City Council makes important decision about future of Rehab tavern

I want to share with the campus and our external stakeholders some wonderful news: On Monday night the Menomonie City Council voted to give notice to the owners of the downtown Rehab tavern that it intended to not renew the tavern’s beer and liquor licenses when they are up for renewal next month.

I want to personally thank Mayor Randy Knaack and the entire council for announcing this plan, and I pledge to do whatever is necessary to help ensure that the licenses are not renewed. I expect that the Rehab will request a hearing to contest the denial of its licenses, and I will make sure that our position is explained in detail to the council at that time.

As readers of this blog are aware, in April I raised the issue of the Rehab encouraging underage drinking in its tavern after police issued in excess of 50 citations to patrons for drinking violations. This type of behavior by a business cannot be tolerated at a time when we are implementing a plan at UW-Stout to combat high-risk drinking. There is only so much we can do without the help of the community in this effort.

While much work remains, Monday’s decision by the City Council is an important statement that the community is willing to join with UW-Stout to combat high-risk drinking. 

The Eau Claire Leader-Telegram story on the City Council meeting can be found here.

Rehab_Bar_03 - Copy

A sea of smiles on commencement day; year-end student honors

Few days are more enjoyable on campus than commencement. It never gets old seeing the sea of graduates smiling in Johnson Fieldhouse as they await their walk across the stage to pick up their diploma and start a new phase in their lives.

I also enjoy meeting many of the graduates and their families and friends at the reception after the ceremonies, and it is a privilege for me to have pictures taken as well. These are moments the graduates will cherish forever, and it is a thrill to be part of it.

I will post my entire commencement speech at the end of this blog entry, but I want to mention two people around whom I centered my remarks last Saturday: the late Chancellor Emeritus Charles W. Sorensen and the late first-year UW-Stout student Nicholas Nelson.

I told the audience that Chancellor Emeritus Sorensen, who died in February of complications from a stroke, is a big reason why UW-Stout enjoys such a strong reputation today, why we maintain such a high job placement rate for our graduates and why we are Wisconsin’s Polytechnic University. For 26 years, Chancellor Emeritus Sorensen pushed this university to innovate and to excel, and I believe our graduates could learn some valuable lessons from his life and accomplishments.

I never got the chance to know Nick Nelson, but I met his family from Mondovi. Nick was majoring in computer science-game design when he died in March of complications from muscular dystrophy. Because of the courage Nick displayed through his illness, and because of his enormous affection for UW-Stout, I presented Nick’s family with the first-ever Stouthearted Award during the morning commencement ceremony.

I asked the graduates to consider, when they are confronted with life’s obstacles, how both Chancellor Emeritus Sorensen and Nick Nelson handled adversity: with courage to try to change the world.

I also wanted to say how pleased I am that six of our graduating Army ROTC cadets were able to take the Oath of Office during the morning ceremony. The lengthy standing ovation that these new second lieutenants received from their fellow graduates and the audience was very emotional. More on commencement is available here.

ROTC_03Honoring two special groups of students

In the days leading up to commencement, I had the opportunity to honor two groups of graduates who have excelled: those who participated in the federal McNair Scholars program and those who received the Samuel E. Wood Medallion, a nonacademic leadership award.

The McNair program is intended to help first-generation, limited income and underrepresented students get their degree and prepare for graduate school. I was proud to list the universities that our McNair graduates will be attending next year and their accomplishments.

This was an incredibly impressive group of scholars, and I’m sure each of them will accomplish whatever their goals might be.

Thanks to Sarah Wynn and her McNair staff for all they do, and we were happy to have Kelly Westlund from U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s staff help us celebrate the McNair graduates as well.

The Wood award ceremony holds a special place for me because I received the medallion 40-some years ago during my undergraduate days at UW-Stout. The award honors the life and accomplishments of Sam Wood, who I knew as UW-Stout’s dean of students and adviser to the Stout Student Association. (With Sam’s help, I was able to work with the former state Elections Board to make it easier for students to register to vote.)

The medallion means so much to me that I keep it where I can see it before going to work each morning. Seeing the medallion reminds me to try to lead like Sam Wood and to honor the “code of leadership” that signifies the medallion honorees.

Finally, I want to wish our students, faculty, staff, alumni and newest alumni — our 1,379 graduates— a great summer. I hope you have time to engage in the activities that you enjoy and to relax a little as well.

SamuelWoodCommencement speech transcript

Greetings on this great day to graduates, their families and friends, my colleagues on stage and in the audience — and everyone else who is celebrating with us.

It is truly an honor and a pleasure to recognize the accomplishments of so many talented individuals. This day is all about the graduates, those in front of me in their gowns and mortar boards.

But we all know it takes a lot of support for them to get to this point in their lives. So I would like to recognize the parents, grandparents and other family members who traveled here to see these cherished diplomas being handed out. Could all of these family members please stand up to be recognized? Thank you.

I also want to take a moment, in advance, to wish all the mothers in the audience a very special and happy Mother’s Day. Everyone knows how important mothers are in the lives of their children and the hard work, tears and patience it takes to be a good mother these days. I hope all mothers have a special day May 13th.

