Barry McNamara  |  Published March 31, 2023

Constructing Something Unique

Meet Monmouth’s first class of engineering majors – Preston Rousey, Caden Stasko and Reed Wilson.

MAKING HISTORY: From left, Preston Rousey, Caden Stasko and Reed Wilson will become Monmouth'... MAKING HISTORY: From left, Preston Rousey, Caden Stasko and Reed Wilson will become Monmouth's first-ever engineering graduates on May 14.MONMOUTH, Ill. – Three Monmouth College seniors from central Illinois are set to make history this spring as the College’s first engineering graduates.

After the College’s commencement on May 14, Preston Rousey of Heyworth will then head to Odessa, Texas, where he’ll work for Halliburton Energy Services; Caden Stasko of Streator will go to work for Navistar, which has a core business focusing on the truck, school bus and genuine parts markets in North America; and Reed Wilson of Normal is weighing his options, including a recent interview with an architectural firm in Champaign, Illinois, that went “really well.”


Dedicated students

The journey was not an easy one, but “We just wanted it,” said Wilson, a member of the Fighting Scots track and field team, who is also majoring in physics.

“Track was a big help, too, as far as mental health,” he said. “It was good to have a place to go to just take my mind off of homework for a while.”

Stasko said that “willpower” also played a factor.

“I barely made it through my freshman year,” he said. “I bombed a couple classes. Some people didn’t think I’d make it, but I kept pushing.”

“It’s been neat to see how much they’ve changed and grown. They’ve stuck with it. Engineering is a demanding major.” John Iselin


“I just didn’t give up,” said Rousey. “I remember the groups I was in as a freshman, and every few weeks someone would say, ‘I’m switching.’ But I decided, ‘I’m going to stay.’ Is it more work than high school? Yes. Is it really difficult at times? Yes. But I just kept trying to make it and to work hard day-by-day.”

Engineering professor John Iselin said that it’s been especially rewarding to be a part of the journey taken by Rousey, Stasko and Wilson.

“It’s been neat to see how much they’ve changed and grown,” said Iselin. “They’ve stuck with it. Engineering is a demanding major. Other students decided they couldn’t do it or that they didn’t want to work hard for it.”


A tailored approach to teaching

In addition to having each other – sometimes as the only three students in a class – the engineering majors said they have received plenty of assistance from Monmouth’s faculty.

FINE TUNING: Reed Wilson, whose focus is electrical engineering, along with a major in physics, w... FINE TUNING: Reed Wilson, whose focus is electrical engineering, along with a major in physics, works on the trio's senior design project.“The professors really want to help you,” said Wilson. “That’s the benefit of a smaller school. My girlfriend is in veterinary school at the University of Illinois, and she’ll contact a professor and not hear anything back for three weeks.”

Iselin, whose first semester on Monmouth’s faculty coincided with the seniors’ first year as students, said, “The reason Monmouth College exists is for undergraduate students. My entire career, this is what I’ve wanted to do – work with undergraduate students. My time isn’t divided between research, graduate students and undergraduates.”

Iselin said that commitment to undergraduate teaching – which is common throughout the faculty – pays big dividends for Monmouth students.

“We really do get to know our students very well, and we can tailor how we teach to individual students,” he said. “My role is meeting my students where they’re at and adjusting my teaching along the way to maximize what they learn. I’ve tried to do that everywhere I’ve taught, but since we’re a small school, we can do that on an individual basis at Monmouth.”

Iselin said that individual approach with students might call for “building them up,” or it might require advising them to “work harder, to dig in.”


Senior engineering project

One of the many classes the trio has together is their senior project course, which meets in the engineering lab on the lower level of the College’s Center for Science and Business. On a mild March afternoon, the students could be found at three separate stations in the lab, working out their shared design project, which Rousey called “a completely unique idea.”

Essentially, their project will allow swimmers to experience the same type of resistance workout in a larger pool – such as the College’s Pepper Natatorium – as those done in much smaller “endless pools.”

“It’s a swim resistance trainer,” said Iselin, “with additional resistance beyond the resistance of the water to improve swim performance.”

The seniors have found that the project has been easier said than done.

“There’s been a bunch of fine tuning that we didn’t expect,” said Stasko. “It’s gone from a nine-month project to a multi-year project. Professor Iselin is hiring some students to do research this summer, and we’re hoping to pass this on to them.”


Why engineering?

Rousey grew up on a farm, and that environment, plus his natural curiosity, put engineering on his radar.

PRESTON ROUSEY: The senior cut his teeth in engineering-related work while growing up on a farm n... PRESTON ROUSEY: The senior cut his teeth in engineering-related work while growing up on a farm near Heyworth, Illinois.“I grew up tinkering with things, and my family was fully supportive of that,” he said. “If some equipment broke down, I’d help put it back together. That got me into vehicle maintenance, and I had plenty of hands-on physical labor.”

As he progressed in the level of difficulty of the things he fixed and made, he was involved with a much more personal creation.

“My life has all been about trying to make something of myself,” said Rousey. “I liked that engineering was a new major at Monmouth and that I could make a name for myself in it.”

“My life has all been about trying to make something of myself. I liked that engineering was a new major at Monmouth and that I could make a name for myself in it.” Preston Rousey


Stasko shared a similar story, in terms of his background and his desire to stand out from the norm.

“My dad was a diesel tech and now he’s an auto mechanic, so I’ve been around it my whole life,” he said. “I’d hear my dad complain about engineers and why they’d designed things a certain way, and that’s what made me think about engineering even more and pursue it – to fix things from the start in their design, instead of having to fix them later.”

CADEN STASKO: The senior from Streator didn't follow the crowd, instead choosing Monmouth in ... CADEN STASKO: The senior from Streator didn't follow the crowd, instead choosing Monmouth in his pursuit of a STEM degree. He said "will power" helped see him to the finish line. Several of his high school peers were also interested in STEM fields, and they headed to predictable schools.

“I wanted to get away from what the other kids in my school were doing, picking the University of Illinois or Bradley,” he said. “I was looking for a small school. I thought it was kind of cool that I was going to make my own program.”

Wilson, who said he’s “always liked tinkering with things, like the toys I had growing up,” had a more obvious reason for choosing Monmouth. A pole vaulter for the Scots, Wilson hoped to follow in the footsteps of Monmouth’s three national champions in that event, including the assistant coach who helped recruit him, Dan Evers.

“When people look at how old Monmouth is and how long it’s been around, it’s kind of crazy to think that we’re the first students who will earn an engineering degree here.” Reed Wilson


“Yeah, that helped a little bit with the decision,” said Wilson, who has cleared 16 feet, 4-3/4 inches and won multiple Midwest Conference championships in the event. He narrowly missed All-American honors last spring, placing ninth at the NCAA outdoor meet.

Wilson realized that engineering made sense as a college major, but said, “In high school, I didn’t know what kind of engineering I wanted to do. Then my senior year, I took a circuits course, and it clicked.”

Of his pending membership in a very exclusive club, he said, “It’s surreal, almost. When people look at how old Monmouth is and how long it’s been around, it’s kind of crazy to think that we’re the first students who will earn an engineering degree here.”

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