Mark Forner

Carpe Diem means “seize the day” and Mark Forner, WMU alumni and principal of Carpe Diem Meridian Campus in Indianapolis certainly has seized his day. With a history as a business owner, classroom teacher and passionate supporter of school reform, Dr. Forner has taken the lead in a new concept school. Carpe Diem has brought higher test scores and graduation rates to the students who populate the “blended learning” concept urban educational facility. Blended learning combines two approaches, the traditional teacher-led classroom and the online school model in which students work independently on digital courses. Carpe Diem Meridian combines high quality classroom instruction with challenging digital courses in a highly personalized way. Students are not divided into age-level grades; instead, they are allowed to work to their ability level, and may climb through the levels much faster than if they were to spend a full year in each grade.

A photo of Mark Forner and two school-aged children in a school setting.

The first Carpe Diem school was established by Rick Ogston in Yuma, AZ about eight years ago. He developed the concept and Carpe Diem Yuma has had outstanding test scores and graduation rates well above the state average for Arizona. Once he had the model school up and running successfully, he expanded into Indianapolis in 2012 and now into Ohio. The Meridian Campus in Indianapolis had middle school passage rates on state standardized testing of over 85% in English and Language Arts and 88% in Math, well above the state average. Mark Forner has been instrumental in making this vision happen and he credits the education he received at Western Michigan University for helping him.

After received a bachelor’s degree in Economics from Kalamazoo College and an MBA from the University of Notre Dame, Mark was a small-town business owner who ended up, almost by default, on the school board. As he became more interested in school reform, he realized he needed to expand his skills in the area of educational leadership, with the goal of becoming a rural school principal. He turned to Western’s Educational Leadership, Research and Technology program to pursue an Ed. Specialist degree, but later was able to enter the Ph.D. program in Educational Leadership. He began his program in 2007 and graduated in December 2010.

When Mark Forner started his program at WMU, he felt out of place as a “very non-traditional” student. His only experience in the education field was his stint as a school board member in a small rural school district. Fortunately he connected with Dr. Louann Bierlein-Palmer and Dr. Patricia Reeves, whom he characterizes as “purveyors of hope…at a time when others expressed skepticism. Great universities are all about life-long and life-altering relationships. I count my friendships with Pat and Louann as one of the great blessings of my life ” With the help of these professors and the resources available at WMU, Mark was able to pursue his research interests in the components of successful school reform, particularly as it pertained to rural school districts. He studied the leadership practices of six highly successful rural school superintendents in Michigan for his dissertation.

While on the way to completion, Dr. Forner often felt he was doing his career “completely backwards,” as he started out as a school board member who aspired to be a superintendent. Once he encountered the bright, forward-thinking teachers and school leaders in WMU’s College of Education, it became clear to him that he would need to spend some time in the classroom in order to become a great school leader. He applied to Teach for America and taught middle-school mathematics in Indianapolis Public Schools for three years. When asked what skills he took from his educational experience at Western into his career as a school principal, he answered, “That’s easy …humility. My first year at WMU I was a fish out of water and I had to get ‘comfortable with being uncomfortable’. Similarly, I watched superintendents of large, successful school districts really struggle with the rigor of certain courses. That’s what impressed me most about my graduate experience at WMU: the level of academic rigor was high and my most successful classmates were generally individuals of great humility.”
The Graduate College at Western Michigan University is proud to acknowledge Dr. Mark Forner as one of our graduates. His path has been long and winding, culminating in the leadership of a new type of learning environment, the blended-learning academy. Though small, with fewer than 200 students currently enrolled, Carpe Diem Meridian is well on its way to proving Dr. Forner right in his belief that school reform can create a new type of learning environment that serves today’s students better than the traditional models.

Dr. Clara Adams

For Dr. Clara P. Adams, GEP scholar, current recipient of a Gwen Frostic Doctoral Fellowship, and recipient of the Graduate Research (2013) and Graduate Teaching Effectiveness (2012) Awards from the Chemistry department, the decision to pursue research in chemistry at WMU has yielded fantastic success, but she gives credit to those who helped and inspired her in her chemistry lab and at the Graduate College. After completing her undergraduate degree in Charlotte, North Carolina, she might have attended pharmacy school if not for the opportunity and encouragement she received from WMU’s Dr. Sherine Obare, Associate Professor of Chemistry and Clara’s eventual advisor. Dr. Obare gave Clara the chance to work on a project in her lab in Charlotte — a project evaluating stilbene-based molecular sensors for the detection of organophosphorous pesticides — the first “real world” academic experience Clara had outside of her undergraduate chemistry labs. Later, Dr. Obare encouraged her to apply to WMU’s master’s program in chemistry, after which Clara was quickly promoted to begin the Ph.D. program. As a doctoral student, Clara continued her work, developing metallic nanoparticles that could detect hydrogen peroxide and pathogens like Escherichia coli.