Before we get to the main event — handing out diplomas — I’d like to tell you about two very special people who passed away recently.

First, there’s Charles W. Sorensen. He was chancellor here for 26 years until 2014, the longest-serving chancellor in our 127-year history. He died Feb. 23 at age 77 at his home in Florida.

Now, I know going back even to my days as an undergraduate here, that students may not know or even care who the chancellor is. But you should know a little about Chuck Sorensen.

He’s a big reason why UW-Stout is a widely respected university today, why we have an incredible 98.2 percent employment rate for graduates and why we’re known as Wisconsin’s only Polytechnic University.

In fact, Chuck Sorensen’s leadership is why UW-Stout:

  • Has half of our 49 undergraduate majors. Many of you are graduating from programs that didn’t exist before Chuck became chancellor. Without him, maybe you wouldn’t have come here, and wouldn’t that have been shame?
  • He’s why we have a laptop computer program. The laptop computers all students receive as freshmen and our digital learning environment began under Chuck in 2001.
  • He’s a big reason why we won the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award also in 2001, the only four-year university in the country to do so.
  • He’s why our physical campus is a special place to learn and live. New buildings and renovations under Chuck included Jarvis Hall, the student center, Red Cedar Hall, the football stadium, Harvey Hall, Millennium Hall and many more. Also, the two north-south pedestrian malls were built under him. How many times have you used those?

Each one of you has benefited from his leadership, from his life, even though you are the first graduating class in 26 years who likely did not have him as your chancellor during any of your time here.

Chuck wasn’t just a great and innovative chancellor — and I know because I worked under him for many years — but a great example of how education can change a life. He grew up poor and was the first in his family to earn a college degree. He almost didn’t go to college but went on to earn master’s and doctorate degrees.

In his final commencement speech as UW-Stout chancellor nearly five years ago, he spoke from experience when he said: “Dare to dream. Dare to trust in yourself. Dare to believe in your ability to reach beyond the here and now.”

Those words continue to resonate today, and all of us would do well to take them to heart.

Chuck Sorensen would have been proud of a young man named Nicholas “Nick” Nelson — who truly did as Chuck said — “believe in his ability to reach beyond the here and now.”

At age 5, Nick was diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. At age 9, he went into a wheelchair.

But that didn’t stop Nick from dreaming and inspiring others. Despite physical limitations and many medical challenges, he graduated with honors in 2017 from nearby Mondovi High School.

Nick loved to play video games. His dream was to design them, so he set his sights on the computer science-game design program at UW-Stout. When he received his acceptance letter, his father John said “It put the biggest smile on his face we’d ever seen.”

But before classes even began last fall, Nick’s appendix ruptured. He spent several months in the hospital and had to withdraw from classes. Undaunted, he signed up for 13 credits this semester and began attending classes, with the help of his dad at his side.

In March, however, Nick’s chronically weak heart began to fail. Surrounded by his family at their home, he died March 28 — a little less than six weeks ago. He was 19 years old.

In those final days of his life, when he wished he could have been in his cyber ethics or government classes, he still was working on his assignments in bed — even though he knew he wouldn’t live much longer.

When asked about his greatest accomplishment in life. He said, “Going to Stout.”

Nick was buried in a Blue Devils sweatshirt.

His motto was “Born with a physical disability. Playing life in hard mode.” He believed that he hadn’t truly beaten a video game until he’d beaten it at the highest level.

The true heart of Nick Nelson was strong as nails. He faced life’s toughest challenges and didn’t complain. He embraced the challenge. Even with his physical limitations, he thought of others. He did community service and once even offered his beloved GameBoy to the victims of a fire.

He truly enriched the lives of everyone around him, in part fulfilling a prophecy of sorts. When Nick was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, his dad visited a chaplain. The chaplain said, “Maybe Nick’s reason for being here is to inspire other people.”

How true those words turned out to be. Nick’s impact was great. I can attest to that when I saw the long line of people who attended his wake.

Nick’s parents, John and Sheila, sister and his grandparents are with us today. I’d like to them to stand …

One of the many pleasures a Chancellor has is to recognize students for their academic performance.  It is my pleasure to present a first-ever recognition to Nick Nelson for the heart he demonstrated in his academic pursuits at UW-Stout.  We are presenting Nick with a newly minted “Stouthearted Award” posthumously.  Let me read the certificate to you as Nick’s parents come to the stage.

John and Sheila plan to establish a scholarship in Nick’s name. If you are interested in contributing to this fund, please let Vice Chancellor Mark Parsons know during the reception that follows today’s ceremony. Mark is the Director of the Stout University Foundation.

Nick received support at UW-Stout from our amazing staff and students at ASPIRE-Student Support Services and Disability Services. He was a special friend to the men’s and women’s club volleyball teams and women’s varsity volleyball team.

Today, as you leave this hall, I hope that you will think about Chuck Sorensen and Nick Nelson. Consider how valuable their lives were, albeit in very different ways. But there is no template for life, is there?

