COAP Employee Spotlight: Seth Miner

Western Illinois University Director of Admissions Seth Miner

“No matter how intense meetings can be or the amount of pressure that comes with working in admissions, I have never dreaded going to work. In admissions, we have an opportunity to open the doors to the future for prospective students and feed off the excitement they have in determining the next chapter in their lives.” — Western Illinois University Director of Admissions Seth Miner

One of the better feelings in life is landing a new job or reaching a career milestone in a field that you love. Seth Miner, Western Illinois University’s new director of undergraduate admissions, has accomplished both with his new post at Western.

The director of admissions at any university can be considered the “hotseat,” depending on many internal and external circumstances that impact students’ choices of where to attend college; thus, it is often considered a stressful job. According to Seth, though, sometimes, that pressure can be useful.

No matter how intense meetings can be or the amount of pressure that comes with working in admissions, I have never dreaded going to work. In admissions, we have an opportunity to open the doors to the future for prospective students and feed off the excitement they have in determining the next chapter in their lives. I also love being challenged, which is something that we face on a daily basis in admissions,” he explained.

Seth agreed to share a bit more about himself in the Council of Administrative Personnel (COAP) Spotlight this month. More about his background and his work at Western so far, is below…

Welcome to Western Illinois University, Seth!

Q. Tell me a bit about your background: How did you wind up working at WIU?

Seth: I was one of those students who never wanted to leave college, as I thoroughly enjoyed my college experience. I began my higher education career as the carpenter for Waldorf College in Forest City, IA. I was a proud alumnus who wanted to work at Waldorf and viewed the job as a foot in the door. After six months working at Waldorf College, a position opened in admissions. I applied, was offered, and accepted the position, and it was at that point that I was hooked!

Admissions is all about building relationships with prospective students and families, promoting the great things the institution has to offer—with the intent of the student choosing to enroll. After two years in admissions, I wanted to see what it was like building those relationships with students (once they were at the institution) as a way of retaining them. I then accepted a position at Luther College in Decorah, IA, in residence life.

At Luther College, I was the area coordinator for a complex that housed 750 upper-class students. It was a great experience, but it did not take long for me to realize I missed the fast-paced life of working in admissions. It was at this time that I got back into admissions at Upper Iowa University in Fayette, IA, as the associate director of admissions there.

During my time at Upper Iowa University, I co-supervised professional staff members, managed an in-state, as well as an out-of-state, territory, and also supervised the admissions student ambassador program and student call team. Up to that point, my experience had been working at small private institutions. I began to search for opportunities at small regional public institutions, as I felt I could incorporate my private experience and practices into public institution recruitment and be successful.

The next chapter in my career was at Bemidji State University in Bemidji, MN, as the associate director of admissions and scholarship coordinator. For two years I held that position, and in it, I also supervised  admissions representatives, in addition to coordinating scholarships and implementing the strategic recruitment plan of the admissions office.

My third and final year at Bemidji State University, I had the opportunity to serve as the interim director of admissions, and my additional responsibilities included coordinating community outreach programs, budget management, strategic planning, and supervising the entire admissions staff of nine professional staff members.

I found success in implementing more of a private recruitment strategy at a public institution. My career goals were to work at a larger public institution, and that is when I came across this opportunity at Western Illinois University.

What sparked my initial interest in WIU was the automatic merit-based scholarship program that WIU has. It is reminiscent of what private institutions do and what I was accustomed to in my past experience.

Another draw to WIU was the cost guarantee and no out-of-state tuition. Higher education is a competitive market, and WIU has made these decisions that will ensure that we are providing a quality education at an affordable price.

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

Seth: It has been great getting to meet all the people here at WIU and in the city of Macomb in the two months that I have been at WIU. One of the things that I love about working in admissions is that there is no such thing as a typical day. I often look at my calendar the night before to determine what I have going on the next day and that often changes. I rely heavily on my staff, and make it a point to visit with the processing staff right away in the morning, as it is a busy time of the year for them.

The majority of my days are spent in meetings, as well as looking at data to identify trends that we can capitalize on in the recruitment of students.

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

Seth: I am a competitor and enjoy a good challenge. The biggest challenge that we face in admissions is that our livelihood is determined by the decision-making ability of a 17- to 18-year old. We can do everything right in the recruitment process, provide the students all the information he or she needs about the institution and his or her program of interest, mutually determine that WIU is a good fit and what the student is looking for, and yet, he or she can still decide to go elsewhere. There are many outside variables that beyond our immediate control.

