COAP Employee Spotlight: Dana Vizdal, WIU Center for International Studies

Dana Vizdal (second from left) and international students at the 2016 International Bazaar at WIU

Dana Vizdal (second from left) and international students at the 2016 International Bazaar at WIU

Traveling to and staying in a foreign country can be one of the most exhilarating experiences you can have. It can also be one of the most daunting, particularly if you’re a young college student.

Luckily, at Western Illinois University, international students have a well-developed support system that is the team of committed individuals who work in WIU’s Center for International Studies (CIS).

And although it’s not quite yet time for International Education Week (that occurs in November, and is set from Nov. 14-18 this year), it’s never too early to recognize the work that international educators do. Over the years, I have had the pleasure of collaborating with a few of the staff members at the CIS. I quickly picked up on the fact that they take their jobs—working with the many international students who come to Western—very seriously.

One of those dedicated staff members is CIS Assistant Director Dana Vizdal, who once was an international student herself during a semester-long study abroad program in Europe. So with International Education Week just around the corner, and to recognize Western’s commitment to international studies for both American and international students, this month, for the the Council of Administrative Personnel (COAP) Spotlight, we’re featuring Dana.

Below, she talks a bit about her background and what she does here for the many individuals who travel tens of thousands of miles to come and study in Macomb at WIU.

Q. How did you end up working at Western?

Dana: I actually grew up in Macomb and earned both of my degrees from WIU. I was fortunate to study abroad in Spain for a semester, which really got me interested in international affairs. I have had the opportunity to work at WIU as a student worker, a graduate assistant, a civil service employee and now as an administrator in my current position.

Dana Vizdal and Western Illinois Univeristy international students visiting the Illinois State Capitol Building in Springfield.

Dana Vizdal and Western Illinois University and a group of international students visiting the Illinois State Capitol Building in Springfield.

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

Dana: There really isn’t a typical day for me. I work closely with my graduate assistants, collaborate with many offices across campus, and help students with any questions or issues. It’s important to me that the international students know there is someone advocating for them and someone they can always approach. My door is always open, and if it’s not, there is a note on my door saying when I’ll be back.

Q. What is your favorite on-the-job memory?

Dana: I love following our students on Facebook and witnessing them experience real American culture. Seeing their reactions to and pictures of their first autumn experiences or snowfall in the Midwest is priceless.

Q. What has been your most rewarding professional experience in your career at WIU so far?

Dana: One of the most rewarding experiences was learning that a student decided to attend WIU because I spoke with his sibling at a recruitment fair abroad!

Q. What are your favorite activities outside of your job?

Dana: When I’m not working, I love traveling, eating good food, and spending time with my boyfriend, family, and friends.

Q. What is your favorite quote or quotes?

Dana: I really like “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences,” by Audre Lorde, as well as “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much,” by Helen Keller.

•••

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

Advertisements

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.

image

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.

image

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.

People of WIU

Dallas Boswell - People of WIU

In Fall 2014, Western Illinois University Anthropology Professor Heather McIlvaine-Newsad asked her students to use “two of the ethnographic research tools that anthropologists use—cameras and talking to, or interviewing, people” to emulate the “Humans of New York” (HONY) project for a “People of WIU” assignment.

Last week, the new best-selling book “Humans of New York” was released. You may or may not know the blog—created by Brandon Stanton—upon which the book is based.

If you do, you may have encountered the Humans of New York (HONY) project behind the blog via its huge Facebook or Twitter following. (The HONY Facebook page has close to 16 million likes and the HONY Twitter feed has more than 360K followers.)

According to the Oct. 12 ABC news article “Humans of New York Creator Reveals How He Gets People to Share Life’s Intimate Details,” over the last five years, the blog has transformed from featuring only pictures [of New Yorkers] to also telling stories”—basically, an anthology (the definition, per Merriam-Webster Unabridged, “a usually representative collection of selected literary pieces or passages”).

Bre Bracey - People of WIUSuch a project was a natural fit for an assignment in two “Introduction to Cultural Anthropology FYE” (First Year Experience) classes taught by Western Illinois University Anthropology Professor Heather McIlvaine-Newsad.

