Illinois Campus Compact VISTA Experience – Dan Dankert’s 3 Steps to a Successful Service Year

June 29, 2017

As Dan prepares to move on from our VISTA program, we sat down with him to learn more about what he thinks are three important steps to getting the most out of the Illinois Campus Compact VISTA experience.

Dan Dankert is coming up on his final weeks in the Illinois Campus Compact VISTA program, and we’ll truly miss him!

Dan has spent the last year at Western Illinois University’s burgeoning Quad City Campus (WIU-QC) where he has found fantastic success in building civic engagement programs that have support from the students, staff and faculty. He attributes much of his success to three simple objectives: Developing a Reputation, Gathering Data, Finding a Champion. Dan believes that all Illinois Campus Compact VISTAs can focus on these objectives to build effective civic engagement programming and develop important professional skills.

Illinois Campus Compact VISTA Experience

Developing a Reputation

When Dan first walked through the doors at WIU-QC, no one knew the hard-working reputation he had established while pursuing his undergraduate degree at Central College in Pella, Iowa. His first priority was to earn the same reputation on a new campus.

“The office typically opened at 8 A.M.” Dan said. “I made a point to show up around 7:30 and I’m usually the last to leave. After a while I developed a reputation for being one of the hardest-workers on campus and that reputation follows you around. It helps to have that reputation when you’re trying to advance a project.”

Dan’s dedication led him into a wide array of campus activities. He oversaw an extensive student mentoring program that helped students fulfill their educational goals. He sat on the steering committee of the Quad Cities division of the Lumina Foundation, which pursues greater educational attainment for under-served populations in the United States. While growing his reputation as a hard-worker, he pursued his passion project of bringing a food pantry to WIU-QC’s campus to address food insecurity.

Gathering Data

To get his project off the ground, Dan knew he first had to prove to WIU-QC administrators that a food pantry would find purpose on campus. He did this by gathering both national and local statistics on food-insecurity.

“I’ve heard the phrase ‘data-driven decision-making’ at least once in every meeting I’ve been in,” Dan said. “University decision-making is very deliberate. No matter what project you propose, you’ll have some push-back on it – and that’s a good thing. If there’s no push-back that means they aren’t thinking critically about the impact of your project.”

By using the University’s communication infrastructure to send a simple survey to students about their experiences with food insecurity over the last year. The survey garnered more than 120 respondents and showed that food-insecurity at WIU-QC was comparable to the national average. With this data in hand, Dan’s project was given the go ahead.

Finding a Champion

One of the most important contributing factors to Dan’s success was developing a strong relationship with his site supervisors. In the early stages of his work at WIU-QC, Audrey Adamson and Scott Brouette were instrumental in opening doors for Dan and empowering him to pursue his passions.

“Audrey and Scott are fantastic,” said Dan. “They were champions for my projects, and they gave me the confidence I needed to pursue my projects.”

With their support, Dan was able to become a champion for his own causes. Over the course of the year, he formed positive relationships with staff, students and faculty alike, and his food pantry project thrived because of it.

“The support I’ve felt here is incredible,” said Dan. “At one point the pantry was running low on canned chicken, so I sent out an email. Within 30 minutes I was getting emails from staff and faculty asking me what I needed and how much.”

Western Illinois Campus Compact VISTA Experience

Life After Illinois Campus Compact VISTA Experience

We are excited to say that Dan’s impact has been so great at WIU-QC that he has accepted a position as a graduate assistant there once he finishes his VISTA service year. Dan plans to stay connected with the food pantry that he built from the ground-up.

“I’m going to keep working on the food pantry,” Dan said. “I want to make sure that no student feels hungry while trying to study or feels embarrassed for using the food pantry. I want to help change the culture [around food pantries], because when you change the culture big things happen.”

Watch Dan discuss his food pantry project on WQPT below:

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