Get to Know WIU’s Favorite Dog – Colonel Rock III AKA “Rocky”

Most of you have probably seen Western’s live mascot, Rocky, an English bulldog. He has become a celebrity on campus. Everyone always wants to take a picture with him and he can’t go anywhere without someone recognizing him. His schedule is full of photo shoots and appearances. I had the chance to talk with his caretaker, WIU alumnus and Director of Residential Facilities Joe Roselieb who told me all about Rocky and how he got to be Western’s mascot.

Rocky was introduced to WIU as a puppy in 2010. Rocky is four years old; his birthday is on March 3rd. He is the third live mascot at Western, but until 2010, WIU hadn’t had a live mascot since the ‘70s. George Visoky, the father of a former WIU football player is the one who got the ball rolling to get Colonel Rock III or “Rocky” on campus. “He (Visoky) thought we needed school spirit because he came to a couple games and saw that attendance was low. He started looking into it and found out that every school that had school spirit had a live mascot,” Roselieb said.

WIU Athletics got on board with the idea. Visoky owns bulldogs himself, so he told his own dog’s breeder from Kansas about the idea and they donated a puppy (Rocky) to the University. Then several other, local entities agreed to chip in and support Rocky and his needs. Dr. Karen Blakely of All Pets Veterinary Clinic provides for Rocky’s health care and the WIU School of Agriculture supplies Rocky’s food.

Roselieb explained to me that it was a long process to get chosen to be the caretaker of Rocky. He had just been hired as the assistant director in Housing and his boss John Biernbaum who works with Athletics knew that Roselieb had a fenced in backyard that would be perfect for a dog, so they kept him in mind for the caretaker position. Two other people were interviewed for the position, but Roselieb was chosen in the end. “It was harder to get my dog than my job, I often joke, because I had to do two phone interviews with George (Visoky) and one interview on campus. After I got his (Visoky’s) blessing, Athletics came back and said we want you to be the guy,” Roselieb said.

Thanks to so many, including Roselieb, Rocky has a pretty great life. He gets to attend many WIU events, meet and greet with so many Western friends and when he’s sent to the “dog house,” it’s a treat! Rocky’s new, giant doghouse is something any pooch would be happy to rest in, complete with A/C and WIU purple and gold graphics on the sides. “(The) first part of the football season, it is pretty hot and we have struggled with him before in terms of where he’s going to cool off at. We have to take him in the Rec Center, then people see him in the Rec Center and he can just never cool down and relax,” Roselieb said. Roselieb’s dad works in construction so they decided to build a doghouse where Rocky could cool off and relax in style.

Roselieb explained that it has been amazing journey to see the amount of people that now know Rocky. “You’ll see young, old, and everyone in between know who he is. He has clearly become a staple of the campus and community. When you see (that) a three-ft.(long), 65 lb. fur ball can bring that much camaraderie or that much excitement to somebody, it’s pretty cool. That has been my coolest, humble memory of him.”

Roselieb hopes to someday have a memorial on campus for each of the Colonel Rock dogs to honor those that have passed.

Rocky's doghouse at one of the football games.

Rocky’s doghouse at one of the football games.

rocky'shouse2

Gobble Gobble…Thanksgiving Break Is Here

I started writing this blog last Friday afternoon while working at the Alumni House. At that time, the WIU campus was looking pretty empty because most students had already left for Thanksgiving Break. Although my trip home is only thirty minutes away, I am still very excited to get home and see my family. All I can think about is the incredible home cooked food I am going to eat and that I finally get to see my best friends from high school that I haven’t seen since the summer!

Thanksgiving Break comes at just the right time because as the end of the semester draws near, classes are getting very intense; we all deserve a little break and some much-needed family time. I won’t exactly be relaxing the entire break though as I have a ten-page research paper due on Thanksgiving Day. Thankfully, I already have a good start on it. I will also continue blogging during the break so keep checking in on this site.