Q. Tell me a little about your favorite activities outside of your job.

Seth: I am currently working on my doctorate degree, so my activities have been limited. However, I do have three children (Brooks, who is 10, Cameron, who is 7, and Kaitlyn, who is 1) that I enjoy taking to the park with my wife (Jennifer). Family is a big part of my life, and the move to Macomb has also brought us closer to extended family. Our two boys are at the age where they are becoming more active in extracurricular activities, such as football, soccer, basketball, and baseball and we are excited to get them involved in all the Macomb community has to offer.

Q. What is your go-to advice?

Seth: My go-to advice would have to be to challenge yourself every day and step out of your comfort zone. It is only when you step out of your comfort zone that you truly find what you are capable of and can continually raise the bar! It is something that I have lived my life by, and if I would not have stepped out of my comfort zone and made an 11-hour move, I would not have had the opportunity to meet so many great individuals here in Macomb and at Western Illinois University.

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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/.

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 the Professor: Cindy Struthers, Sociology and Community & Economic Development

Cindy Struthers

Cindy Struthers

Next fall, WIU’s new Master of Arts in Community and Economic Development will begin. This degree program will cover a number of disciplines, including economics, geography, management, and sociology. I sat down with sociology professor Cindy Struthers to learn more about her.

Cindy is a native of Lansing, Michigan, and received her doctorate in sociology with emphases in family inequalities, rural sociology, and gender from Michigan State University. She received her M.A. and B.A. in sociology from MSU as well. Cindy is currently serving as the executive director/treasurer of the Rural Sociological Society, a professional social science association that seeks to enhance the quality of rural life, communities, and the environment.

Cindy teaches a number of courses at WIU, including “Community,” “American Family,” and “Women and Poverty.” She will be teaching “Advanced Community Development and Practice” as part of the M.A. program.

Q: What are you most looking forward to in this new degree program?

Cindy: It sounds funny, but a new course prep always reinvigorates my enthusiasm for teaching. New courses force you to really look at what is happening in the field, and it’s a lot like completing a puzzle. You have to make a whole bunch of decisions about what to include and how it fits with all the other pieces. You have to put yourself in the minds of your students and not just choose every quirky thing you want to read for the next 8 -16 weeks (though some of that is always involved).

I am also very excited to be working with a diverse group of students, some of whom might be on a traditional educational trajectory and some who have chosen to improve their credentials and some who are simply lifelong learners who want to give community development a look-see.

Q: What are you passionate about?

Cindy: Passionate? I grew up in the Midwest—we are not a passionate people. Family, friends, helping communities remain vital; maintaining a sense of optimism and hope for the future.

Q: Favorite thing(s) about WIU?

Cindy: The school colors: purple and yellow. The school colors are actually “purple and gold,” but yellow is my favorite color.

Q: What is your favorite quote?

Cindy: “They always say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.” – Andy Warhol

Q: What is your favorite place?

Cindy: New Orleans, Louisiana

Q: What are you reading right now? What’s next on the list?

Cindy: I can’t remember the name of the book I am reading right now (it’s an earlier book written by an author that has a new book on the New York Times bestseller list), and I am not organized enough to know what I’m reading next. However, two of the most fun and informative books I have read fairly recently are Novella Carpenter’s “Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer” and Aziz Ansari’s “Modern Romance.” I wish I had read Ansari’s book a little earlier in the year, because I would have assigned it to my Soc. 370 students this semester.

Q: Anything else you would like your prospective students to know about you?

Cindy: I have some real concerns about the continued vitality and future of rural places across the Midwest and the rest of the country. I can’t wait to hear what some of your observations and solutions might be. I have lived in four different small towns in Illinois since coming to WIU.

I’m a homebody who loves to travel. I’m always looking for a great cup of coffee, a quirky boutique, and a non-chain restaurant. I buy a lot of yarn (at independently owned shops), but never seem to complete any of the dozen or so projects I start. I have two Australian Shepherds; one is named Aussie and the other is Sydney, and two cats (Louis Armstrong and NOLA).

I have rather eclectic taste in music and books, but I tend to gravitate to blues music because I love the way different guitars and guitarists sound. Right now, I am primarily into “humor” and have read a couple Christopher Moore and Mindy Kaling books back to back.

Thanks to Cindy for taking the time to talk to me! 

Meet the Professor: Chris Merrett, Community and Economic Development

Meet the Professor: Chris Merrett, Community and Economic Development

Next fall, WIU will begin a new master’s degree program in Community and Economic Development. This new program will combine online learning with in-person class sessions and hands-on learning opportunities. The program is being offered through the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs (IIRA). We sat down with IIRA Director Chris Merrett to learn more about the program – and about him.merett

Chris Merrett is a native of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada. He earned undergraduate degrees in geography (University of Western Ontario) and political science (Lake Superior State University), before earning a master’s degree (University of Vermont) and Ph.D. in geography with a focus on regional development and international trade (University of Iowa). He loves to travel and learn about new places, and geography was a natural discipline to help guide these personal and professional intellectual pursuits. Chris has been married for 25 years and has two children.

