Thursday, August 28, 2014

Saying YES, thinking AND, asking WHAT IF?

UW-Eau Claire 2014 Blugold Breakfast

It’s been an amazing week as our UW-Eau Claire campus community marks the official start to the 2014-15 academic year. From celebrating the many outstanding accomplishments of our faculty and staff at Tuesday’s Blugold Breakfast, to welcoming our new and returning students moving into the residence halls, I’m once again inspired by the excitement and all the promise for the future that fills the air during this time of year on our beautiful campus.

At the Blugold Breakfast, we also took time to think about our future together and how we can move forward confidently, even in the face of significant challenges for higher education, as we approach our centennial and our next century. I shared some thoughts about how I see us growing and evolving as a university, strengthening even more the steadfast commitment to students that permeates our campus culture. I talked about a future in which we are known for (1) saying YES to our students, (2) being an AND university that makes synergistic connections both internally and with our community and the world, and (3) facing our challenges together by daring to ask, “WHAT IF?” (The full text of my Blugold Breakfast state-of-the-university address is available on my website.)

As I discussed on Tuesday, one big “WHAT IF?” has been considered by our Enrollment Management Task Force since that group began its work in January: “WHAT IF we took charge of our enrollment and determined what the size and makeup of our student body should be?” In response to that question, the task force has completed a report with some audacious recommendations around recruiting students and providing them with the help they need to succeed and graduate.

I encourage all faculty and staff to read the Enrollment Management Task Force report, available on my website, and to give some thought to its recommendations. Please watch for details about meetings I will host this fall to discuss the report and our budget situation, and plan to attend and participate.

I also invite you to share with me your “WHAT IF?” ideas for ways our campus community can work together more effectively and efficiently, whether in the office or in the classroom, as we face very real challenges as a tuition-driven university to continue to thrive without burdening our students with more debt. What are your ideas? Let me know by responding via the online survey that is linked from my website. I look forward to hearing from you!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Regent, campus, community support move key projects forward

Thursday was a significant day for UW-Eau Claire as the UW System Board of Regents unanimously reaffirmed support for the Confluence Project and also included funding for much-needed major renovations of Towers residence hall in the 2015-17 capital budget recommendations.

I was especially heartened by the strong community and regent support for the Confluence Project. Eau Claire City Council President Kerry Kincaid, Eau Claire County Board First Vice-Chair Colleen Bates, Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Bob McCoy, Visit Eau Claire Executive Director Linda John, and Student Body President Sam Fish and Vice President Jake Wrasse all made the trip to Oshkosh to talk with regents in advance of their meeting to explain why the Confluence Project is such a win-win for our campus and the greater Eau Claire community.

During the meeting, regents John Behling, Ed Manydeeds and Vice President Regina Millner publicly stated their support for the Confluence Project, acknowledging the years of collaboration involving multiple partners to develop a project that will meet the arts facilities needs of the campus and community; the impressive support expressed by voters in the two April 1 referendums; and the potential economic development impact the project will have on Eau Claire and the Chippewa Valley region.

Meanwhile, the regents’ inclusion of nearly $33 million of program revenue (non-tax dollar) funding for Towers Hall is an essential step in realizing the goals of our Campus 2010-30 Master Plan to expand and improve UW-Eau Claire residence hall capacity. Towers is our largest residence hall — with its nearly 1,300 beds representing nearly one-third of all available residence hall beds on campus — and has never undergone a major renovation since it opened in 1967.

I want to personally thank the regents for their support and also thank all of our campus and community partners who have worked so tirelessly to bring these two projects to the forefront. We will now continue our advocacy with the Governor and legislature to ensure both the Confluence Project and Towers renovation funding are included in the 2015-17 state budget.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

A day of possibilities for campus and community

John Sonnentag speaks as his wife and fellow Blugold alum Carolyn Sonnentag looks on during the Aug. 5 announcement of a $10 million gift of land and money from the Sonnentag Foundation to Blugold Real Estate for the development of a large multipurpose events center to be used by the UW-Eau Claire and the community.
What an outstanding day we had yesterday for UW-Eau Claire and the city of Eau Claire! I had the honor and the privilege of announcing some transformational gifts to the UW-Eau Claire Foundation that open wonderful opportunities for the future of our university and our community.