Many WIU students rode the Amtrak train home (and will ride it back) during the holiday break, so much so that on Nov. 30th, Amtrak is offering an extra train route due to the expected increase in holiday passengers. Amtrak usually only offers two daily round trips from the Chicago to Quincy corridor, but Amtrak will be offering a third train option on Sunday. I think it’s great that Amtrak is accommodating its customers’ needs.

Last week, prior to the break, I had two adviser meetings to get my class schedule set for next semester; I have a double major so I’m required to meet with both my broadcasting and journalism advisers each semester. It is both exciting and scary to start thinking about next semester. I will be a senior, with two semesters left; I’m graduating a semester earlier and will be done around this time next year. I’m glad I am staying on track with my goal of graduating early, but I don’t feel ready to leave; it seems like just yesterday I was a freshman.

I’m going to make the most out of my next two semesters at Western. I was recently elected Philanthropy Chair of my sorority and will start my duties next semester. I am very passionate about our chapter’s philanthropic focus, “School and College Readiness,” and can’t wait to be a leader on executive board for our chapter. Ever since I was initiated into Phi Sigma Sigma, I knew I wanted to step up and be on the executive board and it is finally my time. Recently, I accepted an internship offer for next semester; I will be working with my journalism professor, Dr. Siddiqi, helping with media communication for an international organization, the World’s Parliament of Religions. This opportunity is very exciting because my dream is to someday work internationally. I have a lot on my plate next semester, but I’m confident the hard work will pay off.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving and don’t do too much shopping on Black Friday!

Go, Fight, Win – WIU Cheerleaders Get in the Game

The WIU cheerleaders have so much Western pride and they always get the crowd pumped up whenever they cheer. If we didn’t have cheerleaders, I don’t think the games wouldn’t be as exciting. I love to watch all of their daring stunts and they always look so put together in their purple attire.

Cheerleading at Western has had around since the 1920’s. Western’s first Homecoming celebration was in 1923, the same year the WIU cheerleaders debuted. From that year on, the Western Cheerleading team has been a part of many Homecoming and Pep Rally events. One of the Western’s cheer captains, Kayli Morrison, explained to me why having a cheerleading team at Western is so important.

“I think cheerleading is important to a University because it is tradition. Even though we don’t bring any money to athletics, we still represent the University in a positive way. Cheerleading has changed so much since it first started, but at WIU, it is still our main focus to represent Western and get fans excited and involved with athletics,” Morrison said.

Morrison is a fifth year senior so this is her fifth year being on the team and her fourth season as captain. She has been cheering since junior high school. She said that the WIU Cheerleading team practices about three times a week and complete group workouts every Wednesday. Cheerleading has given her a special sense of pride for WIU athletics.

“Without cheerleading, I probably wouldn’t have any idea what is going on with athletics. Because I’m a cheerleader, I am so involved with what is going on campus and I think that has definitely given me more WIU pride,” Morrison said.

Bryce Speaker, a junior marketing major at Western, is the other captain on the team. He has been cheering since his freshman year of high school; this is his third year on the WIU team. Being on WIU’s Cheerleading team has given him a lot of pride for Western and he uses that pride to get the crowd excited during games.

“Cheerleading has given me more Western pride because it has given me the opportunity to meet so many different athletes and appreciate all the hard work all athletes put in to be successful. As a cheerleader, it is our job to lead and motivate the crowd so I would for sure call myself a proud Leatherneck,” Speaker said.

The WIU Cheerleading Team doesn’t compete, necessarily, but they do participate in exhibitions which are similar to a non-competitive showcase where school teams perform and show their routines. “Traveling to exhibitions is really exciting and fun because at exhibitions we are not competitors but rather performers that are supposed to be ‘crowd pleasers’ and impress the audience,” Speaker said.

For more information on the WIU Cheerleading team, visit http://www.goleathernecks.com/sports/2014/6/5/cheer_0605142738.aspx

Yellow Ribbons All Around

Last week was Military Appreciation Week at WIU. The week kicked off on Monday with the Yellow Ribbon Campaign; in the Union, the WIU Veterans Club passed out yellow ribbon pins so students, faculty and staff could show their support for veterans. I received a ribbon and wore it proudly. Also on Monday, the Veterans Resource Center had a panel where students could ask veterans about what they do; the program was called Veteran Resources 101.

