Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Telling our story: The Power of AND

What an exciting day here at UW-Eau Claire as we officially unveil our new university brand: The Power of AND!

Don't get me wrong: This day is not about announcing a new slogan to slap on our printed materials and Web pages. This is about all of us telling our story in a compelling, authentic way to those who need to hear it. It's about sharing with each other and with prospective students and their families, as well as with others in the region, state and beyond, who we are as a university and what makes this place so special.

There are as many Power of AND stories as there are students, faculty and staff, Blugold alumni and friends of our university. But the common thread through all these wonderful stories is the fact that at UW-Eau Claire, we are successfully following our mission to serve the public good. Our new brand gives us a framework for telling the countless individual stories that, collectively, demonstrate how we provide students with both the learning and personal experiences that prepare them not only for a good job but also for a life of purpose.

There's no time like the present to be more effective at telling our story. As we all well know, changing demographics and other societal factors at play mean it's getting more difficult to be heard by prospective students, the news media and legislators. It's time to better distinguish ourselves, and The Power of AND is how we'll do that.

Many thanks to all Blugolds — students, faculty and staff, alumni, and our many friends and partners in the community — who participated in the many surveys, focus groups and phone interviews and answered questions like "What does it mean to be a Blugold?" "What sets this university apart?" "What are we good at?" "What can we do better?" We listened to what you had to say, and the result is The Power of AND. I think it fits us to a tee!

What do we do now? We think about how we see The Power of AND in our departments, in ourselves, in our fellow students, in our colleagues. Then we use this new platform to audaciously tell our story! Some great AND stories already are posted on our new brand website,, as well as a brand manual with "how to's" for sharing more of them. Go forth and share your extraordinary, expansive, surprising and powerful Blugold stories, and let the world know about UW-Eau Claire's Power of AND!

Monday, April 14, 2014

A spring Homecoming: 40th annual Viennese Ball

From left: Karl Markgraf, director of UW-Eau Claire's Center
for International Education; and Kim and Chancellor James
Schmidt applaud student scholarship recipients announced
during the 40th annual Viennese Ball.
Do we really have to wait a whole year for the next Viennese Ball?

That's what my wife and I were asking each other Sunday morning after enjoying two extraordinary evenings filled with incredible music, dancing, wonderful food and delightful people of all ages.

Simply put, our first Viennese Ball was so much fun that we already are counting down the days until we can enjoy it all over again next year.

I loved the diversity of people that this wonderful event brings together. People of all ages, backgrounds and walks of life came together because of their love for music and dancing.

It was great to see our students all dressed up — they looked amazing in their formal gowns and tuxes. Even more impressive was how ready and willing they were to embrace traditional kinds of dance and music. It was so much fun to watch them!

Chancellor James Schmidt congratulates Bruce Larson, a
decades-long fan, friend and spirited attendee of the Viennese
Ball. Bryce was presented with an Honorary Blugold award
during this year's ball in honor of his longtime support of
the event. A lover of all things German and Austrian, Bruce
attends the Ball every year dressed in full regalia and as
the spitting image of Kaiser Wilhelm. Bruce also has been a
long-time friend of The Singing Statesmen, hosting them
for concerts and other events in St. Paul. Several years ago
he established the Noble Statesmen Scholarship Fund,
which provides scholarships to members of The Singing
Statesmen. He makes a point at each Viennese Ball to spend
time with The Singing Statesmen and to present the
scholarships.  In addition, Bruce has supported other funding
and scholarships through the German American Heritage
Foundation that he established.
During both evenings, we met young alumni who came back to campus for the first time to attend the ball, as well as alumni who have returned to campus every April for decades to enjoy the Viennese Ball. With so many Blugolds together in one place, it felt a lot like a spring Homecoming — though this weekend our Blugold friends were much better dressed than those I met at last fall's Homecoming football game!

It also was nice to find so many people on our campus who have no real ties to our university other than their love of the Viennese Ball. It truly is an event that brings people from near and far.