Behind the gifts are two Blugold alums, John and Carolyn Sonnentag, who met while they were students at UW-Eau Claire in the 1960s. It was here that they fell in love  with each other and with the university. After college they worked together over the years building the family business founded by John’s father, and now County Materials Corporation employs more than 1,200 people in 40 locations across the United States.

At County Materials in Eau Claire, we shared the news that the Sonnentags have committed, through their philanthropic foundation, to donate 21 acres of land the entire current County Materials site on Menomonie Street to Blugold Real Estate, a subsidiary of the UW-Eau Claire Foundation. Their intent is that the land be the location of a major events center, and they also have pledged a large monetary gift in support of the center’s development. (See the full story and a video on the UW-Eau Claire news website.)

The combined value of the Sonnentag Foundation gifts is approximately $10 million the largest outright gift to the UW-Eau Claire Foundation in its nearly 60-year history. I am so very grateful for the generous spirit of these Blugold alumni!

Blugold Real Estate also is working with the Sonnentags and the Fey family, owners of Student Transit Inc. directly adjacent to the County Materials site, to acquire that property and expand the area available for development of what is to be called the County Materials Event and Recreation Complex.

The Sonnentag gifts take us one giant step closer to meeting major goals established by both UW-Eau Claire's master-planning process and the citizen-based Clear Vision planning process for the city of Eau Claire and Eau Claire County. In our long-range planning process, UW-Eau Claire identified the need for a large events venue a need actually discussed for decades by the university.  Also acknowledged during the master-planning process was the fact that we don’t have sufficient land within our borders to accommodate a large facility and the parking necessary to support it. Meanwhile, the Eau Claire Clear Vision process identified larger and improved events facilities as a priority for the city and county.

So, how wonderful it is that the Sonnentags have come forward to help us move toward realizing the vision for a large events venue for our university and community! The concept for the County Materials Event and Recreation Complex includes an approximately 7,500-seat multipurpose event center, as well as recreation and athletics facilities for UW-Eau Claire. In addition to university events, high school commencement ceremonies and other events previously held in the much-too-small Zorn Arena, we will, through our strategic partnership with Visit Eau Claire, make the new facility available for community use to bring in events Eau Claire has not previously been able to attract because of limited facility capacity.

As Visit Eau Claire Executive Director Linda John noted today, the words “large-scale indoor event” have not previously been part of the tourism vocabulary in Eau Claire. Today’s announcement is, in Linda's words, a "game-changer” for Eau Claire and could mean tens of millions of dollars in new visitor spending, which will positively impact restaurants, hotels, attractions and retail outlets, as well as the entire community.

What makes this project all the more exciting is our partnership with the Eau Claire YMCA, with the potential for the Y’s new home to be located on the County Materials site. We are exploring how the university and the YMCA might construct complementary facilities and then establish use agreements whereby Y members and UW-Eau Claire students would have shared use of both facilities.  As I’ve said many times since arriving here just over a year ago, the way to move forward is by working together  and this partnership has much potential for both UW-Eau Claire and the YMCA to achieve more together than either of us can on our own.

As mentioned during our announcement today, additional philanthropy will be needed to develop the major events center, and support from students will be needed to construct new recreation and athletic facilities for this project. And, of course, we have a very important project on the front burner right now, with fundraising actively underway for the Confluence Project community arts center. We are committed to securing all the funding needed for the Confluence Project before launching fundraising for the new multipurpose events center.

Clearly, we have our work cut out for us. But what a promising future is being shaped for our community, with both of these facilities within reach thanks to donors and our many partners. I can't wait to see what we will accomplish together!