Dr. Craig Engstrom with alum Maggie Burke meeting up at RAGBRAI 2021.
Dr. Craig Engstrom with alum Maggie Burke meeting up at RAGBRAI 2021.

From DJ to Peace Corps: Engstrom’s origin story

Many SIU students know of Dr. Engstrom as the face of the online CMST 101 or 280 courses, he produced, or as the Undergraduate Director of Communication Studies. However, many do not know Dr. Engstrom’s story or how he came to be the professional we know today.

Before he was Dr. Engstrom, he grew up in Rawlins, Wyoming, a small town of roughly 9,000 residents straddling I-80. While attending Rawlins High School (Home of the Outlaws!), Engstrom got a job working at the local McDonald’s. By the time he graduated, he had worked his way up to a store manager position. He attended the highest-level management seminars and conferences in Denver. His next option was Hamburger University in Oakbrook, Illinois. But he decided he did not want to own a McDonald’s store.

Dr. Engstrom’s other venture at the time was his business passion. He had his own music entertainment business while in high school, which was based on a business plan he created through his high school’s Career Track program. He took this plan to a local bank, who told him that it was fantastic, but they could not just give a 15-year-old a $10,000 loan. Despite this minor setback, Engstrom convinced his father to help him with the loan and started his first business at 15.

This business boosted his popularity, so he had a successful run as student body president.

“I suppose when you have a bunch of DJ equipment, people think you’re cool,” Dr. Engstrom joked.

After being elected, Engstrom attended leadership conferences in Wyoming and Colorado where he could market his DJ business with the other high schools in attendance, generating lucrative business leads ($2,000 per weekend in business) and developing crucial networking skills at a young age. He later sold the company during college.

Engstrom attended Colorado Mesa University, where he studied Business Administration. During his time there, he took a course called Voice & Diction. The course challenged students to utilize their voices to share their stories and persuade others in the class.

Dr. Craig Engstrom leading a Wednesday morning ride to the College of Liberal Arts' Bagel Wednesday.
Dr. Craig Engstrom leading a Wednesday morning ride to the College of Liberal Arts’ Bagel Wednesday.

“I loved the challenge of putting your ideas out in that setting and telling these stories,” Engstrom said.

It was in this course that he developed a passion for communication studies. However, a real job would be put on the back burner because following graduation, Engstrom joined the Peace Corps and headed for Kazakhstan.

“I was expedited as soon as I sent my application because people rarely ask to be sent to central Asia,” Engstrom said. During his two years in Kazakhstan (2001-2003), he taught English and Economics and helped write grants for organizations to receive funding through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

After his Peace Corps service was complete, he worked for two years in Dallas as a private investigator and company manager. He then came to SIU to study intercultural communication and Russian, to further his skill with the language he learned while in central Asia. Unfortunately for him, the university no longer offered the Russian program, but he decided to stay. Thus, Craig Engstrom became Dr. Engstrom at Southern Illinois University.

After earning his Ph.D., he taught at the University of Montana in Missoula and then at Elmhurst University in the Chicago area before returning to SIU as a faculty member.

As a faculty member, Dr. Engstrom pushed for online and hybrid courses, so more students could complete their degrees on time and still learn the same skills.

“A big push for me was the CMST 101 class, because it was not offered online,” Engstrom said. “So, students that were in online programs with SIU were unable to take public speaking through SIU which seemed like nonsense to me.”

So, in 2016, Dr. Engstrom developed the online version of CMST 101 and discovered that some skills and lessons are better taught through video modules online than in live lectures.

“There are some things that if you’re lecturing in class students will miss…so with the videos, they can go back and re-watch the lesson if they need to,” Dr. Engstrom said.

The online and hybrid courses proved to be a reliable method of instruction, and they continue to be a staple of the School of Communication Studies today.

Dr. Engstrom expressed his satisfaction with his career choice, saying that he has enjoyed teaching students and feels a sense of pride– that he assumes most instructors feel– from teaching the next generation of leaders and communicators.

“My most inspiring accomplishments are seeing where students have landed after my courses, and feeling, ‘Hey, I was a part of that!’ and I think that’s pretty cool,” Engstrom said.

A closing thought from Dr. Enstrom that he tells all students is this: “Trust the process, because no matter your difficult choices, it will all work out in the end.”

Dr. Engstrom’s influence and guidance also extend beyond the classroom. His website, craige.info, provides information and videos on his courses, resources for students, teachers, public speaking, and more!

Check Also

India Hagen-Gates (third from left) pictured with family.

Hagen-Gates goes from aspiring archeologist to aspiring doctor of communication

In her youth, just outside of the city, in a suburb of Northern Virginia, India …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.