Award-winning research: a family tradition

One of the high school students featured in a story on WSIL-TV yesterday (March 28) is pretty lucky when it comes to having a dad who can help with homework, so to speak.

WSIL, a TV station in southern Illinois, profiled some of best high school students in the state, who had gathered at Southern Illinois University over the past weekend for the 33rd Annual Junior Science and Humanities Symposium. One of those students was Macomb High School senior Prem Thottumkara. As the story explains, students delivered presentations based on their summer research projects and a written thesis, and one rule for the symposium was that “students must conduct their experiments and research under the watchful eye of a mentor.” This student didn’t have to look too far to find a scientist who could guide his work. Prem happens to be the son of WIU chemistry professor Vinod Thottumkara (who goes by T.K. Vinod). As the story says,

Thottumkara said he is glad that his mentor is his father because it makes asking questions an easy task, even if the answer is not what he wants to hear. “I can say, “hey dad, how does this work?” and he’s quick to give me a response and even when there’s something he knows I should know yet, he’ll say “this is advanced organic chemistry, you don’t need to know this yet” Thottumkara said.

And Prem’s participation in the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium is just another chapter in the family history of father-son collaboration. Professor T.K. Vinod even earned a patent on a project that was initially sparked by his elder son during a junior high school project. Learn more about Professor Vinod here.

picture of Professor T.K. Vinod with his son and other students

Professor T.K. Vinod with his son Arun and other students (2005)

 

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Cool canine story features a WIU student

Warning: If you’re a dog-lover, this might give you the chills. (The good kind, of course!) Or maybe even teary eyes. Not that that happened to this blogger or anything…(sniffle!)

As if it wasn’t cool enough that this organization helps people with disabilities, on top of that, it involves finding homes for shelter dogs, too.

This story from PJStar.com features WIU student Adam Cale of Macomb, a double major in graphic communication and Spanish, who uses a wheelchair. As the story explains, Cale is in the process of training his service dog, Chester, who he was partnered with through a not-for-profit organization called Paws Giving Independence. The organization trains dogs and places them with people in need. Chester will be able to assist Cale with daily tasks that many of us take for granted:

“He’ll turn on lights for me, pick things up for me and open doors that I can’t,” Cale said. “He’ll just make my life easier.”

Read the full story here!

Western grad opens heart, home to Haitian children

WIU graduate Patrick Leyendeckers and his wife, Mervi, were inspired to consider international adoption for a number of reasons. One of those factors can at least partially be credited to Patrick’s time at Western.

“One of the things the instructors always instilled in us was to try to look at things from a global perspective, and … it’s always in the back of my mind,” said Leyendeckers, who graduated from WIU from 1998 with a degree in accounting. “[Another factor was] my wife and I came to the conclusion, before we started this process, that we can’t change the world, but, we can change the world for two or three kids. That’s kind of what got us to where we are.”

picture of Leyendeckers family

Patrick, far right, with Kenlley, Mervi, Dieunika, and Modeline at Dieunika's 13th-birthday celebration

Patrick came to WIU as a non-traditional student. After graduating from high school, he joined the Navy, an experience that ultimately led to the Leyendeckers’ marriage.

“After three years active duty, I bought one of those two-month rail passes around Europe, and that’s when I met Mervi. She’s from Finland,” he explained.

Patrick earned a degree in industrial technology from Buffalo State College in New York. After he and Mervi relocated to Quincy (IL), their son, Derrick, was born. Patrick enrolled at WIU soon after, taking classes part-time so he could help with raising his son on the days when he didn’t have classes. His degree in accounting led to work as an auditor for the IL Agriculture Auditing Association. Today, Patrick works for a trucking company, a career switch he made in part to have more flexible hours to accommodate his new family life.

“We had always talked about adoption,” he explained. “My wife [went to Haiti in 2006], and it was  life-changing for her. There were literally orphans all over the place. And keep in mind that was long before the earthquake.”

picture of Leyendeckers family

To find out more of Patrick Leyendeckers’ story—including how their family was impacted by the devastating earthquake— look for a feature in the upcoming issue of Western News, the quarterly newsletter for alumni and friends. The June issue will arrive in mailboxes soon, and will also be posted online here.

