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Straight from a Student: Wil Gradle

August 25, 2017

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Straight from a Student: Wil Gradle, 2017 economics graduate, current economics graduate student

From the Summer 2017 Western The Magazine for Alumni of Western Illinois University

It has been said that life can be chalked up to a few defining moments that forever changed the trajectory of your career. More significant to me than the moment, are the people that made it happen. Coming to Western has afforded me countless opportunities to work side-by-side with some of the best people in academia, all of whom have walked me through those defining moments.

Looking back to the beginning of my collegiate career, before I ever took my first exam, bought my first book, or even registered for my first class, I was a wide-eyed, recent high-school graduate attending Summer Orientation and Registration (SOAR). Shy and overwhelmed by all the options and experiences that lay before me, I sheepishly walked table to table at the Activities Fair as my dad (a Western alumnus) talked to each department's representative. That's when I met Rick Hardy '70, director of the Centennial Honors College. Initially, I decided to forego applying for the Honors College because, in truth, I didn't think I had what it took to be successful in an academically rigorous collegiate honors program.

Dr. Hardy, being the champion of ambition that he is, laughed at me when I told him why I didn't apply and handed me an application to fill out right then and there. Every moment of academic success, extracurricular achievement and professional development can be linked back to that moment in which a passionate administrator believed in the potential of a student. Within the hour, I was sitting down with my Honors advisor, Molly Homer, as she helped me figure out which Honors class to take in the fall, and for no particular reason at all, we settled on Econ 100Y.

Once I was enrolled in the Honors College, I decided to live on the Honors floor in Tanner Hall. Being able to live with a cohort of peers was more than an educational opportunity, but one that challenged my personal growth and surrounded me with people who would eventually encourage me to join (and eventually lead) Pi Kappa Phi fraternity, the Student Government Association and the Economic Student Association. Nothing could have been more influential on my growth as a student leader than living on Tanner 4 my freshman year.

When classes started, I was relieved to see a few of my floormates in Jessica Lin's '05 MA '06 honors section of Econ 100Y. Dr. Lin was able to challenge us with more conceptually difficult material, and inspire us with a higher level of discussion than possible in her other sections. Taking this course left me hungry to learn more about the economic world around us and Dr. Lin fostered my desire to learn as I would eventually switch majors and study economics full time. Not only would Dr. Lin be the one to kindle my interest in economics, but she would also be the one to advise my senior thesis and encourage me to come back for another year to study in the integrated master's program.

The differentiating factor between Western and its peers, in my opinion, is its people. Any school can offer a program in any field of study if they build the facilities and develop the curriculum. You can't buy culture. You can't pay for a faculty member's mindset of being student-centered. It has to be something that is refined and worked for day-in and day-out. It doesn't end with the faculty, either. I could go on and on describing the thousands of student-first interactions with building service workers, office support staff members and Facilities Management employees.

Behind the bricks and mortar, there are the people of Western Illinois University. Without the dedication of the faculty, staff and administration of Western, my education would never have been what it has. If not for Dr. Hardy's passion for student development and Dr. Lin's tireless efforts to see her students grow, I could never have been Student Government Association president, Pi Kappa Phi president, Student Member to the Board of Trustees, or this year's Lincoln Laureate. For that, I'm eternally grateful to Dr. Hardy, Dr. Lin and Western Illinois University.

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