First off, thank you for reading STATEside.

STATEside, the daily campus blog from the staff of Illinois State magazine, is now wrapping up its sophomore year. We launched the blog in 2012 to share the Illinois State story with more and more people, and the STATEside team thanks you for making our second year even more successful than the first.

At first glance, the most-read STATEside posts from the 2013-2014 school year are all over the map. But taken together, they tell an important single story—about the remarkable people who come to Illinois State, and the even more remarkable people they become during their time on campus.

Here’s a look at the Top 10 most-read STATEside stories from 2013-2014:

1. Michael Collins and #MCStrong

The tragic death of senior exercise science major Michael Collins on April 2 shook the campus community. But it also sparked a nationwide “pay it forward” campaign in Collins’ name, tracked on a Facebook page with nearly 20,000 followers and the hashtag #MCStrong. The impact that Collins had on others—even total strangers—was truly inspirational. After launching The Michael Collins Foundation, his parents returned to campus in May to accept his diploma and a commemorative license plate bearing his initials “MEC” in recognition of his organ and tissue donations.

2. Young alumni on Shark Tank

Packback Books, a digital textbook rental company created by three young Illinois State alums while they were students, appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank in March. Packback co-founders Kasey Gandham ’13 and Mike Shannon ’12 appeared on the show, walking away with a new $250,000 investor: Mark Cuban. Weeks after the episode aired, Gandham visited the College of Business to talk to students about how to turn their entrepreneurial passion into a viable career.

Isaiah Roberts

Isaiah Roberts, the 19-year-old grad.

3. Meet Illinois State’s youngest graduate

Illinois State students pride themselves on graduating on time, but what Isaiah Roberts ’13 accomplished in December was truly amazing. The marketing sales major graduated at age 19 (7,055 days old, to be exact). He got a jump on graduation by being home-schooled and starting community college at age 15, but he’s no prodigy, and he didn’t live at Milner Library. He just worked his butt off.

4.April Fools’ Day: Watterson is getting a new floor

The STATEside crew had a little fun on April Fools’ Day, sharing a fake news story about plans to add another floor to the 28-story Watterson Towers. Even if they didn’t realize the date, readers should have been suspicious of the prank when the accompanying photo revealed architectural plans to hoist the upper floors into the sky using helicopters, slide into a new floor, and then sew it all back together.

5. Professor talks Breaking Bad fact vs. fiction

AMC’s Breaking Bad became one of the most buzzed about shows on TV during its final season. As fans waited anxiously for the series finale in September, Illinois State Distinguished Professor Ralph A. Weisheit from the Department of Criminal Justice Sciences did a fact vs. fiction Q&A about the rise and fall of Walter White. Weisheit’s research interests include rural methamphetamine production, and he’s the co-author of the 2009 book Methamphetamine: Its History, Pharmacology and Treatment.

Doug proposes to Paige

Doug Butler proposes to Paige Smith at Hancock Stadium.

6. The Redbird cheerleaders who got engaged at halftime

During halftime of last fall’s Family Weekend football game, Doug Butler popped the question to his surprised girlfriend, Paige Smith, in front of almost 12,000 people at Hancock Stadium—one year after they were paired as partners on the Redbird cheerleading team. As one tweet from the stands put it: “Cutest couple/proposal ever.” But that’s just the beginning of their story, which also features their young son, Braxton.

7. The 8 coolest things at the new Hancock Stadium

Last fall marked the grand opening of Illinois State’s renovated Hancock Stadium, including a brand-new east-side grandstand that serves as an impressive front door for the University. A few days before opening day, STATEside got a tour of the stadium and found a lot of new amenities to brag about.

8. Former Redbird stars on new NBC show Chicago PD

Illinois State’s roster of famous alumni includes lots of successful actors, including Sean Hayes and Jane Lynch. The latest Redbird to make it big is LaRoyce Hawkins, an actor who recently booked a starring role on the new NBC series Chicago PD. “That’s why I love and appreciate Illinois State so much,” Hawkins told STATEside just days before his new show premiered in January. “This is where most of the dream came alive for me. All of the ups and the downs, right here.”

Nichole Meisenheimer and Michael Stratton in the stands

Nichole and Michael at the Homecoming football game in 2011.

9. Scheduling snafu strikes Homecoming wedding

Nichole Meisenheimer ’10 and Michael Stratton ’13 really should’ve hired Reggie Redbird as their wedding planner. The Illinois State alums are such die-hard Redbird fans that they deliberately planned their October 2013 wedding so it wouldn’t be the same weekend as Homecoming. They ended up doing the exact opposite. The story of how they did it—and why ISU means so much to them—is a fun read.

10. Alum Mike Zimmer named Vikings head coach

Illinois State alum Mike Zimmer ’79 was named the new head coach of the Minnesota Vikings in January, his first top job in the NFL after more than 35 years of coaching. Zimmer graduated with a degree in physical education-teacher education but has spent his entire career coaching college and professional football. Zimmer was most recently the defensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals.

Have a story idea you think STATEside should write about next year? Share it with us!

Ryan Denham can be reached at