Many campus clubs and organizations, including the Broadcasting Department, made cards for the veterans and submitted them to the Veteran Resource Center who will send the cards on to vets. My sorority got together with another sorority and made cards for the veterans, as well. It’s great that so many students and organizations got involved in this special week.

All throughout last week, people viewed a display called Salute to Women in the Military; this display was sponsored by the Women’s Center. Also each day last week ROTC Cadets were available to retire worn flags. Other events/presentations included Veterans Voices – Personal Stories of Combat and Peace and an Ask a Vet Panel Discussion.

On Veterans Day, many attended the Veterans and Service Members Tribute Ceremony. President Jack Thomas, WIU’s Army ROTC Color Guard, Veterans Club President Lukas Smith, Board of Trustees member Michael Quigley, music education major Alison Huntley, Vice President for Student Services Gary Biller, and School of Music Professor Bruce Briney led the ceremony. After it, members of the campus community read the names of veterans associated with WIU at the National Roll Call Project.

Veterans Club President Lukas Smith gave a speech at the ceremony. He brought up the issues that veterans face in society during his speech. Smith is a junior, geology major at WIU. He spent three years (active duty) in the army and had two tours in Iraq. I asked Smith about his favorite part of the Military Appreciation Week. “Probably the actual Veterans’ Ceremony because I could get up in front of everyone and discuss the issues that veterans are having. Veterans Day is just a phase. People like to say ‘oh yeah, thanks veterans’. In reality there are a lot of problems that veterans face and people need to be made aware of that,” said Smith.

The Veterans Resource Center staff have been working hard to create awareness for veterans. Each year, WIU’s Military Appreciation Week grows and new events are added to the docket. For many years, Western has been designated as a “Military Friendly School” and the campus staff works hard to support veterans. Smith explained that Western being a “Military Friendly School” played a big part in him choosing to attend WIU.

Smith explained the importance of Military Appreciation Week. “Thanking veterans has become a habit…something that decent people do. Me being thanked for my service doesn’t sound any more special than when someone says God bless you when you sneeze. It’s become good manners. A lot of people say it because they want to be polite, but they don’t really understand what they’re thanking us for. This whole Military Appreciation Week, doing Roll Call, doing the veterans’ stories…(it) helps make people aware of what veterans go through, that way when they do say ‘thank you for your service’, they can understand why and be more sincere about it.”

For more information on WIU’s veterans’ services, contact the Veterans Resource Center at (309) 298-3509 or visit http://www.wiu.edu/student_services/veterans/.

Once a Leatherneck, Always a Leatherneck

The end of the semester is drawing near and that means that the fall sports season is also coming to a close. The WIU football team has their last regular season game this Saturday against Indiana State at home starting at 1 p.m. Last weekend, the WIU volleyball team finished their season with a win against South Dakota State, giving them a 6-23 record. The WIU women’s soccer team has finished their season with a 5-12-1 record and last Sunday, the WIU men’s soccer team finished their season with a loss in the Summit League Tournament Championship. Despite this loss, the players should be proud of all they have accomplished.

The WIU men’s soccer team ended the season with a 9-7-3 record. Head Coach Eric Johnson explained the team’s biggest success this year. “Our biggest accomplishment was going the entire month of October without losing a game. Not positive, but (I) don’t think we’ve done that before. In doing that, we qualified for the Summit League post-season tournament,” Coach Johnson said.

The Leathernecks worked hard to be ready for every game. Center Back Erick Bloom explained that being a part of the team has made him proud to be a Leatherneck. “It has taught me what a true Leatherneck is, which is hard work, determination, and fighting for one another,” Bloom said. His description of a Leatherneck shows that being a Leatherneck is more than just winning games.

