When students ask Kenny Wheeler how they can put their degrees to use, he turns it around on them.
"Think about your passion," the Western Illinois University academic adviser tells them.
Mr. Wheeler has been an adviser at WIU since 2009 and said he's probably helped hundreds of students wend their way through college, including registration and building class schedules.
He said he enjoys coming to work every day because of the people he works with, all of whom have a passion for the students they serve. That creates a fun working atmosphere, a shared "common goal," Mr. Wheeler said.
Many students are nontraditional, from varied backgrounds -- they've been in the workforce or the military or done other things, he said. For some, it's their first experience with higher education. Others are retired, and, for some, it's a second chance after not doing so well on their first try.
"You've got people coming from all these walks of life, but they're intersecting here," Mr. Wheeler said.
Watching students he's advised get their degree is very rewarding, he said, adding that it's awesome to see the smiles on their faces. "I've always wanted to do something where I could see that I was making a difference."
Helping others always has been a backdrop for his professional decisions, Mr. Wheeler said.
When he first went to college, he was studying to be a doctor, and he got a degree in biology from Luther College, in Decorah, Iowa, in 2000. But, while preparing for medical school, he got a job as a student adviser for his school.
Preparations for medical school didn't go as well as he hoped, but he liked the adviser role. "I really enjoyed being around the college students," Mr. Wheeler said.
He got a master's degree in higher education administration from the University of Iowa in 2006.
Being an adviser also gave him more time with his wife and two daughters and to do other things outside of work. "I have a priority on family," Mr. Wheeler said.
When he has time, he coaches Pleasant Valley girls' track and field, runs and plays golf.
Mr. Wheeler said his parents, a pastor father and a teacher mother, taught him a passion for education. "There's always been a constant reminder that education is going to be the thing that opens a lot of doors for me."
He said he tells that to the students he advises, and when they ask for guidance on how to use their degree, he suggests using their passions for that guidance.
But he also lets them know it's still a shared experience, that he is there to help.
Today is Wednesday, Sept. 17, the 260th day of 2014. There are 105 days left in the year. 1864 -- 150 years ago: We are told league merchants have paid no attention to the prohibition on selling ammunition, but continue to sell just as before the order was issued. 1889 -- 125 years ago: The Rev. R.F. Sweet, rector of Trinity Episcopal Parish, left for the East to visit his boyhood home in Boston before attending the general convention of the Episcopal Church in New York. 1914 -- 100 years ago: Dr. E.A. Anderson was named to succeed Dr. E.L. Kerns as head physician of the Modern Woodmen of America, and moved to Rock Island from Holdingford, Minn. 1939 -- 75 years ago: One week late, because of the outbreak of war, Dr. E.L. Beyer resumed his work as professor of romance languages at Augustana College. Dr. and Mrs. Beyer left Germany on the last train to the Belgian border. 1964 -- 50 years ago: Employees in Turnstyle stores in Moline and Davenport will vote Oct. 2 in an election set up by the Chicago regional office of the National Labor Relations Board. Employees will vote either for the Retail Clerk International or for no union. 1989 -- 25 years ago: Rock Island High School is considering a step to help teen moms stay in school and get their diploma. The school board is expected to vote tonight on instituting an on-site child care center.