Congratulations to the young couple who got engaged Saturday night! I'm guessing they will make attending the Viennese Ball a spring tradition after that beautiful proposal.

My thanks to the many, many incredibly talented students and faculty who brought the music to life Friday and Saturday. They had guests waltzing in the grand ballroom, swing dancing to big band music and singing along at the piano bar. They even got me to polka — I was glad I remember how!

The Viennese Ball is yet one more reminder of why UW-Eau Claire is known worldwide for its incredible music program. Our students and faculty truly are amazing musicians who sure know how to put on a show.

Kudos to the late Ada Bors, who had the vision 40 years ago to create this wonderful tradition on our campus, as well as those whose hard work and creativity continue to make the event so special after four decades. I am certain I speak for the thousands of people who enjoy the ball each year when I  say your efforts are greatly appreciated.

And just think, only 363 more days until we get to do it all over again.


Monday, April 7, 2014

Eau Claire Jazz Festival: An outstanding success

Ben Richgruber, Chancellor James Schmidt, Kim Schmidt, John Genskow
Chancellor James Schmidt and his wife, Kim Schmidt, at a
52nd Street venue with Ben Richgruber (far left), UW-Eau Claire
alumnus and executive director of the Eau Claire Regional Arts
Center, and John Genskow (far right), deputy city engineer for
the city of Eau Claire. Both Richgruber and Genskow are
members of the board of directors of Eau Claire Jazz Inc.,
the hosting organization of the Eau Claire Jazz Festival.
This past weekend, my wife and I had the pleasure of attending several outstanding events that were part of the 47th annual Eau Claire Jazz Festival. Joining us were friends who are parents of a UW-Eau Claire music and jazz studies alumnus – what a treat to experience the festival with them. It was clear that the evening brought back many special memories for them, as it did for the many others who return year after year for the event.

We were blown away Friday evening by the amazing talents of college and professional performers alike during the headliner concert at Memorial High School. Headliners Wycliffe Gordon and Byron Stripling wowed the audience, as did UW-Eau Claire’s very own Jazz Ensemble I and the Honors College Big Band, made up of college musicians from the many universities who participated in this year’s clinics and competitions back on campus. Apparently word of the excellent performance traveled quickly, as I’m told they had a sellout crowd for Saturday’s show.

Following the concert, we headed to 52nd Street (actually, a transformed South Barstow Street) in downtown Eau Claire. From the Alumni Jazz Band performance at The Stones Throw to the variety of performances at the eight additional 52nd Street venues, we and more than 1,300 others were treated to a smorgasbord of jazz, from ragtime to blues to acoustic and more.

Beyond all the awe-inspiring performances and the festivities of 52nd Street, another important piece of Jazz Fest is the learning that takes place by music students from colleges, high schools and middle schools from around the Midwest. All day Friday and Saturday, students participated in clinics and workshops (including sessions with the festival’s internationally acclaimed headliners, Gordon and Stripling) and had opportunities to perform with their ensembles and be critiqued by professional musicians. I’m told we had 130 bands participate in this year’s festival — a record number — which translated to more than 3,000 visiting students who got a great introduction to UW-Eau Claire!

Clearly, the showcase of talent this festival provides is a wonderful gift to our community, and the thousands who turn out to learn, perform and enjoy jazz music have a powerful local economic impact as well.

A big congratulations goes out to Robert Baca, professor of music and the festival’s artistic director, and the Eau Claire Jazz Inc. staff, board members and volunteers who put on an impressive festival! And I’m especially proud of the outstanding work of the UW-Eau Claire students who were behind the scenes making it all come together. A special thank you goes to UW-Eau Claire senior marketing major Paige Kachichian, this year’s festival director, whose leadership, along with the hard work of other UW-Eau Claire student interns, ensured the festival’s success. I can’t wait for Jazz Fest 2015!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Voters support Confluence Project