A photo of Dr. Clara Adams.

When she had an opportunity to take on teaching responsibilities, Clara worked as part of an interdisciplinary team to create a new laboratory unit that would better demonstrate immediate and real-world applications for chemistry and biology. Working under a fellowship awarded by the GAANN program (Graduate Assistants in Areas of National Need), Clara collaborated with Dr. Donald Schreiber to develop a “food science” lab that would allow students to determine macromolecules present in food items. Using chemical reagents, students determined the amount of macromolecules such as carbohydrates, lipids, and sodium chloride in foods like chips, cheese, nuts, and turkey. While Dr. Schreiber laid the ground-work for the lab, Clara grew the idea, working out procedures for the tests and expanding their scope to go beyond their initial idea of testing for amounts of protein in tortilla chips. Thanks to the efforts of Clara and Dr. Schreiber, that innovative lab has been implemented into WMU’s undergraduate chemistry program.

Beyond this, Clara’s research in shape control of metallic (ruthenium and palladium) nanoparticles took her to national conferences, including her first oral presentation at the American Chemical Society in Philadelphia in 2012 (a conference that annually draws 30,000 professors, students, and practitioners), to international venues, such as the 2013 IUPAC (International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry) conference in Istanbul, Turkey, where she presented her research in a poster session. She sees her future research going into the uses of shape-control for other metallic nanoparticles not extensively studied right now; she wants to do further research into using electrochemical sensors for detecting other bacteria, waste contaminants, and environmental pollutants. As Dr. Adams observes, “this area of research is crucial because nanotechnology is still relatively new, so there’s not much research into how nanoparticles affect the environment.” Clara is currently looking at post-doctoral positions where she can continue her work, and has even considered broadening her experience by starting research in cosmetic chemistry in the future.

Through all her success in research, teaching, and publication at WMU (she has four articles to her name, plus one in the works, as well as a book chapter), Clara is effusive in her praise of Dr. Obare, for encouraging her to apply first to WMU, and then for numerous awards and funding opportunities. She thanks Mr. Tony Dennis and the GEP program, for providing countless opportunities for professional and academic development, as well as Linda Comrie of the Graduate College, for helping her through a labyrinth of funding rules and policies, and Dr. Marianne Di Pierro and the Graduate Center for Research and Retention, for their workshops on applying for grants and post-docs, which Clara says “are definitely needed and wanted!” Finally, Clara is every day thankful to God for giving her the strength to begin and continue this journey, and the blessings that have come to her along the way. We’re sure that her success has only begun, and wish her the best as she graduates with a Ph.D. from WMU this spring.

Meet Angie Phelps and Jodi Ward

The Graduate College is excited to welcome two new employees this spring semester. Jodi Ward worked most recently as associate director of operations in the Office of Admissions before starting at the Graduate College as our systems analyst. Jodi got her bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University in psychology and obtained a Master of Arts degree in human resources development at WMU. She is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in educational leadership with a concentration in organizational analysis here at Western.

Photos of Angie Phelps and Jodi Ward placed side-by-side.  These are official university photos with a grey background.

