To Speak, or Not to Speak

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WIU knows how important research is and that’s why every year, the university dedicates a day to research.  Undergraduate students had the opportunity to present their own research at Wednesday’s Thomas E. Helm Undergraduate Research Day.  I was one of the many students who participated in the day’s events.  But before I did, I spoke with Patty Battles of the Centennial Honors College.  She said Undergraduate Research Day started twelve years at Western.  “It started as a way to celebrate and showcase the research, scholarship and scholarly activities of our students,” Battles explained.

Students presented their research in one of three different ways: podium presentations, poster presentations or a performance.  With so many choices, I wondered what type of presentations students would choose and why.  “I am not comfortable speaking publicly in front of people,” said senior Kyle Sallas, a law enforcement and justice administration major.  Sallas decided to complete a poster presentation.  Battles said most students choose the poster presentation option.  For a poster presentation, students showcase their research on a poster with graphics.  They don’t really have to do much talking unless someone asks questions about their findings.  I actually counted the number of presentations and 159 students chose to complete posters out of the 189 presentations.  “I think a lot of students don’t want to stand in front of a group and talk about their research,” Battles stated.

Junior Sean Ellis, a journalism major, also showcased his research via a poster.  “I usually fumble words or forget some portion of my presentations,” Ellis explained.  Senior Dana Franklin, a history major, chose the same route for two reasons.  She first explained the poster would allow onlookers to get a closer look at the artwork she discussed in her research.  But she had a common fear like Ellis, “I get nervous when I speak, and often times I stumble over my words,” Franklin said.  Senior Rachel Caston, a forensic chemistry major, also didn’t feel comfortable presenting her project verbally.  Caston admitted she does feel comfortable reciting a speech if she is prepared, “if I am not prepared then I tend to draw a blank on what to say.”

After chatting with these students, I saw a pattern form: many students aren’t comfortable with publically speaking.  However, public speaking has many advantages as David Zanolla, a WIU communication instructor, explained.  “When we opt to express our thoughts, beliefs and opinions in a public setting, we are communicating these ideas in a conversational way that ideally allows for a connection to be made between us and our audience,” Zanolla said.

As for myself, I completed two presentations: one podium presentation and one poster presentation.  For my first presentation I chose to present using a poster because I found it extremely hard to narrow my research down to only 10 minutes.  Presenters were only allowed 10 minutes for a podium presentation.  I don’t mind public speaking; in fact I enjoy it.  Surprisingly, after chatting with some students, I realized that wasn’t the case for everyone participating in Undergraduate Research Day, including both Terrence Petry, a freshman forensic chemistry major and junior Brittany Dutkiewcz, an exercise science major.  This was Dutkiewcz’s first time participating at Undergraduate Research Day. “I fear that if I mess up or do something remotely embarrassing everyone will notice,” she said.  On the flip side, Petry used this day as a learning experience.  “I have never been a good presenter so I am using this as an opportunity to improve my presentation and public speaking skills,” he said.

Whether the students enjoy or just muddle through public speaking, instructor Zanolla offered advice to all students, “many think public speaking is all about exciting delivery involving being both vocally and physically dynamic; I contend delivery should not be the primary focus.”  He explained speakers should focus on the audience and make decisions that help communicate ideas to that audience.  Whether students publicly spoke, or stood beside their poster, I believe the Thomas E. Helm Undergraduate Research Day was a successful learning experience for all who attended.

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Another One Rides the Bus

If you haven’t been on WIU’s campus in a while, you might notice more bus traffic.  Yes, that’s right; WIU has a bus system (Go West) that has grown largely over the past couple of years.  It may sound silly, but the Go West transit system has been a lifesaver for me.  Through rain, snow, cold, heat and pure laziness, the WIU buses help get me to class on time.  These buses are very convenient and I take full advantage of having the opportunity to ride them.  The Director of Go West Transit, Jude Kiah, was more than eager to respond to my inquiries about the Go West bus system.

A few weeks ago, WIU’s Go West transit team worked with developers to create a new and improved mobile app.  Kiah explained the Go West Transit app features improved maps and an alert tab, –which provides direct information from Go West’s Twitter and Facebook feeds.  Users now have the ability to see the entire bus system or just the route of their choice.  “This allows us to provide better service to our riders,” Kiah said.

