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.

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

Instructional technologist teaches at Cyber Camp

Teachers may be “off” for the summer, but for many, they’re not resting when it comes to learning about technology and how their students use it. Read about how a WIU instructional technologist helped local teachers learn about staying up-to-date during a summer Cyber Camp.

 

WIU professor interviews guitar gurus

With his blue sneakers and his AC/DC and Spinal Tap wall décor, music instructor Matt Warnock, 32, is sometimes mistaken for a student at WIU.

“A student yelled at me one time when I was taking an amp from a classroom because he thought I was stealing it,” he laughed. “He said, ‘Hey, you can’t do that!’ and I said, ‘Yes, I can.'”

Warnock began teaching at Western while he was simultaneously working on his doctoral degree. For the last six years, he has not only taught at WIU, but also brought noted musicians to campus, organized the International Guitar Festival at WIU, and toured and played with other musicians in Brazil. And recently, he added yet another role to his resumé: editor-in-chief of Guitar International.

(more, below the photo)

photo of Matt Warnock

Matt Warnock with his Paul Reed Smith guitar

As an interviewer and editor for this online publication, Warnock has had the opportunity to meet musicians he admires, including Ace Frehley of KISS and Brian Aubert of Silversun Pickups. The web magazine, in addition to providing tips for guitar players and headlines from the music biz, also features interviews with guitarists ranging from Kenny Wayne Shepherd to Eric Johnson to Carlos Santana. Even Eddie Van Halen‘s name is among the list of featured interviewees.

“In the Rock History class that I teach at WIU, sometimes a student will ask me how I know this or that about a certain musician,” Warnock said. “I’m able to say, ‘Because I asked them about it.’

So how did such a busy professor get into the music-writing business?First of all, though his guitar expertise and academic credentials may be in jazz, he Respects the Rock.Warnock, raised in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada, grew up listening to 60s and 70s-era classic rock by Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, and Led Zeppelin. He started playing guitar when he 15.

“My school offered science or a guitar class, so I chose guitar,” he said. “I knew pretty much right away that I loved it.”

He took private lessons in rock and blues, and then classical guitar, but it wasn’t until a high school teacher began to mentor him that Warnock caught on to jazz.

“He played saxophone in a band, and he started bringing me to gigs around town when I was pretty young,” Warnock said. “Not a lot of kids were interested in jazz, but I was one of the rare ones, so he kind of latched on.”

From there Warnock went to McGill University in Montreal—”kind of our jazz mecca”—to study jazz performance.

“I think the improvisation was what drew me to jazz,” he said. “Growing up listening to rock and blues from the 70s… jazz was a difficult version of that. I kind of always liked a challenge, so that drove me towards it initially.”

Warnock continued his love, and formal study of, guitar by enrolling at Western Michigan University, where he was a teaching assistant as he pursued his graduate degree. It was when he moved to Champaign (IL) to attend the University of Illinois for his doctorate that he made his first foray into music journalism. Like many magazine writers, Warnock got his start by contributing to a magazine he knew inside and out. A longtime reader of Just Jazz Guitar magazine, Warnock decided to e-mail the editor with a sample of his writing.

“They liked it, so I started writing for them,” he explained. “They would mail me books, DVDs, and CDs to review, and then I started writing lessons on how to play certain things.”

Before long, Warnock was contributing interviews with artists, including John McLaughlin, a guitarist who played with Miles Davis and Grammy-winning John Pizzarelli. While continuing to write for this quarterly publication, Warnock finished his doctorate degree and decided to expand his writing portfolio even further.

“I realized that I would have more free time now that I’m not in school, so thought I should fill that time productively,” Warnock said. “I Googled about 100 magazines or online websites that accept contributions, sent stuff to about 25 or 30 of them, and then five or six started having me write for them. I wrote a few things, and eventually kind of settled on writing for one, which was called Modern Guitars. I thought as a freelancer I could use it to leverage my reputation as performer and teacher, and maybe get more experiences. And I love to write.”

But eventually the company partners split, and one partner started a new magazine. That hardly signaled the end for Warnock’s side career:

“Because of my writing history with him, he asked me to jump on board. Now I co-own a publishing company.”

Today, Warnock finds that artists’ press people call him and request that he interview their artists. He is granted full press access at events and has his travel expenses covered for his stories. And he’s interviewed some of his childhood heroes, like Robby Kreiger of The Doors. Earlier this fall, Warnock covered a large guitar-maker conference in Washington, D.C.

“I got to try out amps no one else has seen, and hang out with rock stars for four days,” he said.

Among them was Orianthi, a young female guitarist who had been Michael Jackson’s guitarist on the tour just before he died.

“She was cool,” he said. “I’ve had to the chance to do some pretty cool stuff.”

And in the meantime, the web publication is gaining readership in Europe and several English-speaking countries, and has a readership of approximately 65,000 readers and 700,000 page views per month. “It’s grown pretty significantly,” he said. “And because it’s online-only, we can do a lot of things we wouldn’t have been able to do with a traditional print magazine.”

For example, the medium requires much less turnaround time between the date an interview is conducted and the time it’s published. The publication also focuses on posting shorter pieces frequently, rather than take the time required to invest in a lengthy feature.

“They’re more timely that way, and we can get them out more quickly,” he said.

And as for those features, Warnock still has plenty of heroes with whom he’d like to secure an interview. So who would he most like to meet?

“Probably Jimmy Page,” Warnock said. “I have a lot of questions for that guy.”

Math teacher ‘adds up’ to AP Teacher of Year

One of our alumni was recently listed in USA TODAY among the AP (Advanced Placement Program) Teachers of the Year!

Amy-Karen Dougan, who received a master’s degree in education from WIU in 1972, has been selected as AP Teacher of the Year for the State of Rhode Island by the Siemens Foundation. According to the Siemens Foundation, the organization provides more than $7 million annually in support of educational initiatives in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in the U.S.

Dougan teaches AP calculus at North Kingstown High School
 in North Kingston, (RI). She was featured along with the other 49 state winners in the Feb. 22 edition of USA TODAY.

USAToday Logo

Top Teachers of Top Students

According to the Siemens Foundation, one exceptional teacher per state is selected for this recognition each year to receive a $1,000 grant to his or her high school to support science and mathematics education.

Teachers with a minimum of five years of teaching experience in math, science or technology AP courses are selected for their exemplary teaching and enthusiastic dedication to students and the AP Program.

Sounds like the best kind of math teacher a high school kid could have. Congrats to Amy-Karen, and keep up the “advanced” work!