Lamp looks at student’s transfer experience

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Ryan Wilson, a former staff writer and the 2014-15 editor of Lincoln Land Community College’s newspaper The Lamp, is nearing completion of his junior year at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. A broadcast journalism with a focus on sports major, Wilson graduated from Auburn High School in 2013 and earned his associate’s degree in communication from LLCC in 2015. Here he discusses his transition from community college to a  four-year institution, stories he has written or broadcast, journalism skills he has refined.  And how his life has changed. Ryan talks about an improved diet and exercise regimen and all-round  socialization that work in concert to make him stronger as he continues his studies. Ryan has a condition known as osteogenesis imperfecta (brittle bone) and uses a wheelchair to navigate the vast U of I campus.

The Lamp is running this conversation between Ryan Wilson and former Lamp adviser Paul Povse as a primer for students preparing to transfer to another university.

Our conversation with Ryan Wilson:

What is the single biggest challenge in transferring from Lincoln Land to Illinois?

Adjusting to being on my own, not being able to go home after class. My home is the dorm (Nugent Hall), but I liked that after awhile. I like that aspect of staying with friends 24 hours a day. If I have a question with homework, I can go to them. It’s such a diverse crowd over here that they know something about (every class). I’ve met students from China, Japan, Korea, Austria.

How did you prepare for the rigors of U of I?

“I did occupational therapy the  summer before I started at the U of I. There I learned to do tasks independently, without help from my parents or anybody, really. That made a big difference. I’m a lot stronger now. I couldn’t get my coat on on my own . Now I can. I learned how to transfer in and out of my chair.  Since I started at the U of I, I’ve changed how I do things, even after the OT (occupational therapy). I used to use a board to transfer to bed. Now I don’t.

Any dietary changes?

When I started at the U of I, they had me document everything I ate.  (Here, Ryan’s mother, Diane Wilson chuckles)  I had to do that for a few months. Finally they called me in and said, “OK , Ryan you eat way too much cheese and junk food and that’s messing up your system.” They introduced me to a dietitian. She looked at my log,  and  I did find some spots where I could make improvements like eating  more vegetables and salads. She didn’t say  I should cut the  junk food immediately, but slowly step away from (it). (She said) “For lunch, how about a bag of potato chips and an apple?”  She’s trying to touch on a little bit of every food category.

How do you compare classes from Auburn High School to LLCC to Illinois?

They all have great teachers. The U of I obviously has a lot more students, (more than) 40,000. You’d expect some classes to be huge. I’ve had friends with classes of 700 students. But some classes in the College of Media are smaller …  50 to 20. At LLCC, you have 15 to 20 students. You don’t follow the same group around.  At the U of I, I’ve had  the same classmates for seven classes.

How do you connect with teachers?

It really depends on class size. If you have a huge class, it’s harder to engage with the teacher one on one. That can be hard for some teachers. I try to make an effort to talk with them, set up a  meeting to say, ‘‘How can I improve? I know we have graders, but you’re the pro, I want your opinion.’’

Has your news writing improved?

I definitely learned that people read your stories and they care. I’ve gotten interesting feedback on my stories. I try to drill in my head to be accurate. If I’m not sure about something, I leave it out.  I did one story last semester about how the sports teams travel. I went outside the U of I to get research. Research is important, and so is not being afraid to talk to people.

Is there anything you wish you hadn’t written?

There’s always that. There’ll be some little mistake I see I made in the paper. I try not to dwell on that. I try to learn from my mistakes. The Daily Illini (the student-run newspaper)  told me I tend to be a perfectionist and that slows me down, that I try to make everything an award-winning piece. I didn’t win any awards this past semester, so something’s not right.

How has learning to be a broadcast journalist been?

I’ve learned you need to be careful with what say on the air. You don’t want to critique the team too much. The team can talk with you afterwards. Then maybe you won’t be in that position the next time. I don’t think I have written any stories I wish I could take back. (Ryan has done and will continue to do play-by-play and color for Illini wheelchair basketball, softball and baseball)

What is the best story you’ve done?

Traveling (how sports teams)  get from event to event. Hardly anybody  had thought of that. I was curious about how these smaller teams, golf, tennis and gymnastics, travel. In golf and tennis, they have a van that they can fit 15 passengers, and they drive it to the closer competition, not the ones in  Florida. But they will drive to Wisconsin, Kentucky  or Indiana. I did research and learned there is conflict and disagreement about whether it’s safe for coaches to drive. Some people have thought, “Are they (coaches driving) too tired after a match?”  “Are they falling asleep on the road?” In 2003 a coach driving a high school team got in a crash and people got hurt. I revealed some conflict. After that I’ve learned that (good) stories are all about conflict. I will chase a story on how bigger teams, basketball and football,  travel. People have asked me to do it.

Who has been your most effective teacher at Illinois?