As ridership increases, so does the number of people using the app.  Freshman Anthony Kosatschewsky, an engineering major, has taken the bus all over campus and throughout Macomb.  “I usually track the bus if I am in a rush somewhere,” he said.  WIU’s Go West transit system also has a phone number that riders can text at bus stops to see when buses will arrive at that stop.  Personally, I like the new app as it seems to be more reliable and more accurate in terms of bus arrival times.

Since I take full advantage of the Go West busses, I have a hard time imagining what campus would be like without them.  Assistant Professor in the management and marketing department, Cathy Onion ’85 ’90, said when she attended WIU, students either walked or drove to class.  “It was the ‘norm’ to walk everywhere,” Onion explained.  As a professor on campus, she also said that the bus system has probably saved current students several dollars in parking fees.  When she attended, she said “if students were running late to class, they would drive their cars and park any place they could find a spot,” which resulted in many parking tickets.

Imagining what campus was like without the WIU busses made me wonder how the bus system began.  “I thought the campus was wide spread and our students desired an ability to navigate it in a more efficient way,” Kiah said.  The students on campus, back in 1997, agreed and helped turn the idea into reality.  Kiah explained it started with three buses and two routes; today the Go West system has 19 bus routes and has transported more than 2 million passengers this year, alone.  “It’s a nice service for the community members and the students,” Onion said.

Alumnus Jamie Ruth ’06 occasionally rode the bus when she attended WIU.  But, like Onion, Ruth often walked to her classes.  “I had friends that often would take the bus,” Ruth said.  “When I did ride, I remember it (the buses) being full.”

Ridership has definitely increased from when Ruth graduated in 2006, and the numbers continue to grow.  Kiah said nine new buses will be added to the fleet and cameras will soon be installed in all the buses.  Also, new shelters, benches and pads will soon be installed around town.  I can’t imagine what the bus system will look like in 10 years when I’m an alumnus.  If you are interested in downloading the new Go West Transit app, visit iTunes or Google Play and type “Go West Transit” into the search bar.  Other Go West information is also available at http://gowesttransit.com/.

WIU … Helping Make Dreams Come True

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Two weeks ago, a WIU student called out for help.  And the response was unbelievable.  What started out as a student reaching out for help to attain her dream, turned into a heartwarming story of inspiring others to follow their own dreams.  Sophomore Karissa Kouchis, a double major in communication and journalism, was the student who put out the call for help from her fellow Leathernecks.

It all started when I received an email stating the following: “A fellow Leatherneck and journalism major needs your help for a HUGE group photo at Hanson Field this Sunday, March 30th at 4:30 p.m.”  The email definitely gained my attention and so I read Kouchis’ story.

Kouchis plans to study in Rome this summer- taking a photo journalism course.  The course requires a particular, expensive camera.  As you know, most of us college students can’t afford expensive items.  So her father started researching and came across an opportunity to apply for a scholarship through Chegg.com.  The scholarship application rules were simple: in a tweet (that’s only 140 characters on Twitter), tell what dream you’d like to see brought to life.  The most creative dreamer (AKA scholarship applicant) would win a Nikon Digital SLR camera with an upgraded lens, a carrying case, a year of Adobe Creative Cloud, and a year of Chegg Study – a membership which includes 24/7 study help and guided textbook solutions created by Chegg experts (http://www.chegg.com/).

“I thought, wow, what an amazing opportunity to spread something wonderful,” Kouchis said.  “What an amazing opportunity to inspire others to follow their own dreams,” she explained.  Outside of the classroom, Kouchis works closely with the Children’s Miracle Network Hospital’s Dance Marathon program.  So it made sense that her biggest dream is to see those children and teens, who are at the hospital for treatments, have the opportunity to reach their own goals.

You see, Kouchis isn’t going to Rome just to take a class.  She wants to take beautiful pictures there and blow them up along with the “MY DREAM IS…” picture taken on Hanson Field, and donate all of the photos to the hospital.  It’s that simple; her dream is, to take those pictures in Rome with the new camera and donate them to the hospital.  “I want this to show dreams are attainable and provide hope for those in treatment there,” Kouchis said.

