End of academic year, with commencement and honors, is an exciting and inspiring time

One of the most exciting aspects of this time of year for a chancellor is the opportunity I have to meet students who have excelled academically and are either graduating or very close to it. This week I had the chance to help recognize the 2018 graduates of our Honors College as well as attend the celebration banquet for our fantastic Multicultural Student Services office.

Bestow the stole

On Monday night I joined Professor Chris Ferguson, director of the Honors College, to participate in the handing out of stoles that each college graduate will wear Saturday, May 5, during their respective commencement exercises.

In my remarks, I pointed out the importance that our faculty mentors played in the success these Honors College graduates had in the classroom, as well as the support the students received from their family and friends. This support theme is something I always expound upon during my commencement address. I also commented that I find being in the company of honors students enjoyable because they really are extraordinary and, “They have a true spirit of adventure and a drive to excel and challenge themselves in astonishing ways.” More on the Honors College is available here.

Persistence to power

Tuesday night I had the privilege of speaking at the 35th annual spring banquet sponsored by the Multicultural Student Services office. During my welcome, I actually thanked those in attendance for the inspiration and energy that I gained by attending the event, adding, “Your steadfast focus on your goal to complete your degree and the persistence you have exhibited overcoming obstacles to get to commencement day is both inspiring and energizing.”

I also told the attendees that I found inspiration in a quotation from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”

I also found inspiration in the graduate speaker, Marcus Lewis, who is a candidate for a doctoral degree in career and technical education. Marcus expounded on the theme of persistence and emphasized the value in constantly striving to improve oneself.

The testimonials from the students who talked about “who we are” reminded me of the tremendous challenges that some of our students face to achieve their goals, including earning a college degree.

I want thank Barb Miller, MSS director, Vickie Sanchez, student services coordinator, and the entire office staff and participating students for putting together such an inspirational event. More on the Multicultural Student Services office is available here.


Commencement on May 5

Finally, I would like to make my semiannual plea for as many of our faculty and staff to attend one (or all!) of the three commencement exercises we will hold Saturday, May 5. I believe it is vitally important that our graduates see the faculty and staff they interacted with during their time on campus at this very special day for them.

Those who attend the 9:30 a.m. ceremony will see, for the first time, six of our ROTC graduates given their oath after receiving their degrees. We also will see the first graduates in our mechanical engineering program receive their diplomas, and it will mark the last time Loretta Thielman, a professor in the mathematics, statistics and computer science department, will carry the mace at the head of the processional into Johnson Fieldhouse. More on commencement is available here.



Community needs to help UW-Stout address high-risk drinking

Few things are harder for a chancellor to address than the negative effects on our students of high-risk drinking. UW-Stout has developed several initiatives, led by efforts from our Dean of Students Sandi Scott and the Chancellor’s Coalition on Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse. 

I believe we have made an impact in this area and our efforts will continue, including the Knock and Talk event in the fall aimed at connecting with students who are of legal drinking age.

But we need community partners to help us, and that includes those who make their living off the sale of alcohol. As a Menomonie resident, I can attest that the great majority of those in the hospitality industry take their alcohol sale policy very seriously and act responsibly. However, that sadly is not the case with all establishments.

I recently was notified of one situation that I find particularly egregious and want to bring it to the campus’ attention. The night of April 12, officers from our University Police Department, the Menomonie Police Department and Dunn County Sheriff’s Department entered the Rehab bar, 631 S. Broadway St., on a tip of underage drinking activity. What they found was revolting: More than 50 citations were issued to people under age who were drinking in the bar.

I can’t tell you how disappointed I was when I learned of this. It is incomprehensible to me how responsible tavern owners could allow this to happen on their premises. It also calls into question the commitment of some of our community partners to ensuring that all applicable alcohol laws and ordinances are followed.

The university has a responsibility to help our students avoid high-risk drinking, along with illegal drug use. Our efforts are encapsulated in the 2017-18 High Risk Drinking/AOD Action Plan administered by the Dean of Students.

But no office or individual can do much in this area without the cooperation of the greater community, and that includes those who profit from the sale of alcohol. I certainly hope that what happened at the Rehab on April 12 serves as a wake-up call for that establishment and any others inclined to serve alcohol to minors.

Inspiring weekend: A delightful musical, unique fashion show and very special student

This past weekend was Family Weekend, which is always a great time to spend on campus. I had the opportunity to see our students’ great work and progress on projects as well as meet with family members on campus.

