us a taste of what he was up to last summer. This week, he continues with the lessons learned over the summer and why he’s glad to be back on campus–one of which may be no longer having to get up before 5 a.m.!]

What’s it like when the location of your slow summer job is suddenly in the spotlight? As I mentioned earlier, I had a connection through my family to get a summer job at TPC Deere Run in Silvis, IL, and I had never done any work like this in my life.

The John Deere Classic ended up being our easiest week of work, despite split shifts where we would work 5 a.m.-9:30 a.m. before returning for a 4-8 p.m. shift. It was exciting to see everything going on around the golf course before the tournament; bleachers were being constructed, businesses were coming in as sponsors and having tents set up, professional golfers were coming in to get a feel for the course and we felt like our work was really meaningful in preparation for the Classic. We were told that we were doing a good job for the first time all summer when our bosses’ bosses came in for the week.

picture of Jared Dye's summer-job crew

That's me, fourth from the right in the front row (squint and you can see me!)

Then John Deere brought in some of their finer equipment to be set up so all the spectators coming in could see it. All in all, the course had thousands of dollars worth of John Deere equipment, for display and for use by the workers. We were told that every 2-4 years John Deere sends new machines, and they auction off or get rid of the “old” equipment that had being used. They take this stuff seriously.

Despite all that, the real experience was just being there and interacting with everyone. We had an interesting staff to say the least; it was made up of a large number of Mexican workers, lifers, and college kids home for the summer—in the heat and long hours, we were like a team made up of people who equally did not want to be there. After taking four years of Spanish in high school, I had not really had the chance to apply my Spanish National Honor Society skills until this summer. I would have conversations in Spanish with some of my co-workers, and I learned a lot about their lives through our part-English, part-Spanish conversations. I will also say that I feel like I improved my “man” skills quite a bit; I can do a lot more than I could before this summer. But I was asked if I would like to come back next year, and… I don’t think so. I should be looking for some kind of job related to my major by then, and I don’t think waking up at 5 a.m. for manual labor will fit in.

I also returned to the Quad City Times for occasional hours, like I have in the past during breaks. I worked in the Sports department there for over two years while attending Black Hawk College and have continued to stay in touch with them and be available to work when I’m home. The only problem with this was it was a night job; I would show up at 7 p.m. and not leave until about 11 p.m. I would do this and then be up bright and early for a long day at the links.

‘Toys’ and ‘Scrubs’—That’s Right, I Like ‘Em!

Outside of work, as you could expect, my summer was a bit dull. I found myself feeling like an old man day after day when I was tired by 10 p.m. and needed to get some sleep. But, I still managed to have some fun during a work-filled summer. Even though a good number of my friends were not home for the summer I still met up with the ones who were in town and played basketball, hung out and vented about the long days. The most excitement I saw this summer included my trips to Chicago and St. Louis, both which revolved around watching the “Scrubs,” or the Cubs for those who still believe.

picture of Jared Dye

Jared Dye, Cubs fan

I did see Toy Story 3, and loved it. I didn’t care if people at work wanted to make fun of me for seeing it; I had seen the first two so naturally I was going to see the third and final of the series.

Towards the end of the summer my family and I made a trip to Cedar Rapids, Iowa for my cousin Liz’s wedding. Liz is my first first-cousin to get married, so I guess it was a big deal. The wedding went as most weddings go, but the real story was the after party, or reception, where things got interesting. We were at Elmcrest Country Club, home of professional golfer Zach Johnson, and one of the first things we noticed was a cookie station set up. My aunt and some friends made just about any cookie imaginable, and it was something that I had never seen at a wedding.

The rest of the wedding was usual; my brother and I danced a bit, not together, and then it was time to throw the garter. I was positioned towards the front of the pack of eligible bachelors, and I had a plan. I was going to leap when I saw it go up and just see what happens. My new family member Tim, my cousins’ husband, tossed it, and just as I had planned, I leaped—and before anyone even knew what hit them, I had it. I had caught the Iowa Hawkeyes-themed garter and was receiving cheers from the crowd.

But, despite all that excitement, by the end of the summer I started feeling drained and my work performance probably started to suffer. And that put me in an unusual position: actually wanting to get back to school.

Senior-year starting line

Maybe this was because it would be my final year of college, I don’t know, but I think that I just wanted to get back into a routine and just forget about summer ’10. Even though I may not have a set plan after college, this is still my final year of school and that is something.

I really like the campus here; probably the main reason I didn’t stay in the Quad Cities to go to WIU’s QC branch is that until the new riverfront campus opens, it’s only one building. It’s nice here and I feel comfortable when I’m in my school and work routine.

I had stayed in contact with my roommate and some others from WIU, and that just kept building up my excitement. I had one class I had to get switched, and I was ready to go for the fall semester of my senior year. I wanted to come down a week before school started to get my apartment situated and to be able to relax and enjoy what was left of the summer. It turned out to be a great week since so many of my friends were already back as well.

And now I’m back, taking five classes (I’m majoring in communication and minoring in broadcasting) and getting used to my schedule. After having all but one or two of my classes in Sallee Hall last year, my classes are actually spread out so I get to see more of the campus and the buildings. I’ve got a new bike this year, too. Things are really starting to come together nicely.

I think that my classes will be fine and my only real obstacle is getting through Comm. 311 so I can take two 400-level writing classes next semester. (If senior year is supposed to be the easiest, wildest and most fun, then no one told me!) I knew that from the start though, so I feel ready to go and get through my final semesters as a Leatherneck.