Teammates not only practice together, but they spend most of their free time together as well. They become a family, which makes it very hard when the season ends and the seniors have played their last game. “Being on the men’s soccer team is like having a second family. We fight for each other on and off the field,” Bloom said.

The teammates’ passion for the game can be seen on and off the field. Coach Johnson looks back at a special moment on the field this season. “My favorite memory of the season is difficult because there were some great moments. One was the goal we scored at IUPUI (Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis), which tied the game and gave us a point in Indianapolis; that is the first time in my 18 years that we did that. We have many wins at home versus IUPUI, but that is the first time we either tied or won on their field and that point ended up giving us a share of the regular season championship,” Coach Johnson said.

“I am very proud of this team’s accomplishments. We made it to our fourth straight tournament final and really made a game of it despite playing a man down for 85 minutes. Hats off to our senior class for leading this team and being positive role models for our underclassmen,” Coach Johnson said.

It’s always sad saying goodbye to graduating seniors. I can relate to that because one of my closest friends in my sorority graduates at the end of this semester. It is tough knowing she won’t be here anymore, but I remind myself of the reason we all came to college. We come to college to learn so that we can one day get our dream job. I know she will do great in her field and I’m excited for her. It helps when you reminisce about all of the great memories you have had together.

For more information on the WIU men’s soccer team, visit http://www.goleathernecks.com/index.aspx?path=msoc&.

The WIU Theatre Department Is “Merrily Rolling Along”

This weekend and next week, is the last big show of the WIU Theatre Department’s fall semester lineup. The show is called “Merrily We Roll Along”. It will be held in the Hainline Theatre this Friday and Saturday, Nov. 14th and 15th, and next week, November 18th, 19th, and 20th; the show will start at 7:30 p.m. each night.

Professor of Theatre and Head of Acting, Bill Kincaid directs the show and is great at working with the student actors. A sophomore theatre major and one of the main character’s of “Merrily We Roll Along”, Astoncia Bhagat explained why this show is special.

“’Merrily We Roll Along’ is a Stephen Sondheim musical. Apparently we haven’t done one of his shows in about 12, 13 years, so in the Theatre Department, it is a big deal because we haven’t done one of his shows in so long,” Bhagat said.

I literally got goosebumps when Bhagat was explaining the show. The show is a tragedy centered around three friends. The crazy part is the whole show is told in reverse order. Bhagat plays the role of Beth, who is the first wife of one of the main characters, Frank Shepard.

“With each scene you go back in time and you see what happened to their friendship, what happened to them as human beings, and what happened to their dreams and goals. The show ends where it all began with the three of them meeting for the first time on a rooftop. You see all the potential and hope they have as young kids. (You might be thinking) Why would you want to see that? Why would you see a tragedy told backwards? You want a happy ending. I just look at it as this is what can become of us and this is how we cannot turn into that. It reminds you to hold on to the hope throughout your life,” Bhagat said.

Western is one of the few universities in Illinois to offer a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theatre. This makes it very exciting that Western will be opening a Center for the Performing Arts because it will hopefully draw students from all over the state and nation to WIU. The construction of the Center for Performing Arts will start during the spring or summer of 2015. Although Bhagat will have graduated before the grand opening of the Center, she is excited to see how the WIU Theatre Department grows after its construction. The Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theatre is a signature program at Western; Bhagat loves that the department is a family away from home to her.

“I love how much you feel like you are part of a family. I will never forget the first time I met Lysa Fox, Head of the Musical Theatre Department. I met her at Theatre Fest my senior year (of high school). You go and audition for all the colleges that are there. At the end of it you get a list of all the colleges that want to speak to you. Western Illinois was on there so I went to their booth and I officially met Lysa face-to-face and she gave me a big hug…and first of all that’s nuts because most people just shake your hand. She said you have to come visit Western. That really stood out to me and that feeling has remained true since I’ve been here,” said Bhagat.

You can buy tickets for the upcoming show, “Merrily Rolling Along” at the Hainline Theatre Box Office located directly inside the doors of Browne Hall or at http://www.etix.com/ticket/online/organizationSearch.jsp?organization_id=2419&cobrand=wiu.