In addition, my wife, Debbie, and I were able to see the opener for University Theatre’s “Big Fish,” a musical centered around the relationship between Edward Bloom, a traveling salesman, and his adult son, Will, who looks for what is behind his father’s tall stories.

The music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa are based on the novel by Daniel Wallace. This play was well choreographed. The wonderful sets were ingeniously designed. I was spellbound by the singing, acting and orchestral performances of our students.

The play runs through Saturday, April 14, and I recommend it with two thumbs up. More information is available here.

"Big Fish" the Musical

Fashion Without Fabric 

Debbie and I also attended the Fashion Without Fabric show put on by School of Art and Design students. Roughly 200 of these students employ creativity to produce unique fashions using any material other than fabric that conveys a topic or theme for the show. With this year’s theme “Bodies of Work,” designs were based on the art of 27 contemporary sculptors.

Students’ designs were amazing and incorporated materials that included coffee filters, balloons, pop can tops, videotape, plastic spoons, corrugated fiberboard and vinyl records to name a few. The students’ work was very innovative, inspiring and entertaining.

Fashion Without Fabric

Nick Nelson 

At the end of March, we learned that one of our freshmen aspiring to graduate with a degree in computer science-game design and development, Nicholas “Nick” Nelson, 19, lost his battle March 28 with Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

Nick was an honors graduate of Mondovi High School and was excited to be at UW-Stout.

Debbie and I attended Nick’s visitation and were very inspired by the large turnout celebrating his life. It was evident that Nick enjoyed the loving support of his family throughout. He had an incredible zest for life and a resolute determination to overcome all the obstacles he faced.

In his short time with us he inspired many people and exemplified a positive outlook on life, despite the roadblocks he faced. It was inspiring to learn more about Nick from his parents, grandparents and others who knew him.

Nick’s parents are extremely grateful that he had a chance to come to UW-Stout and expressed their appreciation for our welcoming staff, especially members of the men’s and women’s volleyball club teams, ASPIRE-Student Support Services and Disability Services.

I was proud to hear Nick’s father, John, express his thankfulness that our staff “adopted Nick” while he was here. I’m genuinely grateful for that as well.

An obituary for Nick is available here.

Great discussion with legislators, Regents; Civil Liberties Symposium coming up; golf partnership formed

I had the pleasure Monday of discussing UW-Stout and higher education issues in Wisconsin with a group of legislators from western Wisconsin and two UW System Board of Regents members during a lunch sponsored by UW-Stout, UW-Eau Claire and UW-River Falls.

The annual event rotates among the three campuses, and this year it was held at the UW-Eau Claire Davies Center. The three chancellors highlighted developments and accomplishments on their campuses over the last year and drew attention to remaining challenges.

I took the opportunity to thank the legislators for approving a 4 percent pay increase for our employees in 2018-19, but I also emphasized the need for continued increases in our salary levels across all employee groups because our salaries lag behind our peers.

Attending were state senators Terry Moulton, a Republican who is retiring, and Democrat Janet Bewley, as well as four state representatives, Republicans Kathy Bernier, Rob Summerfield and Shannon Zimmerman and Democrat Dana Wachs. Regents President John Behling attended, as did newly appointed Regent Jason Plante from Eau Claire.

I appreciated UW-Eau Claire Chancellor Jim Schmidt’s hospitality and the opportunity for a great discussion. The event will be hosted by UW-River Falls next year.


Symposium to highlight freedom of expression, civil discourse

There is a lot of talk these days on college campuses about freedom of expression. UW-Stout will be in the spotlight Wednesday and Thursday on this issue as our Center for the Study of Institutions and Innovation holds its first Civil Liberties Symposium to encourage civil discourse on sensitive topics.

The center, led by Professor Tim Shiell, will sponsor eight sessions and three keynote speeches on campus. The aim of the symposium, as well as the center, is to bring people with a variety of backgrounds and viewpoints together to debate important topics in a civil manner.

This is a goal I fully support and, frankly, a quality I find lacking in society today. A list of speeches and sessions is available here.  More information on the event is available here. 

Partnership formed with local golf course

I was privileged last week to join Rajiv Lall, managing partner of the Tanglewood Greens golf course in Menomonie, to sign memorandums of understanding aimed at forming a mutually beneficial partnership between the campus and the golf course.

The agreement we signed says: “This is the beginning of a dialogue and not the end of the potential future outcomes.”

The areas where we and the golf course will explore projects include research, education, internships and work experience, events management and a “living laboratory” for soils analysis, turf management, etc.

The partnership will be very beneficial for our golf enterprise management bachelor’s program and other programs as well.