Jodi started out at WMU as a college recruiter whose territory was the east side of Michigan, including Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lower Wayne and Monroe counties. She also coordinated the Medallion competition. After five years she was promoted to transfer coordinator, where she managed recruitment efforts at the 28 Michigan community colleges. Most recently, she directed the processes, policies and procedures for application processing in the Office of Admissions. She has especially enjoyed the diversity of staff, faculty and students with whom she has had the privilege to work.
In her new position Jodi is excited about leading the implementation of the new Apply Yourself tool for graduate applications. There is a lot of work to be done to convert to this new system but the process should be much smoother for both prospective students and functional users at WMU.
Jodi spends her spare time cheering at Bronco sporting events with her husband and eight-year-old son. She attends most practices and games her son plays in, which keeps her busy, as he is involved in football, basketball, and baseball. She also likes to kayak when the weather cooperates.
Angie, our new finance analyst, attended Lake Superior State University and Kalamazoo Valley Community College. She is currently working on her bachelor’s degree in general university studies. Angie began her career at Western Michigan University as an office assistant in the math department in 1999, and then transferred into the history department as an office associate in 2001. In 2002 she moved into the dean’s office of the College of Arts and Sciences to become a finance analyst. She appreciates the opportunity to form lasting relationships through working with people from across campus.
As for time away from campus, Angie loves to be by the water. Lake Huron is her favorite Great Lake. She and her husband of almost 15 years, Jerry, frequently travel to Lake Michigan to enjoy sunsets and the incredible ice formations in winter. She likes to entertain her friends and family with bonfires in the backyard, and camping is on her list of favorite activities. She has three daughters, ages 22, 20 and 18, and a beautiful baby grandson.
Angie’s new position as finance analyst involves working closely with Virginia Bowlby, coordinator of graduate appointments. As she adjusts to life in a new environment she looks forward to working with the staff and students of the Graduate College. It is a team-oriented office where she can use her talents and help where she is needed.

We are all glad to welcome both Angie and Jodi to our staff, where they are much appreciated for their expertise and hard work as well as their fun personalities.

Dr. Julie Apker – Graduate Faculty Fellow

The Graduate College is proud to announce the addition of Dr. Julie Apker, Associate Professor in the School of Communication, to our team as a Graduate Faculty Fellow for 2014. Dr. Apker joined the faculty of WMU in 2001 after receiving her M.A. and Ph.D. in Communication Studies at the University of Kansas. Her book, Communication in Health Organizations, explores the communication processes, issues, and concepts that comprise the organization of health care, focusing on the interactions that influence the lives of patients, health professionals, and other members of health institutions. Dr. Apker’s research work appears in publications such as Journal of Applied Communication Research, Health Communication, Qualitative Health Research, Journal of Nursing Administration, Nursing Economic$, Annals of Emergency Medicine, and Academic Emergency Medicine. She serves on the editorial board of Health Communication, a noteworthy journal that seeks to improve practical communication between caregivers and patients and between institutions and the public.

A photo of Dr. Julie Apker

Along with teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in Organizational Communication, Dr. Apker conducts research in organizational and health communication. She looks as physician communication patterns and strategies that affect patient safety and the development and negotiation of caregiver roles, particularly communicative behaviors that affect bedside care delivery and caregiver identity. She also investigates communicative and organizational stressors that contribute to outcomes such as quality of work life, job satisfaction, and retention for health care professionals. For that same audience, she examines supportive communication that can help minimize or prevent job-related stressors and enhance team dynamics. She uses qualitative research methods including focus groups, interviews, and observations.

As a faculty fellow, Dr. Apker will focus on creating online training modules for new graduate students as well as graduate assistants who are doing research, service, or teaching. She will also facilitate the once-yearly face-to-face Graduate Assistant Training, usually held in Brown Hall at the beginning of fall semester. Her duties also include supporting the Graduate College Ambassadors as they interact with current and prospective students and serve on numerous committees. In addition to Julie Apker, Dr. Louann Bierlein-Palmer, Professor in Educational Leadership, will continue her duties as Graduate Faculty Fellow for the 2014 year. She has already made great progress in recruiting efforts through the creation of the “one-page” handouts from every department outlining key information on each graduate program. Dr. Bierlein-Palmer also helped redesign the Graduate College website and the Graduate College brochure. Please join us in welcoming these outstanding faculty members to the Graduate College team.

News from the Graduate Student Advisory Committee

  • This Spring Break a group of graduate students from the Graduate Student Advisory Committee traveled to Washington D.C. to meet with National Association of Graduate and Professional Students (NAGPS). They joined forces to lobby for issues of concern to graduate students, mainly the high levels of debt many graduate students accumulate while pursuing their degrees. They met with representatives and senators to express their concerns during the NAGPS Spring 2014 Advocacy Summit and Legislative Action Days, March 1 through 4.