So at the end of last month, Kouchis asked all WIU students to meet her at the football field, dressed in all white.  She assembled the people so that they spelled out the words “My Dream Is”. She also had a very large number sign (symbolizing a hashtag) in the background.  Kouchis tweeted the WIU photo and explained her dream of sharing photos she will take in Rome with those at Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.  Regardless of the results of the contest, she plans to donate the pictures taken on campus to a hospital.

Although she would love to win the contest/scholarship, she already considers herself a winner.  “The success has already been achieved,” she said.  The turnout on the football field was great.  One hundred people showed up to take part in this photo and one person even brought along their dog.  “To see members of the community along with WIU students come together on such short notice for a greater cause was incomparable!” Kouchis said.

That day, she met people she had never met before.  It goes to show how great Western truly is.  “The day left me with permanent face wrinkles from smiling so much,” she said.  Our fingers are crossed that our own Leatherneck wins this photography contest due to her heartwarming story.

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Graduation is Right around the Corner

A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from the Alumni Association explaining that graduation is near. To help me prepare they would be hosting Grad Prep Day.  I have plenty of time to prepare, I thought to myself.  Well, time really does fly by because today I attended Grad Prep Day. That means that graduation is just one month away!  I am lucky that I get to work in Alumni Programs almost every day, but I don’t believe everyone realizes how much work they do or the benefits they provide.

Grad Prep Day is hosted by the Alumni Association each semester, with an event on both on the Quad Cities and Macomb campuses.  Associate Alumni Director Amanda Shoemaker assists with the planning of the event.  Grad Prep Day started as an event to help seniors transition from being a student to an alumnus, Shoemaker explained.  “There are so many things that students have to do as they wrap up their career at Western,” Shoemaker said.  And so the Alumni Association organized this event, a one-stop-shop for all graduation needs.

Representatives from offices such as Financial Aid, Billing and Receivables, Registrar, Career Development Center, the Bookstore and the Visual Production Center were on hand to answer questions from seniors.  The Alumni Association’s Graduate Assistant Amber Bedee helped coordinate the event.  “This spring we are doing something a little different with Financial Aid,” Bedee said.  The Financial Aid office gave two short presentations during the day as well as had semiprivate counseling sessions for students who wanted to learn more about loans.  Many students graduate with student loans, and often times those loans are their first bills once they graduate. To help them better prepare,   the financial aid office put together mini presentations.

“I think it’s helpful to have everything in one place,” Bedee said.  The offices represented at Grad Prep Day are spread across campus, so this helped students finalize all their needs and get their questions answered in one location.  Bedee also said that this is one of the only days student teachers are on campus, so this was convenient for them as well.

At the end of the line, Bedee and other Alumni Programs staff members were there to help students and explain the benefits of being a WIU alumnus.  They also gifted each senior with a WIU cup along with pamphlets about the benefits and services offered to WIU alumni.  “We want to help students become more aware of our services and explain the next phase of being a member of the WIU Leatherneck community and family,” Bedee said.  There was also a raffle to win a $100 Apple gift card.

Up next for seniors is Grad Blast; it will take place in two weeks.  “It is the first event to welcome students to the Alumni Association,” Bedee said.  “It is kind of a way to get a taste of what it might be like to go to alumni socials.”

As graduation looms, I’m soaking up every bit of WIU that I can. Grad Prep Day really was helpful.  I was able to order my cap and gown.  Other students were able to learn more about their student loans, and my roommate was able to talk with the Financial Aid Offices to get answers to her final questions.  This day was a win-win for all graduating students.

Grad Prep Day definitely relieved some of the end-of-the-semester stress.  I feel more prepared for graduation; all I have to do is get through these next couple of weeks.  I am so honored that I will soon join the rest of you and call myself a WIU alumnus!

Are you ready for some football?!

Do I have any readers who are football fans?  If so, then you’re in luck!  WIU Athletics is inviting everyone to the 2014 spring football game.  All the action will take place this Saturday at the Annual Bruce Craddock Memorial Football Game.  The game is named after former head coach Craddock who coached football at Western from 1983-1989.  The day is scheduled to be full of fun activities!