I want to thank Rajiv, who owns Vets Plus with his wife, Swati Lall, for cooperating so well with us on this endeavor. The Lalls have been generous supporters of UW-Stout in the past, and I welcome this new partnership.

Liberal arts an important part of a polytechnic university education

Anyone following higher education issues in Wisconsin is by now familiar with the controversial proposal at UW-Stevens Point to eliminate 13 humanities and social science majors, including English, history and political science, because of declining enrollment and a budget deficit. The administration also wants to add or expand 16 majors in science, technology and other fields.

My intention here is not to comment on what UW-Stevens Point administrators have proposed; it is hard enough being a chancellor of a UW campus these days without having to worry about colleagues weighing in on what I might have proposed here.

However, the debate swirling around the UW-Stevens Point proposal — and a similar one earlier at UW-Superior — has raised questions about the value of the liberal arts on campuses that are trying to align their programs with shifting employer demands. In fact, some faculty members have asked me to state my position on where a liberal arts education fits into a polytechnic university. I’d be happy to oblige.

First, I’d like to point to a section of my last commencement speech, delivered Dec. 16. I said: “One of the many misconceptions about polytechnic universities, at least in areas like the Midwest where they are a rarity, is that we are some type of glorified technical college. I’m a former technical college president, and I’m here to tell you that UW-Stout is not a glorified technical college. We are a regional university that offers a comprehensive curriculum in many fields, including the liberal arts. In fact, one of the best-kept secrets about UW-Stout is that we have the largest arts program in the entire state. Our students graduate with a well-rounded education; we just make sure there is an applied learning aspect to how we go about our business — and that they get a good-paying and challenging job once they graduate.”

Furthermore, we would be doing an extreme disservice to our graduates — and the employers who seek them for their businesses and industries — if we did not ensure that our students leave UW-Stout with a solid foundation in the liberal arts, which help develop the so-called “soft skills” or “essential skills” so necessary in today’s workplaces such as critical thinking, communication, creativity and the ability to work collaboratively to solve problems.

In fact, Atlantic magazine in a recent article called for a new educational hybrid that blends liberal arts education and technical education. I would argue that we already do that at UW-Stout, and we will continue as long as I am chancellor.

Our mission statement refers to UW-Stout as a “comprehensive polytechnic university” that uses a variety of approaches, including “humanistic understanding,” to educate our students. I believe we can’t do that without the liberal arts.

WACTE Conference, ATEA Conference participation

On March 16, I attended the Wisconsin Association for Career and Technical Education annual professional development conference. WACTE includes more than 600 teachers, counselors, school administrators, teacher educators, support staff and business/industry partners who promote career and technical education.

I served on the CTE Executives Panel to discuss “accelerating partnerships in CTE.” The purpose was to recognize that demand for CTE graduates continues to grow and to explore ways educational institutions can engage in effective partnerships to meet this growing demand.

Many effective partnerships are underway, and the discussions identified new opportunities for partnerships and ways to eliminate barriers to partnerships. Also serving on the panel were Bryan Albrecht, Gateway Technical College president, and Bethany Ormseth, LakeView Technology Academy principal. Paul Gabriel, executive director of the Wisconsin Technical College System Foundation, facilitated the panel.

On March 21-23, UW-Stout co-hosted the American Technical Education Association’s 55th national conference at Gateway Technical College in Kenosha. I was proud to serve as emcee for the award dinner, introducing several speakers, including: Keith Simpson, national education director for FESTO Didactic Inc.; Morna Foy, WTCS president; Rebecca Kleefisch, lieutenant governor; and Winnie Tu, business administration director for Foxconn Technology Group.

I also had the pleasure of serving on another panel regarding Pathways and Partnership that included: Clark Coco, dean of Washburn Tech, Kansas; Ormseth; and Al Bunshaft, senior vice president of Dassault Systems Americas Corp. The panel was moderated by Jaime Spaciel, Career Pathways and Program Effectiveness director at Gateway Technical College.

Some of our CTE professors also were on hand, including Barb Bauer and Sylvia Tiala. UW-Stout students Anna Stamschror, Erik Olson and Derek Doescher also attended.


This photo was taken at the ATEA 55th National Conference and includes (from left to right) Bryan Albrecht (Gateway Technical College President), Bob Meyer, Barb Bauer, Anne Stamschror (front row), Eric Olson, Derek Doescher, and Sylvia Tiala.   