Future Political Leaders Get their Start at WIU

WIU knows the importance of student’s voices being heard. The Student Government Association (SGA) at Western makes this possible.

Aaron Terrile is the Chief of Staff for the SGA President. He explained that SGA is one of the only organizations at WIU that is fully run by students. “It gives the students the chance to voice their opinions and write legislation to bring to (the) Student Government Association. Legislation is when senators at (the) Student Government Association bring problems they have to the Senate meeting and try to get their bill passed,” Terrile said.

Terrile is a junior psychology major with a political science minor. He wants to work in government after college and aspires to one day make it to the House of Representatives or the White House. SGA is a great way for WIU students, who are interested in legislation, to test the waters and see if working in government is something they can really see themselves doing in the future.

“What I have gained from the Student Government Association so far is a lot of leadership capabilities. SGA has brought me closer to many representatives on campus and within the community. Through SGA, I met the Mayor of Macomb…Mayor Inman and now I attend City Council meetings every Monday to represent (the) SGA and the (student) community,” Terrile said.

I know that SGA always works for the students’ best interests. Terrile explained a bill SGA passed recently; they voted that at least 50% of parking meters on campus be changed from 30 minute intervals to 90 minute intervals. “The reasoning behind this was before in the past the 30 minute time limit was for students to run inside and drop something off really quick but times have changed and more students are driving to their classes so SGA felt we should raise some meters to 90 minutes to coincide with 50 minute classes and 1 hour and 15 minute classes,” Terrile said.

SGA does more than pass bills though. This year, SGA sent a few members to the American Student Government Association (ASGA) Conference. They also attended a SGA retreat.

“My favorite memory of SGA right now would have to be the SGA retreat. The SGA advisors, president, vice president, chief of staff, cabinet members, senators at large, and the senators visited Horn Field Campus and participated in many bonding activities. We as a group also reviewed Parliamentary Procedure to ensure our Senate meetings run smoothly,” Terrile said.

Terrile explained that the president, vice president, student representative of the Board of Trustees, and 5 senators at large are elected into office at the end of every spring semester. When the elections conclude, the newly elected SGA president then chooses his or her cabinet members for the year. For additional information on WIU’s SGA, visit http://www.wiu.edu/student_services/sga/

WIU Students Stuff the Bus

Last week, I volunteered at the WIU’s 7th annual “Helping Hands Across America Stuff the Bus” event. All food collected at the Stuff the Bus event was donated to local food pantries such as Loaves and Fishes Etc., the RA Council Salvation Army Thanksgiving Dinner, and the Western Illinois Regional Council Community Action Agency (WIRC-CAA).

It was cool to see all the different organizations and students wanting to lend a hand to help out with this great cause. Everyone seemed very excited to be there and to help “Stuff the Bus”!

Sodexo Dining Services and Go West Transit sponsored this event. A marketing intern for Sodexo at WIU, Brandon Ihrig, explained that 600 to 700 volunteers helped out at the event. People were working to Stuff the Bus from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. last Wednesday. Volunteers covered many aspects of this event…I worked a two-hour shift at the bus site in front of Sherman Hall. Everyone that volunteered received a free t-shirt.

Ihrig advised the Stuff the Bus executive board this year. He said they have been planning and organizing this event since the middle of September. “Without Sodexo’s monetary support and the bus provided by Go West, we would not be able to have this event,” Ihrig said.

You might be wondering how we organized a bus full of food. A couple people would go to a collection point (on campus) with a shopping cart and fill the cart up with donated food, then bring it back to our site, where the bus was. We would then start sorting the food by type. Every type of food had its own box. For example, the canned green beans went in the green bean box, and the macaroni and cheese went in the macaroni and cheese box. We also had a miscellaneous pile for random food donations. Once there was more than one of the items in the miscellaneous pile, we would go ahead and prepare a box for that item.

