Melanie Costello

Lorado Taft campus director/outdoor education coordinator

Melanie Costello

What year did you start working at NIU? 

Where is your hometown? and where do you live now?
My hometown is Sycamore, but I live in Stillman Valley now.

Select your affiliated college/division
Division of Outreach, Engagement and Regional Development

In what department do you work?
Lorado Taft

What is your job title?
Campus director/outdoor education coordinator

Where did you attend school? What degree(s) did you earn?
After attending Kishwaukee College, I transferred to Minnesota State University, Mankato, where I earned a B.S. in biology. I earned an M.S.Ed. in curriculum and instruction from NIU.

If you attended college, were you a first-generation student?
My mom attended NIU but didn't finish. I'm the first to earn a degree.

Describe your typical day—what do you do while at work?
As the campus director, I supervise the department heads and office support specialist. I oversee day-to-day facility and program activities, as well as long-range projects and planning. This means a lot of my job involves communicating with others and desk time—answering emails, working with the NIU personnel and financial systems, etc.

As the outdoor education program coordinator, I supervise the staff nurse and extension program coordinators, who run most aspects of the program. I also communicate with K-12 teachers and administrators to schedule their trips to Taft. I help the extension program coordinators with instructor training events. I occasionally coordinate a school's trip, and sometimes, I have the opportunity to be out in the field teaching or observing the instructors to provide feedback. Every day is different.

What do you like about working at NIU?
The best part about working at NIU is the people. I work with some amazing, dedicated staff and instructors. The job can be tedious and sometimes downright stressful, but the people I get to be with make it all worth it.

What advice would you give to students currently attending NIU?
Take advantage of the support programs and offices available. I don't work on the DeKalb campus, so I'm probably not aware of all that is available, but I've been around long enough and have been involved in committees and shared governance councils enough to know that there are many people and programs available to support the students and help them reach their goals. Whether a student is looking for academic support, financial support, a social group, work or research experience, or whatever, there is probably someone who can provide the help they need.

What is your favorite campus event?
I'm afraid I live a little too far away and am too engaged in family activities outside of work to get very involved in events on the DeKalb campus. However, I have a daughter who has a goal of playing soccer for NIU, so I'm hoping I can bring her to a women's soccer game in the near future.

In what ways do you see your colleagues help foster student success?
The best example I can think of is the practicum that professors and instructors in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education provide for PE majors at the Taft Campus. I've been working with them for many years, and their dedication to providing an experiential learning opportunity that will benefit their students in many ways is huge. I'm sure it's easier to lecture in a classroom than to plan all the logistics to get those students to Taft (twice—they spend a weekend learning about the program and the classes they will teach, then come back to teach and supervise upper elementary or middle school students for three days). But to them, the outcomes of the experience for their students are worth it.

What is your favorite memory of NIU?
There were so many fun times when I was in the master's program in outdoor teacher education. One that comes to mind was a summer class that was focused on recreation in the outdoors. In that class, we got to go to different places throughout the area to take part in outdoor recreation activities—biking, kayaking, high ropes, orienteering, etc. My favorite activity was the cave exploring. I learned a lot about myself that day and what I was able to accomplish with the support of my classmates. It was an experience that has stuck with me.

What did you want to be when you were growing up? Are you currently doing it? If not, what changed your path?
I wanted to work in the fashion industry. I didn't think I had the artistic talent for design, but I thought I'd love to work as a buyer. I'm definitely not doing that now. I took a class on aesthetics when I was a freshman, and I hated it. At Kishwaukee College, I had a couple of biology instructors who made science fascinating, and while I liked all my biology classes, I found myself gravitating toward the ecology-focused ones. I discovered non-formal education as a career after college when I came across a volunteer opportunity to teach people about fish while working for the Minnesota Conservation Corps.

Are you a member of or hold a position within a professional organization? If so, what organization? What is the purpose of that organization and how does being part of this organization benefit you in your role at NIU?
I'm a member of the Environmental Education Association of Illinois, the National Association for Interpretation, the Association of Nature Center Administrators, and the International Association of Conference Center Administrators. I have been a board member for EEAI in the past, but after starting a family, I found I couldn't give the position the time and dedication it needed. I really enjoyed it and learned a great deal from the experience (including planning a state conference). I'm looking forward to getting more involved again when my kids are grown.

What community organizations are you involved in?
I'm a board member for Black Hawk Art Restoration and Development and the treasurer for the Meridian Jr. High PTO. I've also coached youth soccer and get involved in my kids' 4-H club and activities.

What do you do to relax or recharge?
We have an RV and enjoy camping with friends. Weather permitting, I'm in my garden for a while most mornings in the summer. Being outside first thing in the morning weeding or picking beans or tomatoes helps to start the day in a good frame of mind. I also enjoy hiking, reading, baking, dancing and yoga.

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