Results from Tuesday’s referendum votes related to the Confluence Project have endorsed the university’s participation as a partner in the project.
We are grateful for the overwhelming support of voters in Eau Claire County and the city of Eau Claire. The results demonstrate our fellow citizens agree the Confluence Project represents a new way of government institutions and private enterprise working together to create something that no single entity could create alone: a first-class arts center that will greatly benefit the community and the university alike.
But it is also important to note that much work lies ahead if this project is to become reality. Typically, a referendum vote is the final word on an issue. That clearly is not the case here.
The referendum results enable the process with our multiple partners to proceed. Next steps include successfully reaching a development agreement with the city; satisfying criteria set forth by the City Council, County Board and UW System Board of Regents for funding commitments; securing support from the Board of Regents, the governor’s office and state legislature; and receiving the millions of dollars in philanthropy needed for construction of the arts center.
Of course, as was the case with the new W.R. Davies Student Center and Centennial Hall, should the arts center receive all necessary funding, we would then undertake the considerable tasks of design and construction.
Since I arrived as chancellor, I have consistently said that I intend to integrate UW-Eau Claire more fully and meaningfully into the community. I am committed to being a strong partner and hope the Confluence Project is one of many productive partnerships to come.
Finally, I would like to acknowledge the engagement of our Student Senate in the Confluence Project referendum process. The Student Senate played a critical role informing the student body about the project, including enabling supporters and opponents alike to present their views, registering fellow students to vote, and encouraging them to cast their ballots on election day. I could not be more proud of the way our student leaders conducted themselves. They made us all proud to be Blugolds!

Friday, February 7, 2014

A special dedication

Facutly, staff, students, alumni and community
members gathered in Centennial Hall Feb. 5
for the new academic building's dedication ceremony.
View more photos from the event.
What a joy this week to formally dedicate Centennial Hall, our sparkling new academic building — the first on campus in more than 30 years. We had a great crowd for the third-floor ceremony (and a great view of lower campus as our scenic backdrop) as we marked this significant moment in the life of UW-Eau Claire. What's more, when you think ahead about the impact of the teaching and learning that will take place there for decades to come, it was a significant moment in the life of our city, our region, our state and our world.

It was a day to reflect a bit on our history as well. We recalled that the date of the ceremony, Feb. 5, also was the date in 1910 when the site on which our campus would be built, between a bend in the Chippewa River and the bluffs of Putnam Park, was selected by Wisconsin's Board of Regents of Normal Schools. In my remarks, I also recalled the words of then Wisconsin Governor Emanuel Philipp when he participated in the 1916 dedication of our first campus building, Schofield Hall:

“We have met here today to dedicate this beautiful building. It has been built by the fathers and mothers and other interested taxpayers in order that you, the sons and daughters of the commonwealth, might have better educational service. It not only benefits you, and yours, but will go on benefitting as long as the walls of this massive building last.”

What important words to repeat. They are a reminder of the common good that is served by our university, and of the sacrifices by the people of our state to make that possible. I was honored to be a part of this week’s celebration of Centennial Hall and what it means for the continuation of UW-Eau Claire’s nearly 100-year tradition of excellence in teaching and learning.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Getting to know Frost collection donor Joan Christopherson Schmidt

Joan Christopherson Schmidt (Miss Chris) during a recent
visit to UW-Eau Claire.

The rare, extensive collection of Robert Frost materials that now are part of UW-Eau Claire's special collections has rightfully generated a lot of media attention in recent weeks.

This wonderful collection includes first-edition books with handwritten notes from the poet, as well as Christmas cards and other personal correspondence from Frost to his friend Frederick "Fritz" Schmidt. The collection will long be enjoyed and treasured by our students, faculty and others with an interest in the respected and beloved American poet.

Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting the dynamic and delightful woman who brought this rare collection to our campus. While we have learned much from her about Fritz and his decades-long friendship with Frost, I wanted to share a bit of what I learned about her during our visit.