“I’m not sure at this point how many cans were actually collected; however, I can tell you that the Go West bus was literally ‘packed’,” Ihrig said.

In high school, I collected food for food drives quite often. In college, I wanted to continue my volunteer work. I have been volunteering in different ways from the Adopt a Street program to my sorority’s philanthropic events. I was very thankful that WIU set up this event with two-hour volunteer shifts to allow people with busy schedules, like me, the chance to help collect food for a food drive. It was a very rewarding feeling to help collect food. Food in the back of our cupboards is something most of us take for granted; it is always an eye opener when I volunteer at a food drive.

“My favorite part of the event was just being able to see all the food lying on the ground and on the bus after a long day of volunteering efforts. It was a very gratifying experience,” Ihrig said.

I asked Ihrig if there was anything he wanted WIU alumni and friends reading this blog to know. “Eva Galbraith, the woman who has been in charge of Stuff the Bus for the last seven years, will no longer be with us next year. She deserves a great deal of thanks for all she has done. With that being said, WIU really needs someone to step up and continue this great event for our campus,” Ihrig said.

Working Hard so that One Day We Can Punch Our Card

Being a second semester junior, I’m at that stressful time of my life when I have to start thinking about my future career. I’ve already made two trips to Western’s Career Development Center (CDC) where the staff helped me polish my resume. One of the trips was right before I was offered this internship. Both times I went, I learned a lot; plus the staff was always super friendly. I hope to someday take advantage of the mock interview service they offer as well. One of the newest features of the Career Development Center is the Leatherneck Link, an online network available to all WIU alumni and students. The web site allows you to upload your resume and connect with potential employers. Visit the Leatherneck Link at https://wiu-csm.symplicity.com/. I think it’s really great that WIU faculty and staff care so much about our future success and want to help us prepare for the real world. Just like Leatherneck Link, the Career Development Center is available to all WIU alumni and students at no charge. To set up an appointment, call (309) 298-1838 or email careers@wiu.edu. You can also visit their web site at http://www.wiu.edu/student_services/career_development_center/.

Today, the CDC hosted a program to help students create their own LinkedIn account and navigate the site. The program was called “Get Linked: Using LinkedIn for the Job Search”. When I was in Washington D.C. for the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) National Convention, the speakers stressed that LinkedIn is very important to have because it is the largest online professional network. If you haven’t heard of it or utilized it, LinkedIn is another networking web site that helps you connect with potential employers and other professionals who you may know; it’s set up similar to Facebook, but is more of a professional networking site. You create a profile listing your experience, skills, education and projects that you have completed. Then you can connect with WIU alumni and other business people around the world. Create a LinkedIn account, at https://www.linkedin.com/.

Another component of your LinkedIn profile should be a professional headshot. On November 10th and 11th and again on December 10th, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. , the PRSSA is holding an event where anyone can drop by the Union concourse to get a professional headshot taken. The event is called Become a PRofeSSionAl with the help of PRSSA. (Did you notice the clever title? The club’s name, PRSSA, is in all caps inside the word PRofeSSionAl?) The Western Courier Photo Editor Mary Friday will be on site, taking the professional pictures. Students will get to pose in front of a backdrop. For $5, students can get their picture taken and receive an electronic copy of the headshot of their choice. For an additional $2, they can receive an additional electronic copy, if they want to buy more than one picture. If a student wants their photo retouched, it’s another extra $2. Anyone who has questions about the “Become a PRofeSSionAl…..with the help of PRSSA” photo shoot can contact me via email at sa-belshaw@wiu.edu or Mary Friday via email at mef104@wiu.edu.

A Q&A with WIU President Jack Thomas

WIU President Jack Thomas took the time to meet with me earlier this semester. I had never met the president before so I was very excited to get to know him and to learn about his plans and goals for Western Illinois University.

Shani Belshaw: The school year has started, how has the beginning of the school year gone?