I talked to Assistant Athletics Director Patrick Osterman to see what Saturday has in store for football fans.  The day starts at 10 a.m. with a golf outing.  Osterman explained the outing is a fundraiser for the football program and costs $75 per golfer.  After a day on the links, golfers are invited to tailgate starting at 5 p.m., just before the game starts.  You can contact the Football Office (309-298-1515) to sign up for the golf outing which will give you access to the football tailgate.

The football players will then take the field at 7 p.m.  Osterman explained that this game is a way to “conclude the 15-practice spring season the NCAA allows.”  Sometimes the team will hold a scrimmage-type practice.  “This is the only time, in the spring, the team has a practice session like this,” Osterman said.

This game is not only exciting for football fans, but it prepares the team for the upcoming season.  This fall, the Leathernecks are playing two “big named” schools.  “Western will typically play what is called ‘guarantee games’ each season, meaning we receive a guaranteed amount of money,” Osterman explained.  This coming fall the Leathernecks will battle it out against both Wisconsin and Northwestern, “two teams that will contend for the Big Ten Conference title,” Osterman said.

I was curious how the football team schedules games like these against larger universities.  Osterman said the Athletics Director makes the non-conference schedule with input from the football coaches.  And the fans are sure to come out to these games, among others.  Osterman said more than 5,500 fans, on average (per game), attended games at home last year.

So, why not come out and get your football fix?  You don’t want to miss the opportunity to watch the Leatherneck Football team compete and close out its spring season.  But wait!  It keeps getting better!  This game is free to everyone.  For more information, visit http://www.goleathernecks.com/ViewArticle.dbml?DB_LANG=C&DB_OEM_ID=12000&ATCLID=209425729&SPID=4963&SPSID=50026.

Also, this Saturday afternoon is the 25th annual Lee Calhoun Track and Field Invitational.  “It’s a chance for alumni (and everyone) to watch and support Leatherneck student-athletes,” Osterman said. (Watch for more information about WIU’s track and field team in a future blog later this month.)  Make your Saturday a WIU Athletics Day by supporting the WIU football and track and field teams. Go ‘Necks!

Prospective Students Experience Western

Over the last three months, I have posted more than 30 blogs.  I’ve talked with many groups–students, faculty, staff and alumni.  While I enjoy talking with everyone, I have really enjoyed chatting with Western alumni.  And among those chats, there has been a constant theme: embrace all WIU has to offer.  As graduation closes in, I have been looking back on my time at WIU.  While I have many fond memories, I do regret not joining more organizations or volunteering as much as I could have.  So when the opportunity to volunteer and be a part of the “Experience Western” program arose, I jumped at the opportunity.  “Experience Western” is an overnight program for high school seniors or transfer students who have been accepted for admission to Western.  And having just wrapped up the program, I must say that the experience was more remarkable than I thought it would be.

Assistant Director of Admissions LeeAnn Meyer explained the “Experience Western” program started in 2009 but was discontinued two years later when Corbin-Olson closed for renovations.  Once the renovations were completed, the program started up again.  “The office of Admissions, in collaboration with University Housing and Dining Services, decided to pilot the program last year with a group of students from the same high school,” Meyer said.  Due to its success, WIU Admissions hosted another program in February and branched out to more high schools.  The program has definitely grown over the past year; 21 prospective high school students participated last year…and last weekend, 90 high school students arrived at WIU to “Experience Western”.

On Sunday, I met two high school students who are both interested in becoming a journalism major like me.  These students are still narrowing down their college of choice, so I took it upon myself to make sure they had the best experience at Western.  I gave them a tour of the campus; I explained what every building housed, took them to the Rec Center, showed them the football stadium, and led them through the freshman residence halls.  After sharing my personal experiences at Western and explaining what college is like at WIU, I hope they left campus thinking WIU would be a great fit for them.

“The purpose of the program is to help students who may be on the fence about attending Western next year… they are able to interact with current students, explore student organization opportunities, spend the night in Lincoln and Washington, eat in a dining center, and attend class,” Meyer explained.  Forty to fifty WIU students like me volunteered to guide the prospective students around campus for their 24-hour visit.  “We try to offer a full experience of what it is like to be a student here,” Meyer said.