Faculty Senate held fitting tribute to Chancellor Emeritus Sorensen

Career Conference impressive; Rube Goldberg always fun; happy spring break 

I’d like to express my appreciation for the efforts of our Faculty Senate on Wednesday to honor the memory and achievements of the late Chancellor Emeritus Charles W. Sorensen. It was a deeply touching event, which included a moment of silence as well as time for those in the audience to share their stories of working with the man who served as chancellor for 26 years.

I had a chance to talk about the impact he had on the university’s growth and improvements throughout his administration. The words that came up often during the ceremony were “vision” and “drive.”

It certainly was my perception that Chancellor Emeritus Sorensen had a keen vision for where he wanted UW-Stout to go, and he was driven to achieve that vision.

The Faculty Senate event, chaired by Petre “Nelu” Ghenciu, was a fitting tribute.

I’d like to thank everyone who participated. More information on the event is available here 


Spring Career Conference a total success  

It’s hard for me to leave the semiannual Career Conference that our incredible staff at the Career Services office puts on in the Multipurpose Room of Johnson Fieldhouse. That’s because I keep running into alumni who want to talk about their experience as students and how that translated into a satisfying career after graduation.

I spent quite a bit of time Wednesday, Feb. 28, at the second day of the Spring Career Conference and was pleased to see a lot of our exceptional partners there: Greenheck, Cobblestone Hotel and Suites, Sleep Number beds, Market & Johnson and Menards, just to name a few. The conference is a great way to match our job-ready graduates with an employer, either for a co-op or a full-time job. The only complaint I ever hear is that employers wish we could send more graduates their way.

Erin Oman, talent acquisition program manager for Sleep Number, said she couldn’t be happier with the Career Conference and how it was organized. “The students are amazing, and the Career Services employees are amazing,” she said, adding that the UW-Stout conferences are the best ones she attends each year. “This is my favorite,” she said.

I love to hear those words, and I would like to thank Career Services Director Bryan Barts and his staff for a great two-day event. More information on the conference is available here 


Rube Goldberg event teaches important skills 

As an engineer I really enjoy attending the annual Rube Goldberg contest on campus. High school teams from around the region attend the technology and engineering challenge to create machines that are intended to use the most steps possible to accomplish simple procedures.

I attended the event last Friday in the Memorial Student Center and watched the teams fashion contraptions to pour a bowl of cereal.

The teams are judged on creativity and functionality, and the participants have a lot of fun while learning valuable math, technology and engineering skills. Congratulations to Elk Mound High School, which won this year’s contest. More information is available here 


Have a great spring break 

Finally, I want to wish our students and employees a great spring break. For those of you who are traveling, I hope you stay safe and enjoy your time away from campus.

I intend to be away from campus most of the week and recharge my batteries because the pace of activities picks up considerably as we head to commencement May 5.

SkillsUSA students impressive; new state senator visits campus

For 35 years, UW-Stout has been hosting the Regional SkillsUSA competition, and I can’t tell you how impressed I was by the talent and ingenuity I saw on display last week as 380 students from high schools across Wisconsin came to campus.

The competition is sponsored by the College of Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Management and involved 75 of our students and 25 faculty and staff volunteers. Brian Finder, a professor in the operations and management department, is the glue that holds the event together.

A new competition this year involved students using remotely controlled robotic vehicles to search a simulated building for artificial ordnance. The course was built by a UW-Stout student, majoring in mechanical engineering, and his father.

SkillsUSA is intended to help participants get career information as well as learn about technology and develop leadership and technical skills.

As an engineer myself, I really enjoyed visiting with the students and seeing them getting even more excited about the STEM fields. It was great seeing a longtime colleague and alumnus, Brent Kindred, the technology and engineering education consultant at the state Department of Education. Brent was back at UW-Stout to participate in the event as the SkillsUSA Wisconsin executive director.

More information about the SkillsUSA is available here.


We welcomed Sen. Schachtner to campus for the first time 

Last Monday, I had the pleasure of welcoming our new state senator, Patty Schachtner, to campus for the first time since her election in January. She replaces Sheila Harsdorf, who is now secretary of the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

Sen. Schachtner, who also is on the Somerset school board, met with the Stout Student Association, our governance leaders and my Cabinet, and I was able to spend a half hour with her. I was very impressed by her willingness to dive right into the important higher education issues in Wisconsin, especially our need for increased salaries for our faculty and staff and more operational and bonding flexibilities.

I also am pleased that Sen. Schachtner has secured a seat on the state Senate’s higher education committee, which former Sen. Harsdorf chaired for many years.  I look forward to working closely with Sen. Schachtner in the years to come.