Ancient Greek philosopher Epictetus said: “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”

How will you react to the opportunities and obstacles in your life in the years to come? Will you be courageous enough to try to change the world, like Chuck and Nick?

How will you use your college diploma? You’ve been exposed to many people and ideas here at UW-Stout. Leverage this experience. Listen to your colleagues and peers carefully, accepting their differences and respecting their points of view.

Share your ideas and thoughts civilly and professionally. Epictetus also said, “You have two ears and one mouth, so you should listen twice as much as you talk.”

Be a Servant Leader. James Hunter, author of the book “The Servant,” said, “Patience, kindness, humility, selflessness, respectfulness, forgiveness, honesty and commitment. These character-building blocks, or habits, must be developed and matured if we are to become successful leaders who will stand the test of time.”

Finally, be grateful for others in your life. Be grateful for people like Chuck Sorensen and Nick Nelson — who dared to dream big and dared to take on life in hard mode, at the highest levels.

My final thought involves a little exercise intended to recognize all the people who were involved in helping you get to this point in your lives. I have found this exercise useful in showing our graduates an important lesson that has been reinforced for me — that every student who earns a diploma gets to commencement with the assistance of a great many people.

  • Would all of the graduates here today who received some form of financial aid, a grant, or loan, or scholarship please rise and stay standing?
  • Would all of the graduates present who received crucial help or encouragements from a member of the faculty, staff, coach, advisor or other member of the UW-Stout community please stand and remain standing?
  • Would all of the graduates who benefited by studying with a friend or fellow student or had a tutor, please rise and stay standing?
  • Would all of the graduates who received help and encouragement from their parents or another family member or close friend please rise?

As the Roman philosopher Cicero once stated: “A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all the other virtues.”

You, like me, were blessed to have the assistance, generosity, encouragement and contributions of others.  We couldn’t have achieved what we do without our faculty and staff, family, friends and colleagues.  Let’s take the time once again to thank them for their important impacts on our lives [

For all of us at UW-Stout, it truly is an honor to share this moment with you. I can’t tell you how much it means to me personally.

On behalf of the UW-System Board of Regents and UW-Stout’s faculty, staff, and fellow students, I extend our sincere congratulations to you and offer our best wishes as you take the first steps on your next exciting journey!

Finally, I would like to invite our graduates to return often. We would love to have you check in with us. We take great pride in your accomplishments, and we can learn from your experiences too!

Thank you.


Great performances by our students: Choirs, jazz groups deliver memorable events

I love this time of year because the semester crescendos in a very exciting way right up to commencement with many student projects and related events to take in and enjoy.

This past weekend I was able to be part of two great student performing arts events. The first was UW-Stout’s Chamber Choir and Symphonic Singers providing the outstanding concert “A Matter of Time.” The event was held in a perfect acoustic setting at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Menomonie. Conducted by Jerry Hui, director of UW-Stout choral activities, with pianist Michaela Gifford, music director for University Theatre, the singing was spectacular and captivating.

Kudos to these student performers for their terrific singing. More on this performance is available here.


Jazz performers give audience a treat

The second event was Jazz from Harvey featuring our Jazz Embers combo and the Blue Devil Jazz Orchestra under the direction of Aaron M. Durst. Aaron is an associate professor at UW-Stout and part of the Jazz Embers combo — and he thrilled the audience with his contributions on the soprano saxophone.

Student membership in the Jazz Orchestra has grown significantly over the past few years, and they sounded fantastic in our wonderful and recently remodeled Harvey Hall Theatre.

Congratulations to these student musicians for providing the audience with a professional level experience. More on this performance is available here.

My wife, Debbie, and I were thrilled to enjoy both special performing arts events.

Eleva-Strum students learn manufacturing skills

On Monday I participated in the Eleva-Strum school district’s open house. The event featured career and technology education instructor Craig Cegielski’s enterprise lab, which is titled Cardinal Manufacturing. Students manufacture real products purchased and used by area industries.

Craig, a 1998 UW-Stout graduate, has motivated his students to learn and engage in a wide range of skill development activities that prepare them well for the world of work. It is a best practice in K-12 education, and it was gratifying to see community members turn out in large numbers to support Craig and his students at the open house, which raised funds to support Cardinal Manufacturing.

State Rep. Warren Petryk and retired Green Bay Packer Gilbert Brown were also on hand to support Craig and his exemplary work at Eleva-Strum school district.


Helping spread the word about fab labs

Finally, I joined UW System President Ray Cross and officials from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.  Tuesday morning at the Altoona school district to help celebrate the district receiving a $25,000 grant from the state to help support is fabrication laboratory, or fab lab.

The grant was part of $500,000 awarded statewide by WEDC to encourage greater participation in fab lab technology in local school districts.

I am proud that UW-Stout has been a leader in promoting the use of fab labs through our Discovery Center. I took the opportunity to speak on the importance of fab labs across Wisconsin and our efforts at UW-Stout to help school districts incorporate this technology into their curriculum. More on the grants is available here.



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.