  • In other news, GSAC has put to a vote of the full membership a name change for the organization. In order to better reflect its constituency, the Graduate Student Advisory Committee will change its name to Graduate Student Association. All graduate students are automatically members of GSAC, or GSA. The name change will become effective July 1, 2014. Each student pays fees to the University that go toward the operation and funding of a number of initiatives to benefit graduate students. These initiatives include programs, events, operational funding, development workshops or seminars, and bringing speakers to campus. Funding decisions are made through GSAC, so if any graduate students want to be involved in how their money is being spent, they are encouraged to come to the meetings. All graduate students are urged to become active members by attending meetings which are usually held once a month on the third Friday from 2:30-5 p.m. These hours are subject to change.

  • Another initiative led by Damon Chambers, Chair, and The E-Board, is the establishment of Grad Talks, a presentation hosted by the Lee Honors College based on the popular TED Talks. The first Grad Talks were held on February 21 and March 21. These are ten minute talks given by graduate students on any subject they may be passionate about. It could be a study abroad experience, a brief introduction to their research, the contents of a recent paper for a class or a chapter of their dissertation. This experience provides practice in giving presentations, a skill all graduate students must develop to meet their academic, professional or personal goals.

    an image of the W M U Grad Talks logo, The background is dark brown with a yellow square, the words are placed evenly on the square with W M U being in light brown, Grad is displayed in dark brown, and Talks is displayed in white text.  These colors are used in the official Western Michigan University color guidelines.

  • April 6 through 12 was Graduate Appreciation Week in the United States. The National Association of Graduate and Professional Students held its Midwest Regional Conference at Grand Valley State University this spring during Graduate Appreciation Week. This annual conference brings together graduate-professional student leaders from the Midwest region to network, share best practices, discuss common issues, and brainstorm possible solutions. Representatives from WMU attended this conference and reported a good turnout and useful workshops.

Dean’s Message

As we head into the season of thanksgiving and I reflect on all the wonderful things we have been able to accomplish over this past year, I want to thank each and every one of you for your contributions and continued support of graduate education. Major accomplishments of the year include the recommendation to move forward with an external vendor to bring our graduate admissions process completely online by Fall 2014, the work of our Faculty Fellows to help develop recruitment material for all our programs and an online orientation for new students, a complete transition of our website to the new university template, the addition of new professional development opportunities for our students and the establishment of a new e-communication strategy for all admitted and matriculating students. A more extensive overview of the year’s accomplishments can be found at http://www.wmich.edu/grad/planning.
In addition, the year has been filled with opportunities to meet with many of our current students, alumni and friends of graduate education at WMU. In each of these meetings, all the stories documented how the friendships and the personal and professional relationships that have been forged, the commitment to student growth and development, and the opportunities that were provided have all contributed to individual successes. I think of these stories and how WMU has provided the educational home, family, and community for professional growth for our graduate students. I think, too, of a vision: a physical space, a home, a place for students to gather with other students and colleagues from around the world. I think of a place to learn within and across disciplines, a place to hold and celebrate theses and dissertation defenses, a place for a community of scholars, researchers and creative artists to gather to help others experience the excitement of their work. The vision: a building that we call the Center for Graduate and International Education. Let us know if you are willing and interested in helping us make this vision a reality.

Susan R. Stapleton, Ph.D.

Dean, Graduate College
A photo of Dr. Susan Stapleton, Dean of the Graduate College

2013 Graduate Ambassadors

The Graduate College and the Graduate Student Advisory Committee (GSAC) are proud to announce the selection of our 2013-2014 Graduate Ambassadors. Each represents a specific college or area and takes on a range of duties to aid and represent prospective and current students, as well as the university community as a whole. They support prospective graduate students with information about the application process, graduate student life, and the University and surrounding community. Another of their roles is to arrange campus tours with prospective students. The ambassador from that prospect’s college shows the prospective student around campus and the community of Kalamazoo. They escort students to their departments and set up meetings with graduate directors, admissions officers and faculty with whom they would like to work. Ambassadors participate in select recruitment activities and attend Graduate College events to speak to attendees about graduate school and represent GSAC and graduate education in general.