President Jack Thomas: We have had a great beginning. We have some exciting students and we are just pleased with the kinds of students that we have brought in. Our grade point average is up slightly so we are very pleased with the caliber of students that we bring into the University. We have gotten off to a great start. The students in the residence halls and dining facilities seem to be moving along quite well and we have had a lot of great things happen in the institution and I am sure you are going to talk about the rankings later, but we are very pleased with the direction that we are taking with this University.

Belshaw: Can you talk about the initiatives that you have for the academic year?

President Jack Thomas: Well we have a lot of initiatives going on. As you know the Governor came during the spring semester and released the $71.8 million for the Center for the Performing Arts. We look forward to actually starting the construction for the Center for the Performing Arts. We have been waiting for this for about 50 years and we finally got it! It is finally coming to fruition, and we look forward to that. The actual construction will be during the spring semester of 2015. We are pursuing a new science building, which will be right next to Currens Hall, joining to Currens Hall with the renovations of Currens Hall as well. That is number five on the Illinois Board of Higher Education’s capital list and we are excited about that. We want to continue to look at our academic programs. As you know we have a Ph.D. that started this fall in environmental studies and the next Ph.D. we will be pursuing is a Ph.D. in law enforcement and justice administration and then one in instructional design and technology, which will be online as well as some other cutting edge kinds of academic programs. These are some of the programs that are really going to help this institution. In terms of the facilities, we did the ribbon cutting of phase two of the Quad Cities campus, which is a state-of-the-art facility. We have phase three (WIU-QC) on our list to look at later. We want to make sure that we continue to grow the enrollment. We have about 1,500 students there (WIU-QC) and we want to grow that enrollment to at least 3,000, some even say larger than that. We have revamped the Western Commitment Scholarship and we hope to bring in more students by way of that Western Commitment Scholarship…high achieving students as well as those mid-range students and those that may be borderline. We are looking at enhancing our overall academic profile, which is what we have been doing. We are very pleased with some of those things that we are doing. We want to look at providing travel funds for faculty and staff to make sure that they continue to do their research and go to professional meetings so that they can hone their skills; we put funding into that. We want to continue to beautify our campus and there are a number of things on my list. For the entryway coming in off of Route 67 (from the north) we want to demolish what we call the former cinema building and create a beautiful landscape there…just a number of things that we have in place. I am starting a presidential blog this year and the Board of Trustees members know I am now on Twitter. I have a PR advisory board that advised me to be on Twitter. My name there is “@StudentPres.” Then I have a presidential Facebook page, where individuals can follow me there as well. We want to continue to seek donors and cultivate relationships in the future and we want to continue to attend the Alumni Events as I do, not just here in the states, but around the country. And I have even done one in South Korea, where we have about 300 alums in that area. So we have Alumni all over the world. These are people that are very enthused about this institution and its progression. We want to continue to have town hall meetings. I have what we call the President’s Roundtable where I meet with faculty and then I am creating a President’s Roundtable that meets with staff. I meet with the SGA (Student Government Association), I have already met with them, talking to them whenever need be. A number of things are happening here. I want to continue to meet with the legislators and we are hosting a legislator reception in Springfield. This will be the third time that we will be doing this since I have been president. We have a vision for this institution and lots of goals for the institution. We are reaching those goals. We are achieving those goals. So we are excited; I am, very excited.

Belshaw: I recently read that for the 10th consecutive year, WIU has been named “Best Midwestern College” by the Princeton review and that we moved up nine spots in the U.S. News rankings, to 39th of 109 public and private schools on the top tier list of “Best Regional Universities.” What does that mean for the University?

President Jack Thomas: It means that we are moving in the right direction. When I became president in 2011, we were ranked number 53. We moved to 49th and now we are 39th that means that we are moving up in the ranking of U.S. News and World Report as well as the Princeton Review and other rankings. We were ranked number 14 as a Midwestern Institution when I became president; we moved from 14th to 13th, and now we are number 10. That means a lot; it says that we are doing the right things here at the institution. It says we continue to educate students and they are going out into their careers and to professional schools. We continue to be ranked in G.I. Jobs Magazine as a military friendly institution. We are very pleased with the rankings. We have been ranked by many as an institution that graduates more students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds than many of our peer institutions. We were noted for the number of physics graduate students we graduated, so it says we are doing some great things at this institution. It says we are having some success stories, but we are not going to just stop there. We have got a lot more things that we want to do for this University, to make it the best that it can be.

