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 Sunday, April 20, the 110th day of 2014. There are 255 days left in the year.
1864 -- 150 years ago: The attention of contractors is called to proposals for building a magazine. The building is to be erected on the south side of the island, above the railroad, nearly opposite Sinnit's ice houses. 1889 -- 125 years ago: Ladies patent leather tip shoes were selling for $3 at the M & K store, and men's spring overcoats were advertised at $7.50. 1914 -- 100 years ago: Fred Feuchter, of Davenport, was elected president of the Tri-City Post Office Clerks club, and Joe Goldsmith, of Rock Island, was named secretary treasurer. 1939 -- 75 years ago: Mass vaccination of more than 1,600 employed of the Rock Island Arsenal has been ordered by Col. Norman Ramsey after a 13-year-old daughter of the Arsenal manager became ill with smallpox. 1964 -- 50 years ago: The 1964 Scout-O-Rama of the Sac-Fox Council of Boy Scouts closed a two-day session last evening at the Rock Island Armory with 5,000 paid attendance. 1989 -- 25 years ago: "From the horse and buggy days ... to this" said Mercer County Sheriff Marvin Thirtyacre, waving his hand to indicate the sheriff's department facilities at the new $1.5 million Mercer County Jail in Aledo.