Caring for Col. Rock

Col. Rock, the newest member of the Leatherneck family, hasn’t even arrived on campus yet and already he’s a star. But once he gets here, where will he live? Who will take care of him?

picture of Colonel Rock at 8 weeks old

Col. Rock, here at 8 weeks old, will arrive in Macomb on Saturday, May 15.

picture of Joe Roselieb

Joe Roselieb, assistant director of residential facilities, will welcome Col. Rock to his new home.

While the 10-week-old bulldog puppy will one day have the important job of riding in convertibles during Homecoming parades and making the rounds at football games, he still, of course, will need an “assistant.”

Enter Joe Roselieb, Western’s assistant director of residential facilities. Roselieb should have plenty of school spirit to be up to the job: he graduated from WIU with bachelor of arts in interdisciplinary studies in 2007, was hired to his position in 2008, and earned a master’s degree in recreation, park and tourism administration (RPTA) in 2009.

Find out how he became the keeper of Colonel Rock—and leave us your comments and questions—below!

Q&A

Can you tell us how you got this important new addition to your job duties?

It started with one of our football players, Victor Visoky, (a senior law enforcement and justice administration major from Northbrook, IL) when he was thinking of a way to try to generate more school spirit. Victor is from a big bulldog family; they have three they’ve adopted, rescued, or inherited. Then Victor bought one from the Siess Ranch in Kansas. Anyway, he was thinking about Western having that tradition of a four-legged mascot like some schools have, and his dad, George, just kind of took off. He contacted the Siess Ranch, he contacted the local [veterinarians], he got everyone on board. So then it came down to, “Who’s gonna take care of it?” So then, my director, John Biernbaum (University Housing and Dining Services), was at a Leatherneck Club meeting, and they were talking about it and John brought up my name.

So why did your boss suggest you? Are you a dog lover?

Well, my grandmother runs an animal shelter in Sterling (IL), and we always had animals when I was growing up. We’ve kind of accidentally become a lab family: we have three black labs. John loves them, too, and just because he’s my boss and we’ve talked about it before, he knew I was interested in dogs. I’ve always wanted a bulldog, but I knew they were kind of cashy—and my grandmother always said, “Don’t get a breed, get a rescued dog,” so that was always instilled in me. So then this opportunity came up. At first, I kind of met it with some resistance. I had three pages of questions, and when George called me we ended up talking for 45 minutes. After that, I was kind of excited and thought, “Why not?”

Will Col. Rock live with you in your house or apartment? Will he have a doghouse?

He’ll be indoors at my house. I bought my first house last March, and it’s really close to campus. I should never have an excuse not to come to work [laughs]. There’s a kennel in the house, there’s a big ‘W’ rug in front. It’s decorated with a Rocky logo above it just like the football players have above their lockers.

Are you going to have any help with taking care of him?

Yeah, my girlfriend will help out a little bit. She graduated from Western too, and she’s actually coming back here to do her master’s degree soon, so it’s perfect timing! I’ve found that so many people are excited about it, they just want to be part of it, be involved somehow. We’ve had a kennel in town offer to take care of him in case I ever need to leave for the weekend. I’m getting two to three people a day volunteering to babysit, walk him, etc., if I ever need help.

Will you be training the Colonel? Will he go to obedience school? What will be some of the day-to-day and larger responsibilities in taking care of him?

Obedience school is definitely on the plan. We’re still talking about it right now. I kind of want to get settled in, get to know him, get him into All Pets and get him checked out. Maybe we’ll do just a couple of sessions from some of the books that some of my grandma’s contacts have given me: just “sit,” “stay,” a few of those basic things. Potty training will be a big thing. That’s probably the biggest thing I’m not looking forward to.

Right now it will be about trying to get him acclimated to as many people as possible. It will be a little bit of a challenge to find events to take him to, since the school year just ended. But since he’s a puppy, he will naturally attract people when I’m out walking him, which will be nice. I’m going to bring him to Summer Orientation and Registration (SOAR), so that will take care of two things at once: get people excited about our new mascot, and also get him acclimated. It will also be about how I’m going to get him acclimated to environmental things he’ll need to become immune to, like… the cannon going off on the football game.

When will you actually meet your new “housemate”? How are you feeling about it right now?

I’m getting him at 11:30 a.m. on [May] 15th, [before Col. Rock will make his official debut at the Leathernecks Baseball game]. There are a lot of expectations. I know there’ll be some frustrations dealing with a new puppy, but I’m excited to see how people interact with him, how things go with him. I’m excited, I’m nervous…everything.