Belshaw: Why do you think the University has been improving in rankings?

President Jack Thomas: I think because of the things we are putting in place. We have the Western Commitment Scholarship. We have the Building Connections Mentoring Program. We have the First Year Experience, a 100 level course that students are taking to help them make the transition from high school to college. We can tell by looking at the fall-to-fall retention rate, we moved from 63.3% to 72.2%, and all in one year. Western is becoming more recognized for the quality of the teaching, the research and service, the partnerships that we have. Western is known all over the world, in state, out of state, and other countries. So I think the word is getting out and it is because of the vision that we have, the goals that we set, and the goals that we are achieving here at the institution and we are what we are because of the people that are here and who serve the students here.

 Belshaw: I also read the international student enrollment at WIU increased by over 100 and this fall, new international student enrollment is at 511.What has the university been doing specifically to raise international student enrollment?

President Jack Thomas: When I first became president, I looked at other institutions our size and others that are a little bigger and determined an institution our size should have at least a thousand international students. I know that some people would have thought that was a little far-fetched at first, but this is what other institutions are doing. I did it at the previous institution where I worked. We brought in more international students. Dr. Richard Carter and I along with his staff and others have traveled to various foreign countries creating linkages, memorandums of understanding. We have visited various embassies in Washington D.C. and we have had lots of international visitors come to our campus. They want to partner with us and in turn they are sending their students here to be educated and their government is funding them. In turn, we are also sending students abroad. This is a diverse place. A university should reflect the world. The world is diverse and the University should be diverse. We embrace diversity. We learn from differences, so we are very pleased with what is happening in terms of the growth of the international students and how far we have come in just those two to three years in our international enrollment. We have much more to do, so we are just right at halfway now (of) that 1000 we are looking to get. Through the leadership of Dr. Carter and others we will reach our goal.

 Belshaw: I read that WIU is increasing the funding of the automatic scholarship program for the incoming class of 2015, why did WIU decide to do this?

President Jack Thomas: Well, we decided to do that because in order to be competitive with other institutions. As you know in terms of the (high school) enrollment here in the state of Illinois, the number of high school graduates, that has dwindled. We are all scrambling for the same students, those in-state as well of those that are out-of-state. We know that a lot of students leave the state of Illinois; only 60 percent of those that graduate stay in state, so we are all grasping for those students. We want to make sure that we get our share. And then we know about the decrease in terms of financial aid, work-study, and those kinds of things, that in order for students to have access, it has to be affordable and we have to make sure we provide funding as much as possible to help offset the cost for our students to get a quality and well-rounded education. We provide access at our institution. We want to make sure we are affordable and provide access, so that is one way to help us be affordable and offset the dwindling financial aid as well as the dwindling number of high school graduates.

Belshaw: Is there anything you would like to share with the WIU alumni and friends, who might be reading this blog?

President Jack Thomas: I want the alumni and friends to know that we are moving in the right direction. We are excited about what we are doing. We have a vision. We have goals in place and we are going to do all that we can to achieve those goals. We want our alumni to continue to support us financially and with other resources. Send students to your alma mater. Know that we are alive and well. We continue to provide a quality and well-rounded education and the sky’s the limit to what we can do as an institution and also what our students can do in terms of achieving their goals as well. We embrace the support that we get from our alums.

I thoroughly enjoyed meeting President Jack Thomas; he was very down to earth and genuinely interested in chatting with me. While speaking to him about the goals and accomplishments for the University, I quickly saw his enthusiasm for what lies ahead for WIU. As soon as our interview was over, I liked his presidential Facebook page and followed him on Twitter. You can like his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/WIUPresident and follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/StudentPres.