Originally Posted Online: Feb. 15, 2014, 5:40 pm
Last Updated: Feb. 15, 2014, 11:50 pm

WIU adviser found his passion in working with students

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By Anthony Watt, awatt@qconline.com

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Photo: John Greenwood/jgreenwood@qconline.com
Kenny Wheeler is an adviser at WIU-QC campus. Although not a Quad-Cities native, he has adjusted well to the area. He also coaches at Pleasant Valley High School.

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.

"I'm with them every step of the way."