Just hours before his passing, Adam Riegle M.S. ’08 was up until 1 a.m. working with college students at Northern Illinois University (NIU). The residence hall supervisor was leading a self-esteem project called “Know your selfie.” The act exemplified his work ethic, selflessness, and passion for empowering freshmen and sophomores.
“We knew he was sick, but none of us knew it was coming, even though, in a way, you do,” said Rene Riegle, Adam’s mother. “That one last night was him doing his thing, and he was so great at it.”
Riegle lost his life in 2014 at just 31 years old. He was a graduate of the College Student Personnel Administration (CSPA) master’s program, which is housed in the Department of Educational Administration and Foundations at Illinois State.
On the day of his funeral, NIU bussed droves of students who wanted to remember Adam. Colleagues from all over the state and country were there as well. That included many from the Illinois State community, including Dr. Phyllis McCluskey-Titus, a professor who serves as co-coordinator of the CSPA program.
“The amount of people there was just amazing, and it demonstrated the kind of person he was,” she said. “Adam was energetic, he was committed to students. He would rather spend time helping students than anything else.”
Proliferating Adam’s passion
The idea to start a fund to honor Adam was a team effort spearheaded by McCluskey-Titus. After huddling with Adam’s parents and former CSPA Advisor Dr. Marcia Hickrod, they created the Adam Kent Riegle Professional Development Award. The fund supports students who want to attend learning opportunities such as conferences and trainings.
“We knew Adam would want CSPA students to have the chance to complete a training or to just grow as professionals. He was really a person who was involved, and he went to any training session that was offered,” McCluskey-Titus said.
The fund was set up within a year, and six CSPA students have benefitted from it, including Jenny Krzyszkowski ’17. Now a coordinator of events and orientation at Northern Arizona University, she used the funds to attend the 2017 annual conference for the National Association for Student Affairs Professionals (NAPSA) in San Antonio.
“It was helpful for me not to have to pull money out of my pocket to go to that conference,” she said. “That experience really helped me to network and I got to go to several different presentations on orientation. And that is really where my heart lies; that’s what I do now. All of it was awesome and still pays off for me today.”
It’s rare for CSPA students to be able to attend valuable conferences without some level of support. To that end, the program attempts to garner as many resources as possible.
“It’s important that we support our students, and this is a small way to show that we care and are committed to their continual growth and learning,” McCluskey-Titus said.
Over the years, McCluskey-Titus, Hickrod, and Adam’s former colleagues and students have pitched in to support the fund as well.
The Riegles are grateful for the opportunity to share Adam’s legacy, and they are proud that this effort empowers Redbirds.
“Anyone can write a check, but this is more than writing a check, this is making an investment,” said Rev. Bill Riegle, Adam’s father. “When you give in this way, you are not just investing in the program. You are investing in people, people who receive this award and help future college students who are trying to achieve success on their own path, on their own journey. And supporting college students is what Adam loved more than anything else.”
Stories worth telling
Not long after earning the award, Krzyszkowski was also able to meet the Riegles at EAF’s annual gala. The event celebrates outstanding students and educators, including scholarship and award recipients. Most donors and all scholarship recipients attend the event; the Riegles have not missed one.
“We get to sit with the young person who is the award recipient, have dinner with them, and just talk,” said Bill Riegle. “For me it is like being there with Adam. I see him in them and their dreams, and what they are looking for, for their future, and it is a wonderful thing.”
Krzyszkowski was a first-generation college student, and the first among her siblings to earn a master’s degree. The former middle school math teacher had garnered a few scholarships during her time at Eastern Illinois and Illinois State University. But this was the first time she had the opportunity to have a face-to-face conversation with any of the people who had provided her with financial support.
“His parents wanted to hear about my goals for the program, my career, and the funds,” she said. “We were able to talk about their family story, and they were also really interested in mine too. You never get to meet the people who donated to your development, so I really appreciated that. It was unique.”