I would say all my teachers have made a big impact on my skills. They all have gone above and beyond helping  me. It comes down to the student not being afraid to engage with them, to show  that  you care and want to improve . On the broadcasting side, Lynn Holley (formerly of CNN) has made a huge difference in my skills. She  talked to me about my delivery, what I could do better. She knew my delivery before I did. She  said, “You succeed, we succeed and we make the university proud.’’ That showed me she cared.

How do you establish a relationship with a professor in a large university setting?

It’s not easy. You have to spend extra time. Obviously, you don’t want to come out too aggressive and have them be annoyed with you. You want to say, “ I want to go up and beyond what you’ve already taught me.”

Doing well with any school this size is knowing your advantages and disadvantages and being realistic about yourself.  You  have to learn what you’re good at and what you’re not good at, how you can capitalize on everything you’re  good at.

I  had this realization over spring break about what makes me stand out from everybody. I was looking around the living room and saw my chair. I’ve been sitting in it my whole life.  That makes me unique. And that can make be better. My multi-media teacher (Charles “Stretch”) Ledford) said, you’re right. That can make your reporting better. I can get to areas able- bodied people cannot. I can do stories that maybe you guys can’t. One aspect of journalism is learning more about yourself. If we don’t know the subject, we try to submerge ourselves into it.  I suggested stories on how students at the U of I  get around every day because I am submerged in that.

Could Illinois better accommodate students with disabilities?

Well, every place could be better. For example, they have some elevators that have buttons that are really high. If so, I can’t my make my arms really high. I couldn’t move those buttons if I were alone in an emergency. I would be stuck. Some elevator buttons are too high for my friends in wheelchairs  and me to reach.  Luckily, I  have a reacher, but not everyone does. But, do they (the university) have the money and resources to do (fix) that?

How is social life in college?

In my dorm they play poker every Friday night. And I join in on that. They play to 10 or 11 p.m. In a video that  went around, I was seen saying, “Playing poker in my jammies!”  Now   I didn’t expect it to be posted on social media. I have to be more careful. I had a lot of Oreo chocolate shake before that. I really enjoy the extra-curriculur activities like announcing games. I enjoy talking to people every day.

What is your biggest surprise at Illinois?

Teachers care. People care. For me, it was nice to know there are other students in wheelchairs who’ve gone through the same transition.  It’s not easy to leave home and be out in the wild like that among 50,000 other people, to be in a community of around 30,000 people but I have  this help in the dorm that makes  a big difference. If I have a question, I can go to them (dorm mates) and get an honest answer.

How is your peer group intelligence level?

There are a lot of smart people over there.  A lot of people better than me. But that can make better. I look at them  and ask, ‘‘Why is my work not like theirs?”

How is your new therapy and exercise regiment going?

I do physical therapy twice a week one  hour each day on Tuesday and Thursday. They offer services to students with disabilities. I am doing arm exercises, leg exercises. I do more transferring, sit-ups.  I do a punching bag. I throw balls around. I do pushing my chair. I push a manual chair around the building. I have immersed myself into every opportunity I can find, whether  to improve my diet, my journalistic skills, my health in general. I am all in.

In my dorm there’s  a class for incoming students to adjust to being without their parents. It helped me a lot. But maybe not in the way it was intended to. I was ready to jump into a big school and live on my own. This helped me calm down and be more realistic, to not do anything too risky. I’d rather be late to class than get hurt.

How do you manage your time?

It‘s  obviously a lot to tackle, things to think about each day, classes, homework, eating healthy, not doing anything too silly. You can’t let the stress overwhelm you. You are above the stress. You have to come up with a specific time management program that works for you. I have an assignment notebook, a planner. I had one at LLCC. I have one at the U of I. I write down all I have to do that day, assignments, deadlines. I Iost it recently and it kinda messed me up. (Ryan now includes his planning in his phone) But (he says) with the planner, I can see every day. Losing the planner caused me to miss some assignments. But it all worked out.

Tell us about the scholarship you received.

Ryan recently was awarded the John S. Fine Scholarship from the Division of Disability Resources and Educational Services. The award is given annually to students who “utilize programs and services of DRES and demonstrate academic excellence and  are involved in activities.” In receipt of the scholarship, Ryan will address the DRES awards program on April 22.

Tell us about your upcoming trip to Portland, Oregon.

It’s for a sports media immersion class.  It’s an eight-week class that talks about sports media, companies that advertise  with professional sports, like Nike, Under Armour. It’s a lot of work. We’ll go on a seven-day trip, and we’re going to Nike and Under Armour headquarters. Every place we go, we pretty much document what we’ve learned. At the end of the trip, we have to produce a documentary on everything we’ve learned through the semester and how that ties into the group in which we’re placed. My theme is “Millennials.” I have to focus on millennials and tie them in with everything I have learned.  About 24 of us are going. There was an application process.

They didn’t want anybody going, just for the trip.

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