I had the opportunity to share my experience with Jade Wright and Abby Nevarez.  Wright, a senior at Proviso East High School, really enjoyed getting to see what the campus is like.  She also enjoyed visiting the residence halls and “hanging out with you,” she joked.  Wright said she could definitely see herself here at WIU.

Nevarez, a senior at Waukegan High School, said her favorite part was being able to sit in on a college class.  “The lectures were different (from high school); the kids walked in and the professor kept talking. He didn’t stop for anyone to settle down,” Nevarez said.  She visited Western this week, still contemplating whether it was the right fit for her.  After the experience, I feel Nevarez left Western really enjoying her time on campus.

“Overall, I think the ‘Experience Western’ program has gone very well,” Meyer concluded.  I couldn’t agree more.  This program not only gave prospective students a taste of Western, but it also benefited the WIU students who hosted the prospects.  I became more aware of the great opportunities I have had at Western and the WIU pride within me grew.  WIU has definitely left its paw print on my heart, and I hope many of the students who visited will feel the same.

Fighting Leathernecks Step Up to the Plate

As the temperatures rise, it gets harder and harder to reach head softball coach Holly Van Vlymen as the softball team’s schedule becomes busier and busier.  However, when I finally did get the chance to catch up with her, Van Vlymen gave me some great information on this season’s team and shared her pride in being a Leatherneck.

The women’s softball team has a history of doing great things on the field.  Van Vlymen explained that it’s the history behind the program that pushes the team to work hard to succeed.  “Coach Valerie Lindbloom, Coach Kathy Veroni and the teams before me were pioneers in the world of women’s athletics and they have set a rich tradition of excellence for the softball program,” Van Vlymen said.  When she played softball for WIU, Van Vlymen said she wanted to uphold that tradition and she continues to do so as head coach.  “It’s not about me, it’s about the program and representing WIU in the best way we can, both on and off the field.”

Van Vlymen had a close relationship with her coaches as a player, and those relationships helped shape her into the coach she is today.  As a WIU freshman, she explained she kept score during games and complete other office work to help out the staff; these jobs helped her see the game from a new perspective.  She also said she was predominately a pitcher so she didn’t hit or run the bases much.  However, she was able to watch that aspect of the game and she saw how Coach Veroni would run the offense, “which has also helped tremendously in my coaching abilities now,” Van Vlymen said.

We all know that this winter was rough, however Van Vlymen said the weather (which has caused six cancellations of games) has not hurt the team.  “We want to play as many games as possible before heading into conference play so we can work out our preseason kinks,” she said.  The team hasn’t been able to practice on WIU’s field as much as they have in the past due to this year’s snow and cold temperatures.  The team has been using Brophy Hall to train in when bad weather prevents them from being outside. Van Vlymen also pointed out that the Landscape Maintenance workers have been instrumental in working on the field to make sure the team could practice and compete on it as much as possible.  Van Vlymen added the team appreciates the time and effort everyone has put in to help make the program the best it can be.

Whether they are on or off the field, Van Vlymen said the team has bonded well this season.  “We have a great family atmosphere within our team that allows our players to feed off each other,” she said.  Coach Van Vlymen said the team’s spring break trip helped strengthen that bond; “I love having that time with the team and watching them continue to bond,” she said.  She looks forward to watching the team grow through the rest of the season as well as teaching the players life lessons.  “Softball is a game of failure and the student-athletes learn so much about themselves and how to deal with adversity that they will be able to use when they graduate and move on to the ‘real world’,” she added.

Van Vlymen also expressed her joy for being a part of the WIU community.  She loves the atmosphere at Western, as well as the people she works with, and each new team that she coaches.  “I love my team(s), and every year the team dynamic changes, but I absolutely love seeing them grow,” she said.

As I chatted with Van Vlymen, it became very evident that she shares something in common with all of us; she loves WIU and bleeds purple and gold.  And if you want to cheer on the Fighting Leathernecks, you can do so this weekend. They have a double header at home tomorrow with the first game starting at 3 p.m.  Let’s go ‘Necks!