Name: Josh Lanning
Class: Heartland Class of 2007
Degree: Associate's in Arts
Interviewer: Colleen Reynolds, Director of Alumni Relations and Outreach
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Colleen: Our latest alum in the spotlight rose to prominence quickly once he hitched his wagon to the political powerhouse that is State Treasurer Dan Rutherford. Former State Senator Rutherford says Josh Lanning started in his Senate office at an entry level position. Now he is his main "go to" guy in the Treasurer's office. Specifically, Rutherford says, "It's great having a Central Illinois graduate be one's wing man who is trusted and will knowingly get the job done."
Josh: Hi, my name is Josh Lanning and I graduated from Heartland Community College with an Associate's Degree in Arts in May of 2007.
Colleen: Josh tell us a little bit about how you decided that Heartland was the right place for you to begin your academic career.
Josh: Well I gotta tell you back in High school I wasn't for sure where I wanted to go, if I wanted to stay in the state or go out of the state. When I got closer to my Senior year, I decided it was probably best to stay near my family and friends. Heartland was the best fit for that. What I wanted to do as a career was Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement. The staff here, I understood, was just the best one on one. Which I was afraid to move onto a larger university where it was larger classes and less attention for the one student.
Colleen: You grew up in Pontiac, so you took advantage of the Pontiac satellite campus.
Josh: I did, and thank you for mentioning that, because that was another point on why I did pick Heartland Community College. Living in Pontiac and working in Pontiac, a couple of different jobs, it made it very easy for me to keep my jobs and to go to class full time as well.
Colleen: What was the best part of your experience at Heartland?
Josh: You know I met a lot of friends at Heartland. I built a lot of relationships that I still have now. I think that Heartland is a place that is a friendly environment that will help build these kind of relationships.
Colleen: So, the people, more than anything is what you took away from it.
Josh: Yes, the people, the staff here is outstanding. When you come to Heartland, when I first stepped foot in the door the first day of class, driving here from Pontiac, yes I was nervous, but when I got here after that first day I thought you know this isn’t so bad. The people really make you feel like you really want to be here and there was never a day I woke up and saying I'm going to pass a day up here.
Colleen: You were a Community Scholar, which is a program that provides some scholarships and as part of that you do some community service. How did that provide a unique experience for you?
Josh: The Heartland Community Scholarship program is an outstanding program. I have to give a big shout out to Pamela Sweetwood. She makes this work so well and when I was in high school, I filled an application out that was recommended by one of my counselors there. It happened to be that I was working at a gas station that night at about seven o'clock and I get a phone call from a 309 and it's Pamela Sweetwood telling me I had been accepted as a Community Scholar. I was ecstatic. I was so happy. I knew that it was only going to better me. Within being in the scholars program, I now have friends that I will have forever. I have a friend, Omar, who now lives in Mexico, went back to Mexico with his family. We still have direct contact monthly. There are friends that I have met through there that are now friends with my friends and even engaged to each other. It was a really good time being able to learn the different angles of field work that we did and volunteering in the social services areas. It was a really good experience. We did do three options for the semester. You pick where you want to go for volunteering. I think it was about eighty hours. It's like "Okay, we gotta figure this out, get our schedule going, be a full-time student and still get your eighty hours in while and work part-time as well too." It worked out. I was nervous at first, but we made it work out and I had a blast.
Colleen: Tell us about some of the volunteer opportunities you were involved with.
Josh: Well, the first one I picked was the Bloomington Police Department. Sargent Gayle Cyrulik, I worked with him one-on-one in his office on Monday mornings for about four hours. I learned a lot of filling papers, keeping track of what's in the office, field work as far as going in the field with him. I learned how to shoot a taser, learned what a taser feels like being shot into your back. I really enjoyed being with Sgt. Cyrulik. After that I did the Livingston County Humane Society and worked with the animals there, just the basics, cleaning out the kennels, making sure they have food and water in the morning, coming in on Saturday mornings and letting the dogs run for a couple hours, making sure we had volunteers signed up to come in and be able to help us walk the animals. Great story back to Livingston County Humane Society, when I worked there I actually adopted a dog when I was there. I lived with my mother at the time and I showed up with this big 88 lb. yellow lab at my mom’s front door and I said "Mom, we have a new dog." I named him Hunter and it was the greatest thing that ever happened to me. Going on after the Livingston County Humane Society, I went on to the Livingston County War Museum in Pontiac and I did some volunteer work there with George Pouliot and Jack Murphy who were great people to work with.
Colleen: How did your time volunteering through the Community Scholars program prepare you for what you are doing now?
Josh: They gave me the opportunity to be able to help animals and get a understanding of how these non-profit organizations work and how they actually strive through economy we have right now. I have to say that working in these three places it was able to give me a chance to open my eyes and see what the real world is like out there. I think there is more out there.
Colleen: You are working for our State Treasurer, Dan Rutherford, who is from Pontiac. How did you get connected with Treasurer Rutherford?