Since working at the IIRA, his love of geography has evolved to embrace local community and economic development, which is a kind of applied geography. As IIRA director, Merrett oversees a university-based research, outreach, teaching, and policy development unit comprised of 40 community development faculty and professionals. In addition to his management role, he teaches courses in Community Development, serves on the Governor’s Rural Affairs Council, is current chairperson of Rural Partners, and has raised more than $6 million in external grant funding to support community and economic development outreach and research, including a $200,000 USDA Rural Cooperative Development Grant for the IIRA.

His current research focuses on cooperatives and community development. Merrett co-edited two books on this topic, including A Cooperative Approach to Local Economic Development (2001) and Cooperatives and Local Development: Theory and Applications for the 21st Century (2003). He has also published in a range of journals on topics such as value-added agriculture, cooperatives, rural land use, social justice, and rural community and economic development.

In summer 2015, Chris participated in his fifth RAGBRAI, (The Des Moines Register’s Great Annual Bike Ride Across Iowa). This is a 7-day, 500+ mile ride across Iowa. Each night of the ride, participants camp out in a rural Iowa community. According to Chris, “It is a great way to see the rural Midwest while enjoying rural community development (and hospitality) at its best.”

Chris took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions about himself.

Q: What course(s) do you teach?

Chris: I teach several courses on the WIU campus including Principles of Community Development,” Rural Geography, Geography of the United States and Canada, and the History and Philosophy of Geography. The course I have devoted most energy to over the past half-decade has been Principles of Community Development, which enables me to link my theoretical interests in what makes communities thrive with concrete projects in rural Illinois.

Q: What are you most looking forward to in the new Master of Arts in Community Development program?

Chris: For more than 25 years, the IIRA has been delivering award-winning technical assistance to rural communities across rural Illinois and beyond. We have also published literally thousands of peer-reviewed journal articles, books, technical reports, and other essays. Teaching has been an important, but secondary, part of our mission. Our faculty members have always devoted a significant amount of energy to teaching courses in economic development, rural sociology, marketing, and geography, but have done so in other departments. In other words, our teaching efforts have been dispersed across several departments outside of the IIRA. By offering a graduate degree through the IIRA, we can offer our teaching expertise in a focused, concentrated, and coordinated manner which will increase our ability to share our expertise in community and economic development.

Q: What are you passionate about?

Chris: Professionally, I am passionate about how universities can serve as catalysts for social change, including community economic development. Public universities such as WIU have resources to help small communities identify their assets and deploy them in more effective ways. It is gratifying to see towns make meaningful change with assets and leadership skills developed from within their community.

At a personal level, I love to ski, bicycle, read, and spend time with friends and family.

Q: Favorite thing(s) about WIU?

Chris: There are many great things about WIU. It’s location in west central Illinois is just lovely. WIU is not like other larger public universities that are located in, but somehow separated from, their host regions. WIU is not just located in a rural region; it is deeply integrated into the region and hence is shaped by the culture and needs of the region. WIU also has a great faculty with a collaborative mindset. Our M.A. degree in CED, while hosted by the IIRA, has many opportunities to take great courses in other departments such as recreation, park and tourism administration; economics, geography, political science, and business administration. Great colleagues in the IIRA and partner departments help make WIU a great place.

Q: What is your favorite quote?

Chris: I have several quotes that are all related to community development in one way or another:

  • Education, therefore, is a process of living and not a preparation for future living. — John Dewey
  • A community is like a ship; everyone ought to be prepared to take the helm. — Henrik Ibsen
  • Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. — Thomas Edison
  • Be an opener of doors for such as come after thee, and do not try to make the universe a blind alley. — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Q: What is your favorite place?

Chris: This is a good question. I have several “happy places.” First, I love my summer cottage in Northern Ontario. It is located on clear, northern lake, with loons, moose, and bears in the surrounding forests. I also love rural roads in the Prairie State, when I am on my bicycle. The blue sky, green fields, goldfinches, farms, and gently rolling hills, make for a bucolic, enthralling scene.

Q: What are you reading right now? What’s next on the list?

Chris: In preparation for an upcoming course, I am currently reading Development as Freedom by Amartya Sen and The Price of Civilization by Jeffrey Sachs. On my bedside table, waiting to be finished is Capital by Thomas Piketty. It addresses the growing income inequality of capitalist economies in the 21st century.

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