So in Fall 2014, she did just that—asked her students to use “two of the ethnographic research tools that anthropologists use—cameras and talking to, or interviewing, people” to emulate the project for a “People of WIU” assignment.

“Anthropology is about telling a story. Sometimes the story is written and sometimes it includes images. Your assignment is to tell a story about the People of WIU. The people—students, faculty, administration, individuals who work in the cafeteria, the Beu Health Center, the construction workers—are all fascinating, but we seldom take time to talk to them and find out their stories,” her instructions noted.

To complete the assignment, McIlvaine-Newsad asked her students to “write three questions that you will ask all of the people you photograph.”

Sawhney_Surya“You will need to photograph and interview a minimum of 10 people and take a minimum of 10 photos of each individual. Make sure you have your subjects complete and sign the Model Release Form, which will allow us to use their images on the WIU website. Select your three best photos and quotes, and put them in a PowerPoint presentation.”

McIlvaine-Newsad, who has been a faculty member for 15 years, said she is “constantly amazed at who my students are and what they bring to the classroom.”

“They have many stories to tell. In virtually all my classes, from study abroad courses to Germany and India or methods classes, we explore ways in which people can tell us what is important to them. Often we discover that people who may seem so very different than we are share similar powerful stories. I especially wanted to bring this message to first-year students, who are making adjusting to a new way of life as university students. Using a visual anthropology format that includes both the power of images and written word, like those from HONY, seemed like a great assignment for my students.

Kathy Clauson - People of WIUWhen asked why she had her students use the digital storytelling technique:

“The reasons for doing so vary with each course: sometimes it’s to focus a student’s research interest. Other times it’s to develop communication skills in visual or audio media. In another class, it may be to relate an experience that is more personal in nature—too personal for a more formal academic paper format,” she noted.

In this post are some of the results from her students’ completion of the assignment. These are just a smattering of the stories of the all of the “People of WIU.”

Feel free to share your story—about something that matters to you or share a lingering question you have about your life or something that is on your mind (no profanity or references to alcohol or drug use please; comments will be moderated)—in the comments below.

Imani Kutti - People of WIUDamien Pickens - People of WIU
Jodie Tan Qiu Yu - People of WIUMary Street - People of WIU

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: 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!

International Student Success Spotlight: Amin Akhtar

Amin Akhtar, WIU Alumnus

Amin Akhtar recently graduated from Western with his M.S. in computer science. While an international student at WIU, he served as a graduate assistant in Western’s Center for International Studies.

Many current and former international students at Western Illinois University may be familiar with Amin Akhtar’s friendly smile. Akhtar—who is from Iran and was, until last December, an international student himself—served as a graduate assistant in Western’s Center for International Studies while studying in Western’s School of Computer Sciences.

“In that role, I participated in six orientations for new international students. Each of them was an amazing experience. Helping other international students each semester was more than a job or a volunteer work for me,” he explained. “I would like to especially thank to Ms. Dana Vizdal [assistant director in the Center for International Studies], who gave me this chance to be a leader for the orientations.”

Akhtar finished his master’s of science degree in computer science in December. Recently, he shared with me a bit about some of his academic experiences and opportunities he had while he was a WIU student.

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

Amin: After considering different universities, I came across information about the School of Computer Sciences at Western. When I saw the profile of the professors and their fields of interest, I was sure I wanted to choose Western.

Q: What do you hope to do with your degree?

Amin: I am planning to work as a software engineer in one of the consulting companies. Finding a job in the computer science field is not that hard, especially when you have a computer science degree from WIU!!!

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

Amin: The adjusting process from another culture to the U.S. culture was not that easy. All international students have culture shock when they come here, and I was not an exception. Making friends and not being alone was the best way for me to adjust myself within the new environment.

Q: Who was your favorite instructor and/or course and why?

Amin: My favorite professor and advisor was undoubtedly Dr. Martin Maskarinec [professor of computer science]. Dr. Maskarinec was so patient and helpful all the time, and I always used his advice. My favorite courses were my database courses, because I love working with data.

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

Amin: The best moment of my life was when I got the news about being accepted as a teaching assistant in the School of Computer Sciences. Other memorable experiences include meeting my girlfriend at Western Illinois University and learning more about American culture.