Interview with Nathaline Pheteau, Class of 2017



Download Audio (9.7 MB)

Download Interview Transcript, PDF File (202 KB)

Download Interview Transcript, TXT File (53 KB)

Download Interview Transcript, DOCX File (53 KB)


Media is loading


Oral history interview with Illinois State University alum Nathaline Pheteau, Class of 2017. The interview was conducted on February 29, 2024 by Laine Sullivan and Scott Boyce, then students in Dr. Reecia Orzeck’s class Geography 375: Qualitative Research Design and Methods of Human Geography.

Pheteau describes growing up in the northwest suburbs of Chicago and attending Rolling Meadows High School before taking a gap year to pursue professional dance. Realizing the financial instability of such a career, she decided to further her education and attended Harper Community College before transferring to ISU.

Initially feeling out of place as a transfer student, Pheteau chose ISU for its diversity and opportunities. She ultimately switched her major from early education to secondary education due to a desire to help high schoolers navigate out their futures. Her acceptance to ISU was particularly challenging, involving a drive to meet the admissions committee in person during a severe snowstorm, which she braved with her father's support.

Pheteau found herself captivated by how the field of geography explains societal structures and histories through the lens of environmental factors and human interactions with their surroundings. She emphasized the transformative impact of her geography education on her understanding of topics like environmental racism and urban planning. She credited her success and growth to professors like Dr. Orzeck and Jill Thomas, who provided unwavering support and inspired her teaching approach. Pheteau highlighted courses like Environmental Science and Geography of Chicago, the latter including an immersive excursion exploring urban farming and the historical landscape of Chicago.

Pheteau reflects on her formative experiences in student teaching, describing it as a journey marked by significant learning moments and culture shocks. Her first placement in Pekin, Illinois, starkly contrasted her diverse, open-minded upbringing near Chicago. This environment, coupled with a highly traditional cooperating teacher, taught her that not everyone would embrace her innovative teaching style. Her second placement, split between Kingsley Junior High and University High School, provided a more progressive and supportive setting where she delved into lesson planning and teaching for a sustained period, receiving valuable feedback. Pheteau emphasizes the importance of seeking out opportunities beyond formal coursework to truly prepare for a teaching career. She recounts how a chance to develop lesson plans for National Geographic’s Giant Traveling Map project significantly boosted her confidence and experience.

Pheteau also shares her passion for dance, highlighting her involvement with the Urban Movement group at ISU. This student organization, which she joined when it was just starting, grew into a vibrant community that won multiple campus competitions. Her dance journey included touring with the Joffrey Ballet and performing as Princess Tiana on a Disney cruise, experiences that enriched her college life and fostered lasting friendships. Reflecting on the creation and growth of Urban Movement, Pheteau describes the challenges of building a registered student organization (RSO) from scratch, emphasizing the importance of resourcefulness and perseverance.

She speaks to the impact of her identity on her college experience, noting instances of microaggressions and the challenges of being a minority at a predominantly white institution (PWI). Yet, these experiences strengthened her resolve to ensure that other young Black students feel supported and have opportunities to succeed. Pheteau’s choice to attend a PWI instead of a historically Black college or university (HBCU) was driven by her desire to navigate diverse environments and prepare for the broader professional world.

Pheteau concludes with advice for future ISU students: be a sponge, absorb knowledge and experiences, but also know when to filter out what doesn’t serve you. She encourages students to create their own spaces if they don’t find existing ones that fit, stressing the importance of pursuing what makes them happy and setting up a foundation for those who follow.

Interview Date



  • Introduction; Pheteau’s high school and gap year experiences: 00:00-03:16
  • Electing to attend ISU: 03:16-05:18
  • On-the-spot admissions process: 05:18-09:52
  • Exploring her identity and finding acceptance on campus: 09:52-12:23
  • Navigating the college experience: 12:23-15:35
  • Selecting geography education as a major; exploring environmental racism: 15:35-19:57
  • Reecia Orzeck, Jill Thomas, and Matt Himley: 19:57-22:58
  • Favorite geography courses, including Geography of Chicago: 22:58-27:31
  • Narrowing major from social science education to geography: 27:48-29:26
  • Realizing she has a natural ability to teach: 29:26-32:33
  • Student teaching experience: 32:33-36:02
  • How ISU’s program prepared her to be a teacher; Giant Traveling Map project: 36:12-39:19
  • Urban Movement dance troupe: 39:19-46:40
  • Staying in touch with Urban Movement alums: 46:40-48:00
  • Greek life: 48:00-49:57
  • Experiencing stereotyping and microagressions: 49:57-53:41
  • Advice for future Redbirds; conclusion: 53:41-56:43

Interview with Nathaline Pheteau, Class of 2017