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Vice President Clare Thompson. Photo by Darcie Shinberger.
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Why Western? A Conversation with Clare Thompson

June 26, 2024

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In honor of Vice President for Advancement, Alumni Relations & Athletics Clare Thompson's one year anniversary with Western Illinois University, WIU is sharing a recent story written by former Assistant Vice President for Communications, Marketing & Media Relations Darcie Shinberger highlighting Thompson's passion for WIU and how sharing the positive stories of Western alumni, faculty, staff, and students makes a difference.

This story was first published in the Community News Brief.

When Western Illinois University's newest vice president hits the road, she takes along more than just her purple and gold attire. Clare Thompson, vice president for advancement, alumni relations and athletics, takes a positivity to the "nth" degree along for the ride.

The Community News Brief recently sat down with Thompson to learn more about her and her passion for the University and the region it has served since 1899.

How did your Why Western "road show" come about?

It really started in Florida during our alumni trip this year. We have great things happening here at WIU and they need to be talked about and shared. Yes, we have some hard decisions to make in the days ahead, but at the same time, we are here for our students. We have students who need and deserve scholarships; we have outstanding programs that deserve support, and facilities that need enhancing.

We have things going on that are really noteworthy and it's time we stop focusing on the past and the negatives. Long past time. For example, we're in the midst of our For the W campaign, and in April, we had our most successful Western Challenge Day of Giving, raising just over $432,000 in one-day! Another example is the Finance and Commodities Trading Lab project, which will be 100% donor-funded. We are well on our way to reaching our goal of $600,000 for this phase of the project. Our commodities trading team is among the best in the country, and they worthy of a facility that matches their success.

This and so much more deserve attention, support and to be talked about. I think people have heard me speak at alumni events, at chamber events, at Rotary meetings, and that led to another initiative here, "Coffee with Clare" for area business leaders to hear what's going on at Western. The word is getting out that Western has a lot going on.

"Why Western" for you?

When the vice president job announcement was posted, one of my former colleagues encouraged me to apply. Having experience in both intercollegiate athletics and fundraising, I was "the unicorn" for this position, and decided to apply. {Editor's Note: The Iowa native had been at Palmer College of Chiropractic as the school's executive director of advancement for seven years. See "Just the Facts" below for Thompson's career trajectory.}.

When I came here for the on-campus interview, I was really impressed with the people, and the passion they have for Western. Almost a year later, here I am. WIU does a great job providing a quality and affordable education, and we are a tremendous asset to the region and beyond. That's why I'm here.

Accentuating the positives: Sharing the good news

We're having terrific success with our "For the W" campaign and experience support in ways we haven't seen in a while, which tells me people are listening to the great stories we're sharing about Western.

Stories like our trading team; our speech pathology and audiology students getting hands-on training, while helping school children and their parents throughout the region, through their clinics, including their WIU Autism Clinic that provides free, early intervention autism evaluations; the Goldfarb Center for Performing Arts which will provide an incredible learning facility for our students and faculty, plus a top-notch performance venue for our region; and the Arlington & Arlene Seymour Center for Rural Education, Advocacy, Policy and Research, the first of its kind in Illinois and one of a few in the United States, that supports WIU students whose career goals include teaching in rural areas of Illinois.

Look at our law enforcement program. It's the top program in the nation and has been forever. A company in Ireland chose Western's program to use its software. They could've chosen anyone, they chose Western because of our world-renowned program.

People need to start sharing these stories and others more. I understand the extraordinary challenges that exist, and we have hard decisions to make in the coming months; however, that doesn't change what Western does. We are here for our students, and we provide them with a quality education. Our faculty, staff, students, alumni and community members need to tell these stories of what Western Illinois University means to them and what Western provides to our region. If we lead with a vision and a positive outlook, people will respond.

Good things are happening here. The number one thing I tell people is to talk positively about Western. Give back and invest in the WIU experience. We're worthy of your support.

Final thoughts?

You're cared about here. You matter here. Your future can be shaped and transformed here. People believe in you here.

If you can't get excited about Western and say anything nice, just don't say anything at all and just step aside.

We're far from perfect, but no matter what is going on, we are committed to our students every day.

Recruiting, retention and advancement are everyone's responsibility – at the University and in Macomb. A thriving Western is a thriving Macomb.

Just the facts

Thompson started her post at WIU June 26, 2023 after serving as the executive director of Advancement at Palmer College of Chiropractic since December 2016. Previously, she was the vice president and a consultant for Ruffalo Noel Levitz from 2014-2016 and has 25 years of experience in fundraising, leadership and athletics.

She received her bachelor's degree in business administration from Marycrest College and her master's degree in sports administration from Indiana State University.

The Vice President for Advancement, Alumni Relations, and Athletics is responsible for overseeing Alumni Relations, Foundation and Development, Scholarship Office, and Athletics. The vice president, who serves as a member of the Cabinet, reports to the president.

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