University News

2020 Michaela Romano Scholarship Winners Announced by the WIU-Quad Cities College of Arts & Sciences Faculty

May 7, 2020

Share |
Printer friendly version

MOLINE, IL -- COVID-19 may have canceled the in-person celebration, but this year's four winners of the annual Michaela Romano Scholarship at Western Illinois University are no less worthy winners of the award than their predecessors. The most prestigious honor given by the WIU-QC College of Arts and Sciences, and funded entirely by annual faculty donations, the award has been given each spring since 2009.

In 2015, the awards were named in remembrance of Michaela Rae Romano (1988-2015), daughter of Western Illinois University emeritus professors of biology Michael and Susan Romano. A cum laude graduate of Knox College, with a major in anthropology-sociology and a minor in gender and women's studies, Michaela was an exemplary student of the liberal arts and sciences. At Knox, she received the Academic Achievers Scholarship and Howell Atwood Award, and was an active member of Students against Sexism in Society and the Chinese Club. Michaela subsequently completed a Chinese Language Certificate at Beloit College and taught English in China.

All four of this year's winners have GPAs of 3.5 or better and are completing a College of Arts and Sciences degree at WIU-QC in the coming fall or subsequent spring. They were nominated by individual faculty members and selected by an interdisciplinary committee after their submission of 500-word essays about their WIU-QC educational experiences.

This year's winners, with excerpts from their personal essays, include:

Robert Dillon (Moline), a 2012 English BA graduate, is now an English graduate student with an interest in political theory. Having used the first degree to gain work for several years as a mental health therapist, he is adamant about the many possible answers to the question, "What are you going to do with that?" As he says, "other degrees give you the answers, but English gives you the ability to find the answers. An education in English teaches you versatility, adaptability, and the ability to connect seemingly disparate pieces of information. On top of all that, it teaches you to communicate your ideas clearly and concisely, a skill that has become increasingly precious as more and more of our lives are moved online."

Shannon Finneran (Moline) is a graduate student in English and an English teacher at Moline High School. Her essay features a brief anecdote that says a lot about how fortunate her students are. "About a month ago, a man from WQAD interviewed me because a former student had nominated me for the 'My Favorite Teacher Award,'" Finneran writes. "Much to my surprise, I had won. In the interview, I told him I had been teaching for six years. I'll never forget what the reporter asked; it seemed like a strange question at the time. 'Wow. That's quite a long time,' he said. 'Have you ever questioned your decision to become a teacher?' I was taken aback by his assertive approach. Immediately, a mantra I used to live by came to mind, one that I wrote on dry-erase boards in college dorm rooms and apartment fridges. It was a quote from Rumi: 'Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.'"

Erica Parrigin (East Moline) is an English major who has published essays in both the Quad Cities student newspaper, The Edge, and the Quad City Times. Her essay's reflection on the surprise she felt in her first semester at WIU-QC features the kind of testimony that motivates many faculty and staff: "The amount of time set aside to genuinely care about all students became a pattern that I noticed in every professor, reflected even in my peers. I never expected to form such strong bonds with my educators and classmates, but I was making friends almost immediately. I felt more comfortable at WIU-QC than in any prior learning environment, and consequently started to open up." The essay concludes with a resolve that bodes very well for her ongoing success: "In providing experiences that allow me to showcase my skills, my education at WIU-QC has given me the courage to call myself a writer."

Drew Pustelnik (East Moline) is a current LAS major, with minors in political science, English and communication. Having explored a variety of majors and institutions, he has grown especially interested in climate change and video game studies and is exploring work in popular media production. His WIU-QC story speaks especially to the flexibility to take courses both in-person and online: "I've learned so much in my three semesters here and have become passionate about classes and projects I never thought I would enjoy. On campus, the small class sizes make asking questions feel comfortable and natural, something I always felt was lacking at my previous school. Online, my professors provide thorough feedback on papers and discussions and are always accessible via email if I have other questions."

This year's award committee, and the entire WIU-Quad Cities College of Arts and Sciences faculty, congratulate all four worthy recipients.

For more information about WIU-QCs, visit

Posted By: Olivia Morris (
Office of University Communications & Marketing