a photo of the 2013 Graduate Ambassadors
2013 Graduate Ambassadors

Graduate ambassadors also provide peer support to current graduate students by helping them understand University and Graduate College requirements and policies. Ambassadors must have a good knowledge of Western’s unique offerings so they can orient new students to campus culture. Helping graduate students find support services requires that each ambassador have an excellent knowledge of Western’s resources. Meeting with department and college level faculty, staff, and administration helps each ambassador to establish a working relationship with the departments and to develop “points of pride” for each college and department. Ambassadors are considered marketers of Western Michigan University as well; they represent the face of graduate education to the University and the outside community. Each also holds office hours in the Student Organization Center in Bernhard Center, so they are available for walk-in student concerns.
Among their many other job duties, ambassadors compose articles for the Graduate College’s blog, The Grad Word. We’ve had entries that highlight the research our ambassadors are doing, their travels, and the trials and tribulations of working on the thesis or dissertation. They also post to our Facebook page with information on upcoming events and links to other sites or articles touching on issues of importance to graduate students from around the world. Check out our pages to see all the issues being discussed and the events that are designed by and for all graduate students on campus. Like us on Facebook to show your support of graduate education and the Graduate College at WMU.
Each ambassador also sits on a University-wide council or on the Executive Board (E-Board) of GSAC. A number of committees on campus have a graduate student representative on their team to give input on how the items being discussed affect graduate students. This ensures shared governance in shaping policy and procedures that affect graduate students. GSAC is an active student organization to which all graduate students automatically belong since each pays student fees that fund student organizations. They meet once a month, usually on a Friday afternoon, in Walwood Hall or Bernhard Center. Currently the organization is preparing to host the National Association of Graduate-Professional Students (NAGPS) for their 27th annual conference from November 7-10. GSAC also has a funding committee, GFAC, which considers, approves, and authorizes funding from student assessment fees for programming for graduate students.
The new Ambassadors, their fields, and the areas they serve follow.
• Kenneth Crocker is working on an M.A. in Philosophy. He represents the College of Arts and Sciences in the Humanities areas and the College of Fine Arts. He is GSAC’s E-Board Event Chair and as such is actively planning the NAGPS conference, which will bring 200 graduate students from around the country to our campus.
• Alyssa Eminhizer, who is pursuing an Au.D. in Audiology, represents the College of Health and Human Services and is the E-Board Administrative Chair, a job that keeps her busy as she takes and distributes minutes for all GSAC meetings, maintains the roster, and monitors the GSAC information email account.
• Jamie Gomez is finishing up her M.A. in Anthropology. She represents the College of Arts and Sciences in the Humanities and College of Fine Arts, and sits on the Campus Planning and Finance Committee. Jamie also assists with recruiting for the Graduate College.
• Denisha Griffey, Ph.D. student in Geosciences, represents the College of Arts and Sciences in the Math and Sciences areas and takes time out of her active research and fieldwork agenda to sit on the Graduate Studies Council.
• Alex Iseri, M.A. in International Development Administration, carries a 4.0 G.P.A. and represents the Social Science areas in the College of Arts & Sciences. As E-Board Outreach Chair he coordinates events to solicit concerns from graduate students and maintains partnerships with the community and other stakeholders.
• Edmundo Messina is pursuing an M.S. in Civil Engineering and represents the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences. He is assigned to recruitment duties for the Graduate College and makes a point to attend most events sponsored by the Graduate College.
• Marcial Amaury Pineda Moquete, an M.A. student in Educational Leadership, represents the College of Education and Human Development for those who are in a teaching capacity. As GSAC’s E-Board Public Relations Chair, he coordinates all promotional materials and maintains the GSAC web and social media sites. Amaury is a licensed attorney in the Dominican Republic.
• Matt Reid is pursuing an M.A. in Sociology. He is dedicated both to serving his fellow students and to his scholarly activity. He represents the College of Arts and Sciences in the Social Sciences and sits on the Research Policies Council.
• Muthanna Yaqoub, Ph.D. student in Geosciences, works on behalf of international students through the Haenicke Institute and sits on the International Education Council. He hails from Iraq and has worked extensively in recruiting and orienting students from the Middle East to our campus.
• Terren Yost is an Air Force veteran working on his M.S. in Occupational Therapy. He serves graduate student veterans in the area of Military and Veterans Affairs and sits on the Academic and Information Technology Council. Terren also holds a graduate assistantship in the Office of Military and Veteran’s Affairs.
• Tiantian Zhang, a Ph.D. student in Biological Sciences, serves as an ambassador for the College of Arts and Sciences in the Math and Science areas. He is a returning 2012-2013 Graduate Ambassador who assists the Graduate College with recruiting.
• Yu Zhang is working on her M.A. in the Higher Education and Student Affairs program and represents the College of Education and Human Development for students in non-teaching capacities. She also sits as graduate student representative on the Student Media Board where she provides input on programming with graduate students in mind.
Please contact the Graduate College at (269)387-8212 if you would like an Ambassador to be present at an event or meeting. Ambassadors are also available to meet with student groups and to advise on planning or development of departmental or unit graduate student affairs activities or services.

