Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Ray Cross pays visit to UW-Eau Claire, western Wisconsin

UW System President Ray Cross and Chancellor James Schmidt
met with western Wisconsin legislators and business leaders
for a roundtable discussion July 21 at UW-Eau Claire.
It was a pleasure to welcome UW System President Ray Cross to UW-Eau Claire for the seventh annual Wisconsin Science & Technology Symposium July 21-22.

In addition to addressing the symposium about the importance of university research and development as “one of the state’s most transformative investments,” President Cross spent time meeting with area state legislators and business leaders to learn how UW-Eau Claire and UW System can best serve the citizens and communities of Wisconsin.

It was valuable to have President Cross hear firsthand from our local constituents what they would like the UW to do now and in the future to be a partner in helping the Chippewa Valley and western Wisconsin grow, both economically and culturally.

A number of participants commented on the importance of the Confluence Project to help attract and retain the best available talent from around the state, Upper Midwest region and nation. They asked that the UW be more nimble in identifying and responding to emerging business and industry needs — especially in the rapidly changing fields of technology, finance and health care.

Following the meetings on campus, I joined President Cross, UW System Regent John Behling and geology Professor Kent Syverson for a tour of the Oakdale plant of Smart Sand Inc., a provider of industrial sand primarily serving the oil and gas industry. (I was pleased to meet three Blugolds — two employees and a student intern — at the facility!) Professor Syverson coordinates UW-Eau Claire’s responsible mining initiative, which received a UW System Economic Development Incentive Grant, and his insights into the fast-expanding sand mining industry in Wisconsin were very enlightening to President Cross, Regent Behling and me.

I look forward to hosting President Cross on campus again in the near future.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Gov. Walker announces support for Confluence Project

Governor Scott Walker today voiced his support for the Confluence Project, indicating the state will work with UW-Eau Claire and public and private partners to move the project forward. The governor spoke during a luncheon in Eau Claire hosted by the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce. See Leader-Telegram coverage of the governor’s speech.

This pledge of support from Gov. Walker comes at a key time as the Confluence partners continue their work, and it further carries the momentum for the project, which was boosted following a show of support from voters in city and county referendums in April.

I was pleased to hear the governor cite the innovative partnership behind the project, as it’s clear these kinds of partnerships hold great promise for future economic development across Wisconsin. As I’ve said repeatedly since coming on board at UW-Eau Claire a year ago, the Confluence Project is a model for a new way in which government and private enterprise can work together to achieve things that no single entity can create on its own.

We continue to keep focused on the immediate work before us to ensure that the Confluence Project is included among the Board of Regents recommendations for the state 2015-17 biennial budget, and then seeing that the project makes its way successfully through the ensuing state budget process.

Gov. Walker’s words of support today will go a long way toward helping us achieve our goal of partnering in a community arts center that will serve the university and foster growth for our city and our region for years to come.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Worth the investment: UW-Eau Claire ranks high in ROI

Here we are at that time of year: It feels like we no sooner celebrate with our spring graduates and our incoming students are on the campus doorstep, eager to begin their quest for a Blugold degree.

Both these groups, I’m sure, have the same important question on their minds: Is a UW-Eau Claire degree worth the investment?

 I’m pleased to say that, according to recent rankings by PayScale.com and the non-profit group Educate To Career (ETC), the answer to that question is yes. Combine those rankings with this week’s news about a sizeable increase in the pay gap between those with a college degree and those without, and you can make that a resounding yes.

PayScale.com, in its 2014 College ROI Report, ranks UW-Eau Claire among the top three colleges and universities — public or private — in Wisconsin or Minnesota in annual ROI for students who pay in-state tuition and receive financial aid. Meanwhile, ETC’s College Rankings Index includes UW-Eau Claire among the top schools in the nation (No. 47 among 1,200 schools with more than 1,000 students enrolled) in terms of helping its students improve their earnings and attain quality employment after graduation.

What’s more, a recent UW System report regarding college graduate indebtedness shows UW-Eau Claire grads who took out student loans have the lowest average debt among similar graduates from all UW System universities.

For additional details on these recent rankings, explore the links above and read my opinion piece that appeared in the May 25th Eau Claire Leader-Telegram.

What great news to share with our recent grads and our newest Blugolds!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Starting an important conversation

Events of the past few days have provided me with wider and deeper perspectives into the considerable challenges we face as a university, a community and a country. 

As is often the case at UW-Eau Claire, students have demonstrated their courage and leadership to help our campus undertake difficult discussions about racism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of oppression.

Through their actions, including a sizable protest march, public forum and well-attended Chancellor’s Roundtable, our students have prompted us to look in the mirror and admit we have a problem:  When it comes to our strategic value of equity, diversity and inclusiveness, we have a long way to go.

I am proud to say that our students have paved the way for us to explore new ways to improve our campus climate.  I was impressed by the determination of students who I marched with Wednesday, inspired by their conviction to effect change and illuminated by their insights into a complex issue that is not easily defined or resolved.

We have taken some important first steps on this journey, and I will be working with our students, faculty, staff and others to ensure we not only continue the important conversations begun this week but that we pursue concrete steps that will enable us to make progress toward achieving our goal of making UW-Eau Claire a more diverse, equitable and inclusive campus for all.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Racism on campus: Let's talk

I applaud the recent efforts of many UW-Eau Claire students to start conversations about privilege and prejudice through the “Identity” and “I Too Am Eau Claire" campaigns. I am deeply sorry that part of the reaction to one of these creative and thought-provoking campaigns was an anonymous racist posting. 

Our students are justifiably angry about this posting. I stand with our students and support their initiatives to raise awareness of the demeaning behaviors to which they are routinely subjected — something many majority students have never experienced. I am committed to creating an inclusive and equitable community for all students — one where acts of racism, sexism and homophobia, as well as efforts to stifle discourse, are not welcome. 

I will work for positive change on a personal level and will collaborate with faculty, staff and students to make progress at the institutional level. Accordingly, I will take steps to implement ongoing public campus conversations about equity, diversity and inclusivity at UW-Eau Claire. I invite you to participate in a Chancellor’s Roundtable discussion at noon on Thursday, May 8, in the Council Oak Room of Davies Center to discuss recent incidents, the current state of our campus climate and what we can do together to improve it.

I hope you will join me in this important discussion.

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, uwec.edu/power-of-and, 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.