Joan Christopherson Schmidt is her full name, but everyone knows her by her TV name from years ago, “Miss Chris.” She is a Wisconsin native who has lived in the Milwaukee area — right across the street from UW-Milwaukee — for decades.

Miss Chris was a true pioneer in children’s television. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, years before Sesame Street came on the horizon, Miss Chris was the star of two Wisconsin Public Television shows for children, "Let’s Talk It Over with Miss Chris" and "Fairy Tales from Around the World."

A talented artist and a dedicated educator, Miss Chris was teaching art to young children in Milwaukee when she met her husband, Fritz Schmidt. The two quickly found that they shared a passion for education and the environment.

Throughout the next several decades, they invested in land simply to preserve it, helped establish the Ice Age Trail and were active in countless other environmental and community initiatives. They also both treasured the books and correspondence from Fritz's longtime friend, Robert Frost.

After Fritz passed away, Miss Chris kept the Frost collection but began thinking about how to best honor her husband and Robert Frost by finding the right home for it.

While selling it to the highest bidder would likely have earned her a substantial amount of money, she knew her husband, also a Wisconsin native, would want the collection to stay in Wisconsin, preferably at a university, where it will be well cared for and used for scholarship. A family friend with ties to UW-Eau Claire suggested she consider our campus. It didn't take long, she says, to realize that her friend was right.  UW-Eau Claire was just the place she was looking for.

It's fitting, Miss Chris says, that her and Fritz's treasured Frost collection's new home is on Wisconsin's most beautiful campus, a place where students and faculty share a commitment to sustainability and a love for nature. She knows the books will be used and appreciated and studied by students and others who share her husband and Frost's passion for nature.

Both her husband and Robert Frost would approve of her choice, she says.

At the age of 83, Miss Chris continues to be active and engaged and passionate about education and nature. Last week, she drove herself from Milwaukee up to Eau Claire in a snowstorm, soldiered through the bitter cold for two days to talk with the media and others about the Frost collection, and then returned on her own to Milwaukee!

I'm thankful I had the chance to spend some time with this remarkable woman during her brief visit. After spirited conversation about everything from the importance of good coffee (she wanted the contact information for my coffee supplier) to her pride in her Scandinavian heritage (including the inn her family has operated for years just north of Wisconsin Dells), to her decision to entrust UW-Eau Claire with her most valued possession, I found her passion for education and nature and life in general to be very inspiring.

Hopefully, Miss Chris will return to our campus again sometime soon to learn more about how we are incorporating the Frost collection into our curriculum and sharing it in other ways with our students, faculty and others. If you have the opportunity, I encourage you to take the time to thank her for entrusting us with this special collection and to learn more about her. She's an impressive and accomplished person with wonderful stories to share.

Below are links to several news stories featuring Miss Chris and the treasure she brought to our campus. I enjoyed reading  and listening to them so I wanted to share them with all of you:

Friday, January 24, 2014

Legislative and executive visit to Madison

Posed for a photo with Kathy Bernier and Dana Wachs before
Governor Walker's State of the State address on Wednesday.
I was honored Wednesday to be the guest of state representatives Kathy Bernier and Dana Wachs at Gov. Scott Walker's State of the State address in the Capitol and reception afterward at the governor's executive residence. Before the address, I hosted a gathering of Blugold alumni and state legislators. We were joined there by Representatives Wachs, Warren Petryk, Chris Danou and Nick Milroy.

This is the first time I've attended a State of the State speech in Wisconsin and witnessed the pageantry associated with the event in the beautiful and impressive state Capitol. It also was an important opportunity for me to hear firsthand Governor Walker's priorities for the coming year and to briefly greet the Governor at the executive residence after the address.

Advocating for UW-Eau Claire in Madison is one of my highest priorities and responsibilities. The State of the State events enabled me to interact with many of our area legislators, as well as to meet other legislators from throughout Wisconsin and to tell them about the important work we're doing here to develop the talent and human capital necessary for Wisconsin to succeed today and in the future.