2013 Graduate Fall Welcome

A wonderland of candles, golden table draperies, and exotic foods appeared in the West Ballroom of Bernhard Center on September 5th for the Graduate Student Advisory Committee’s annual Fall Welcome for Graduate Students. Members of GSAC, including Vice Chairperson Rebecca Sametz, Stephany Coffman-Wolph, and Chairperson Damon Chambers, designed the event as a “welcome back” for all graduate students. Around 250 graduate students gathered to enjoy a beautiful evening of music, friendship, and fun, listening to the smooth jazz sounds of the Dan Willenberg Trio, with Dan Willenberg on piano, Denis Shebukhov on bass, and Dave Van Haren on drums.

a photo of two international Graduate Students enjoying the fall welcome
Two International Students Enjoying the Fall 2013 Welcome

Chambers, a Blindness and Low Vision master’s student, student employee chef for Bernhard Center, and new Chair of GSAC, drew on his own Jamaican heritage to inspire the delicious food for the event. Students enjoyed hors d’oeuvres of fried plantains and roasted sweet potatoes with pomegranate seeds made from a special recipe Damon created, as well as corn bread with honey butter which was a big hit with the crowd. This was a unique request by Damon based on a popular dish in Jamaica. Later in the evening, funk jazz band Fusion Base (Marcus Johnson on saxophones, Bryan Blowers on guitar, and Dave Van Haren returning on drums) got the crowd dancing to the beat as students got to know each other and enjoyed themselves. The gathering was a diverse mix of American and International students, many of whom were just starting at Western. The event followed the Graduate College Resource Fair, which ran from 3-6 pm in the adjoining ballroom, at which graduate students could meet and greet representatives of various departments and units across campus and the community. Participants included Sindecuse Health Center, University Libraries, University Recreation, the Office of Military and Veterans Affairs, Career and Student Employment Services, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Miller Auditorium, HSIRB Research Compliance, Teaching Assistants Union, Faculty Development and more. Graduate College staff were on hand to greet and mingle with the students. Altogether, the fair and welcome celebration provided a great opportunity to get to know new students and to see returning students who stopped in to say “hi.”

a photo of two international graduate students enjoying the food at the fall welcome
Two International Graduate Students Enjoying the Food at the Fall 2013 Welcome

a photo of Three Graduate Students Talking at the Fall 2013 Welcome
Three Graduate Students Talking at the Fall 2013 Welcome

a photo of Graduate College Staff  at the Fall 2013 Welcome
Graduate College Staff at the Fall 2013 Welcome

a photo of the Dan Willenberg Trio performing at the Fall 2013 Welcome
The Dan Willenberg Trio perform at the Fall 2013 Welcome

a photo of students dancing at the fall welcome
Graduate Students dance to the band at the Fall 2013 Welcome

Marcus Johnson

When it comes to the path of his academic career, recent graduate Marcus Johnson (M.F.A., Creative Writing, and M.A., Educational Leadership) considers himself a “wanderer.” In addition to his military service in the Army National Guard, Marcus has pursued graduate study in the seminary, in secondary education, creative writing, and most recently, higher education and student affairs. His decision to attend WMU provided even further opportunities, as Marcus has worked as an Assistant Director of the Writing Center, as a Student Services Coordinator for WMU Financial Aid, and has participated in the Prague Summer Program. Reflecting on his winding path, Marcus observes, “I think it still all plays into who I am right now… it shaped the professional I’ve become; it shaped the academic I think I’m becoming.” His patience and curiosity about a variety of career paths has certainly benefited him, for shortly after Marcus graduated in April 2013 with his Master’s degree in Educational Leadership, he was hired as an admissions counselor at Kalamazoo College.