Josh: Well I tell you, I was and still am currently a Deputy Coroner for Livingston County. Met with Mike Burke who is the Coroner in Livingston County, working at a gas station. We became very good friends, and the Coroner knew I was always looking for extra work to make a few extra bucks. Maybe three months later, there I get a phone call from a blocked number and it's Senator Dan Rutherford saying, "Would you like to come in for an interview, and maybe help you out. Got just a few questions for you if you didn't mind coming and chatting with me." I was shocked, I just couldn't believe I just got a call from the State Senator asking me to come in to do an interview with him. I got to know the now Treasurer. Kicked it off really well and just started doing some office work with him, the basic stuff like stuffing envelopes and taking the mail over to the post office and making sure everything was dusted and cleaned up, filling the fridge up with soda pop. You know, just the basic stuff. It was a great way to come into this type of field work. You have to start somewhere. Meeting Treasurer Rutherford, I tell you, he is more than just a boss to me. He really is a friend.
Colleen: As I understand it, you are doing more than stuffing envelopes and filling refrigerators these days. What do you do on a daily basis? What's it like?
Josh: Every day is a different schedule to go by. We plan our schedules way in advance so we know where we're going and what we're doing. I usually kick off the day always reporting with the Treasurer. Wherever he is at, I'll meet up with him. I am his travelling guy. Wherever the Treasurer is at, I am there. There is a lot of people out in the State of Illinois that want to reach out to the Treasurer. The phone calls go through to me, the emails go through to me. If someone needs to talk to the Treasurer, they go through me. I don't want to say that I prioritize him, but I see what needs to get to him right away or what we can put on the back burner until the evening or another morning.
Colleen: What is your official title?
Josh: My official title is the Executive Assistant to the Treasurer.
Colleen: You also acquired another title. You are known as Josh the Road Warrior. Tell us what that's all about.
Josh: Josh the Road Warrior came from the campaign trail when the Treasurer was running for State Treasurer. We had created a (Face)page for his car, Pongee, and people started following us on this page. Pongee is the name for the Treasurer's car. She is a Pontiac G-6, a 2008 Pontiac G-6. Wherever we are in the state, Pongee is usually the one getting us around. Throughout the campaign, yeah I did a lot of hours on the road, morning, night and overnights for the week. I would be sometimes gone 3 to 4 days at a time and make it back into Pontiac to recoup, repack and plan for our next trip. So that's kinda how I became Josh the Road Warrior. People all across the State of Illinois, when I introduce myself as Josh, they would say "Oh, you must be Josh the Road Warrior," thanks to Facebook and the Treasurer's other networking electronic ways of sending other messages out, that's how I became known as.
Colleen: Did you like the title? Did you embrace it?
Josh: Yeah, you know there are not a lot of people who get to be with the Treasurer or State Senator for his job all day long and I really, really enjoy working with him and being there with him. Of course, there are hard times, there are a lot of hard times, but in the long run when the day is over with and you get home you're like, "Wow, that was cool, that was a good week!" So I really did enjoy being known as Josh the Road Warrior and being able to spend that time with the Treasurer.
Colleen: It sounds like you you're busy, have a great job and you love it, but there certainly are some challenges to working in State Government. What are those for you personally in your day to day operations in the Treasurer's office. What kind of challenges do you face?
Josh: We have two offices in the state of Illinois, one in Chicago and one in Springfield. We really try to even our time out in Chicago fairly with Springfield as well as well as making it to other parts of the state which there are so many more places to stop and make sure people feel recognized and know that we are working for them as well. That is probably one of the hardest things is to let people understand that even while you are not down in their hometown for six months or eight months, you still know they are there and you have not forgotten them. People don't really like Chicago from the south sometimes when it comes to politics and government. One of the hardest parts I guess I can say about it is making sure everyone is happy. That is the impossible answer. You will never be able to get everyone happy with you.
Colleen: Well, turning it back to Heartland, you are back on campus and you are seeing some of the changes here, it is pretty exciting. For the students who are here now, what kind of advice do you have for them?
Josh: I tell you for one this place has really boomed. Back in 2007, I think there were a total of four buildings here and I pulled in here with the Treasurer came around back to the commons or what I thought was the commons and it's offices now. So I did a little tour around here and I tell you what, it's really, really come a long ways. But my advice for other Heartland students: keep your options open. Never set your mind to just doing one thing because you never know who you'll meet or who you might know to help you get started on a different route that you never really thought about. In my own life, I have always planned and wanted to be in law enforcement and a police officer. I now deal with police officers day-in and day-out basis and still get to communicate and enjoy the stories and communications with them, relationships with them. But I am also doing my other job too. I never ever planned on going into government, I never ever planned on being into politics. When I was in high school, even when I was in college, it wasn't until 2008 when I started working in the office just doing the basics, just trying to get a few bucks in my pocket to pay for school books and things. And now here I am today as the Executive Assistant to the Treasurer. It's not a bad job. That's why I need to stress to you that it's important to keep your options open out there.
Colleen: Josh Lanning, thanks for sharing your story with us.
Josh: Thank you very much and if I can share just one more quote with you. I think it's something I always think about, "Whatever the mind can believe and conceive, the mind can achieve." I am still believing, I am still conceiving and I hope everyone out there does the same.
Colleen: Don't forget to get your tickets for Heartland Idol 2. It's coming up Friday, April 15 in the new auditorium of the Astroth Community Education Center on campus. As many as 16 finalists will compete for prizes and "Critics' Choice" and "Crowd Favorite" awards. It's a great night of entertainment for only $5 in advance. Get your tickets at the Heartland cashier or on the events page of the alumni website. I'm Colleen Reynolds.