Madeline J. Iseli (Class of 1985)

photo of Madeline J. IseliAs the chief of staff for President Steven Lee Johnson of Sinclair Community College, Madeline J. Iseli assists the president with a variety of initiatives, both internal and external to the college. Madeline was named to this position in 2008 after having served as Sinclair's director of government relations since 2003. Madeline's career has been built on public service, including almost 5 years working in the district office for Congressman Tony P. Hall where she served as district director. She then became the executive director of a Dayton-based non-profit organization that worked to pass federal legislation creating the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park and also celebrated the centennial of powered flight in 2003. A native of Dayton, Madeline graduated from the Dayton Public Schools and holds a B. Phil. in Interdisciplinary Studies, with a concentration in the social sciences, from Miami University.

"I guess what I enjoyed most was the sense of belonging to a community of shared values ... Had it not been for Western I think it would have been more difficult to overcome the sense of otherness that initially overwhelmed me at Miami."

What would you identify as the key elements and core values of the Western Program as you experienced it?

"Community, shared exploration, creativity, inclusion, broad-mindedness, contextual learning—these are the core values I enjoyed as a Western College Program student from 1981-1985. By its very design, the Western College Program pushed us to fully engage in our own learning, to chart our own courses. As a result, we felt a profound sense of responsibility, not only for ourselves, but to our community, and to the larger world, as well."

What are your best and worst Western memories?

"I enjoyed the Community Dinners, the Western Theater Seminar, living in Peabody, walking across the stone bridges to the main campus, reading Moby Dick as a college, scary stories around the bonfire in the woods on Halloween, singing 'Let the Circle Be Unbroken' in Kumler Chapel at the commencement ceremony.

"I appreciated referring to professors by their first names and that sometimes faculty-member families would also participate in college events. I guess what I enjoyed most was the sense of belonging to a community of shared values.

"What I didn't like so much, by contrast, was feeling out of place in the larger university. I attended at the height of Reagan-era preppydom and Mother Miami was steeped in it! I came from an integrated, blue-collar neighborhood in Dayton and was lost in the predominantly white, upper-middle-class student body.

"To counter that sense, I joined the College Democrats, which helped me to create networks in the larger university context. Ultimately, I became very involved in the Miami Speech Team and other activities. Had it not been for Western, however, I think it would have been more difficult to overcome the sense of otherness that initially overwhelmed me at Miami."

How has your experience of the WCP community shaped your subsequent participation in other communities?

"I can't imagine that participating in a traditional academic program would provide nearly the same sense of community I had at Western. The residency requirement, the seminar classes, the Community Dinners, as important as they were, would not have meant nearly as much had the curriculum not been so contextually based.

"Examining an issue from many facets—how it fits within history, nature, society, culture—helped me learn to look at the world as a tangled web in so many ways. A push here is felt over there. A tear in the fabric must be fixed, or the entire web is at risk. Our web, our world, is fragile and oh, so interconnected. As we used to sing together in Kumler Chapel, we are all responsible to keep the circle unbroken."

What impact has your Western education had on your professional development and career path? What do you most value now about interdisciplinary education?

"As I walked past the Career Planning and Placement Office (in what was the old Western College library), I used to really envy the students in their navy blue suits, going to interview for jobs with P&G or Price Waterhouse. I envied them because they seemed to really know what they wanted, what kind of job, what kind of life.

"Well, that was a long time ago, and I wouldn't trade my zig-zaggy career for anything. I tell students now that the most important thing in life is to be prepared, because you never know when an opportunity will come your way. I tell them that, with the rate of change in today's world, the most important aspect of being ready is learning how to learn.

"Most definitely, my interdisciplinary studies program has prepared me to learn. My college education was the ultimate liberal arts education, but couched within the important contexts of personal responsibility and community. That combination of learning and responsibility has contributed to my public service career in working for Congress, for a local non-profit, and now for a community college."

What are your aspirations for the new program?

"I would hope that future students in the new Western program would gain as much of a sense of social responsibility and interconnectedness as I did at Western. I hope that the curriculum continues to emphasize curiosity and critical inquiry, reading, writing, discussing, student-designed programs of study with strong faculty mentorship. I hope that the faculty members involved will feel a sense of responsibility to the program, its core values, and its success.

"I hope that the new Western program will feel as special, as important, as precious as the Western program I remember. And I hope that the program will provide just the right set of factors to incubate the kind of creative thinking, forward looking, responsible leadership that the original Western College began under the stern eye of Helen Peabody so many years ago."

[January 2009]