Part of the Riegle’s story includes Adam’s two brothers, Phil and Ben, the later of whom is a senior at Illinois State. Adams’s parents serve at a church near their home in Big Rock, Illinois, where Bill is pastor.
Adam’s own experience at the University started rather interestingly. Before being admitted, he and another prospective student, Brandie, met with McCluskey-Titus. Adam led the conversation and mentioned he would be getting married the summer after his first year in the program. That’s when Brandie chimed in, “So will I.”
McCluskey-Titus then jokingly asked, “What, are you getting married to each other?”
The answer: Yes.
“They both wanted to be admitted on their own merits, but they weren’t embarrassed by me finding out about it because Adam was just such a big personality,” she said. “He just laughed and laughed!”
Brandie and Adam married prior to their summer-long fellowships in separate cities. She was in Chicago, he went to Milwaukee. There was no honeymoon that year. In fact, the easiest way for them to connect post-nuptials was through the CSPA class they took in coordination with their fellowships.
“The practicum class was administered through an app similar to an audio-only version of Zoom,” McCluskey-Titus said. “Adam and Brandie would always get on the app early so they could talk to each other before class.”
Adam’s performance in the classroom during his first semester at Illinois State was unremarkable. In fact, he was put on academic probation.
His assistantship was as a resident advisor at Lincoln College in Normal, and it was a live-in position. McCluskey-Titus recalls much of Riegle’s struggles were due to his preference to time spend time helping students rather than hitting the books.
“Marcia (Hickrod) and I each had a conversation with him, and we knew he was really capable,” McCluskey-Titus said. “But Adam never again got a grade less than an A for the rest of the program. He just had to settle in and set his priorities.”
In fact, Adam was nominated by EAF for Illinois State’s young alumni award not long after he graduated. Though another candidate was chosen, his evolution from struggling student to standout alum was a testament to his passion for the field.
Like Adam, Krzyszkowski was a resident assistant (RA) during her undergraduate career. She would go on to earn her teaching license and serve in Illinois schools for three years. Though classroom instruction was fulfilling, she found even more enjoyment out of supporting students in less structured, extracurricular activities like community service clubs.
“Through those things I got to know students more holistically, finding out what’s going on in their lives,” she said. “The transition into middle school is tough, but having those conversations, I would still agree, was my favorite part of that job.”
Recognizing a trend, Krzyszkowski would heed the advice her former RA advisor, who recommended she pursue a master’s degree in student affairs in lieu of teaching.
“I also applied to Eastern Illinois too, but I was hoping for Illinois State because of the program’s reputation and because both of my sisters went there for undergrad, so it was keeping it in the family.”
Though their passion to support college students is similar, Krzyszkowski’s role with events and orientation is drastically different than what Riegle did in university housing. This underscores the vastness of a field that McCluskey-Titus says accounts for 70 percent of college students’ lives on campus.
“It is always kind of a neat thing to hear what different things the students wanted to accomplish, what area they wanted to go into, because they were all different. They all had their own path,” Bill Riegle said.
A future of purpose
While the COVID-19 pandemic has posed a challenge to traditional professional development and the in-person EAF gala, both donors and students are finding new options. The department is tentatively scheduling the gathering for fall 2021 and award recipients are using the funds for online learning opportunities.
The traditional opportunities will return soon, and this time in no way diminishes the value of a fund that’s about much more than money. The Riegles recommend the opportunity for anyone who wants to remember and/or honor a loved one, or for someone who simply wants to make a positive impact on the lives of current and future Redbirds.
“We have met a lot of people who knew Adam, a lot of friends,” said Rene Riegle. “And all of the students we have met have been wonderful and have interesting backgrounds and stories. The whole idea is that this puts the sense of a person and what they did with what time they had on earth into perspective. And Adam’s life promotes something positive. It promotes this program. The fund has a name, it’s got a face, it’s got a purpose.”
If you are interested in contributing to an existing EAF scholarship or fund, or would like to start one of your own, please contact College of Education Director of Development Wilma Bates at (309) 438-4304 or wbates@IllinoisState.edu.