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Western Illinois University alumnus Michael Bradley recently was honored with the prestigious annual National Recreation and Park Association Outstanding Graduate Student Award. Bradley finished his master's degree in WIU's recreation, park and tourism administration graduate program in 2008; he is currently a Ph.D. candidate in the health, leisure and human performance department at Oklahoma State University-Stillwater and is in the process of completing his dissertation this month.
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Pictured is Dan Yoder (left), professor and graduate coordinator in the Western Illinois University Recreation, Park and Tourism Administration Department, and WIU RPTA alumnus Michael Bradley. Bradley, who is finishing up his Ph.D. at Oklahoma State University-Stillwater, presented with Yoder at the National Recreation and Park Association Congress in Atlanta (GA) last month. Said Yoder of Bradley: "One of the most gratifying and humbling experiences that a professor can have is to have a student become a colleague. Mike and I presented a session on ethical decision making at the recent NRPA Congress. The insight he displayed belied the fact that he is a very young Ph.D."
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A Shining Example: RPTA Alum Honored with National Award

December 14, 2011

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MACOMB, IL -- Michael Bradley had a few programs on his list when he was considering a master's graduate program. After earning his bachelor's degree from Oklahoma State University-Stillwater in 2005, his goal was to continue his studies in the recreation and leisure field. He loved the idea of a career in which he would be working in the outdoors. He also knew it was his great-grandfather's wish for him to earn an advanced degree. Back in 2006, when he was considering graduate programs to help him reach his goal and make his grandfather's wish come true, he admits that he was "unsure" about the prospect of pursuing a master's degree in Western Illinois University's Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Administration (RPTA); he had been accepted into other reputable programs at the University of Tennessee and the University of Houston.

Bradley completed his master's degree in 2008, and today, he knows Western's RPTA graduate program was the right choice. His time here resulted in the fulfillment of his great-grandfather's wish for him. In addition, his academic work in the program and his graduate assistant duties in Campus Recreation helped set him on his current path, which is now back at OSU-Stillwater, where he is a Ph.D. candidate in the health, leisure and human performance department. Bradley is finishing his dissertation in the program this month.

It is in that OSU-Stillwater program that he was nominated for the prestigious annual National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) Outstanding Graduate Student Award. Earlier this year, Bradley was notified he had indeed won the award for 2011, which he accepted at the NRPA Congress and Exposition last month in Atlanta (GA). According to the NRPA website, the Outstanding Graduate Student Award "is presented to an outstanding graduate student in recognition of continuous extraordinary community service or contributions to the field." Based on these criteria, as well as Bradley's performance at WIU, Dan Yoder, a professor and graduate coordinator in WIU's RPTA department, noted that he was not at all surprised when he heard Bradley won.

"He is extremely bright, he is very analytical and he is an absolute bull dog when it comes to academic work. That is a winning combination," Yoder said. "He was a wonderful graduate student in the RPTA department because he was so engaged. He always had well thought out questions and comments. He was not simply talking to be talking. When Mike was sitting in class, you could tell just by looking at him that there was a lot going on in there."

When asked about his recent recognition, Bradley responded humbly, noting his main nominator, Grace Chang, an OSU-Stillwater faculty member in leisure studies, "somehow or another made a diamond in the rough shine."

"At first, I did not know who had nominated me for it. I later found out Dr. Grace Chang was the one who did," Bradley explained. "I know there were a couple of other students in the running for this award, and I have been involved with them via various national organizations. They are stellar, so for me to win… well, I just have to say, whatever she said in the nomination process, I owe her a huge thank you."

Illuminating Exchanges

Bradley noted that two helpful phone conversations—one with Campus Recreation Associate Director Judy Yeast and another with Yoder—put him on the path to seriously considering Western. But, he said, it was another alum who helped him "get over the hump." He said that Deb Jordan told him he should forget the other programs he was considering and told him to move up to west central Illinois to study in WIU's RPTA program.

"It was by chance that I talked to Deb about my options," Bradley explained. "During the time I was trying to decide where to go, she was a faculty member here at OSU-Stillwater. (She is now at East Carolina University.) I remember her telling me, 'This is an opportunity you do not want to miss. People from other programs may be telling you great things, but I am telling you, Western Illinois University is where you need to go.' And so I thought, 'I have had two great phone discussions with two wonderful people there at WIU, and I have one stellar review from someone I respect who has gone through the program.' So I said to myself, 'That's it. WIU is where I'm going to go.'"

Bradley noted that a recent trip back to Macomb reaffirmed his decision to attend Western back in 2006 and made him realize, once again, the value of the relationships he formed at WIU.

"Last April, I attended the RPTA department's professional development conference, and a friend of mine, Jody Baker, attended with me. When we were talking about WIU and our experience at the conference, Jody hit the nail on the head. He said, 'That's the most caring university I have ever seen in my life.' When we walked in, everyone who I talked to remembered me—they knew exactly who I was, what my circumstances were and what I am doing now. I think that is what made the difference for me. Everybody genuinely cares about your success. If you are willing to put forth the effort, they are willing to do what it takes to help you. I think that speaks volumes about WIU."

For more information about WIU's RPTA undergraduate and graduate programs, visit

Posted By: Teresa Koltzenburg (
Office of University Relations