a photo of Marcus Johnson
Marcus Johnson

In 2007, in the midst of completing an M.F.A. in Creative Writing at WMU, Marcus found his graduate program delayed when he was deployed to Camp Liberty in Iraq. Upon returning, Marcus contacted WMU’s Office of Military and Veterans’ Affairs (OMVA) and found a great level of support from the office’s new director, Tracey Quada. Marcus is effusive in his praise for the advocacy and resources of the office, stating that Quada and the OMVA itself made “Western a much more veteran-friendly campus, instituting policies and connecting veterans with resources that were meant to help them during their college experience. With the OMVA, I see in that office a much stronger initiative to engage with student vets and to help them.”
And he isn’t alone in his praise for the office; just last year, Military Times’ EDGE magazine named Western as one of the “Best for Vets” schools in the nation (one of only two schools from Michigan to make the list). The skills, determination, and experience that student veterans bring to college campuses make them an invaluable addition to university communities, and WMU is making a notable effort to smooth these students’ transitions back to academic life. Marcus says, “I’m starting to see that some of the services that we’re offering, they indicate and show that we are trying to become more aware of [their] needs, and we are trying to understand those different experiences, and how those experiences can impact the individual education of student veterans as well as how it impacts the overall university community.”
As a teacher and a writer in that university community, Marcus finds his military experience re-framing the ways he thinks about and approaches his academic work. Speaking about how his military training influenced his teaching preparation, Marcus recalls that “I approached tasks like teaching or writing or studying from a really practical, pragmatic approach, so I would sit down and read a piece of literature, and I would think, what’s the purpose? What’s it going to serve? How am I going to be able to use this tool? How can I use this resource? It’s also something that carries over into the way [...] I get students to think about writing, to think about research. I want them to start thinking about writing and research in very pragmatic terms, in very practical terms, so that it’s something they actually do for a purpose. Because I think that activity– any activity you do in life– there has to be a significant purpose to it, but especially for the time you invest in writing, just like the time I invested in the military, there has to be a significant purpose, there has to be a significant meaning.”
Part of that search for meaning has also unfolded in the pages of Marcus’s memoir. His experience in Iraq is the basis for his creative non-fiction work, Pogue, a book about the intersections of war, training, gender, and relationships from the perspective of a soldier who does not leave the military base. Planning to finish the book soon, Marcus will no doubt have a full and promising future as he moves forward with his new job, new writing projects, and hopefully, a continuing urge to wander and explore.

Video Feature: Marcus Johnson Interview

Linda Comrie

Linda Comrie is Office Coordinator for the Graduate College. While all our employees are vital to our functioning, everyone turns to Linda for help. She joined the staff in 1999 and knows just about everything there is to know about the office. She stays busy reconciling budgets, ordering supplies, doing payroll, processing graduate appointments, and organizing events like the Graduate and Professional School Fair, the Graduate Student Resource Fair, and many other meetings and events year round. She also monitors and coordinates the King/Chavez/Parks Future Faculty Fellowships and makes sure all paperwork is kept up for the Fellows. She supervises our office associate and does an amazing job of keeping track of our very active dean, Susan Stapleton. Setting up appointments, scheduling meetings, arranging travel, and preparing reports for Dr. Stapleton is a big part of Linda’s job.

a photo of Linda Comrie
Linda Comrie

Linda is known for her dedication to her work and her calm, cool demeanor even when the office is busy and everyone is competing for her time. She always makes the effort to demonstrate the right way to do a job and even knows how to fix the copier most of the time! In 2004 Linda received a Semiannual Staff Service Excellence Award, and in 2006 she received the first Griselda Daniel Award from the Graduate Students of Color (GSOC) organization. Linda was selected for the WMU Make-A-Difference award in 2009 based on the special attributes she brings to her work environment. Linda is grateful to past and current supervisors for giving her the opportunity to grow in her job and for the students who make every effort worthwhile. She has made lasting friendships among the many students she has helped over the years; they come back to the Graduate College with jobs in higher education, spouses, and children to be greeted with a hug from Linda. Linda earned a bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Western Michigan University. She and her husband Leo live in Galesburg and enjoy taking trips to northern Michigan where they appreciate the lakes, the fall colors and the UP food specialty – Cornish pasty. Linda and Leo’s daughter Stacy graduated from WMU and now lives nearby with her husband. Linda is dedicated to her family and spends her spare time cooking, shopping and traveling with her sisters and her mother.