UW-Eau Claire Alumni

President's Award
2017 Recipients

President's Award: Recognizes outstanding professional and personal achievements and service to UW-Eau Claire.

Mary Laschinger
Mary Laschinger

Mary Laschinger í85, bachelorís degree in business management

Mary Laschinger is the chair and CEO of Veritiv Corp., a leading North American distributor of print, publishing, packaging, facility and logistics solutions. In June 2016, with this Blugold alumna at the helm, Veritiv was named to the Fortune 500 — just two years after the company was established. Laschinger is one of only 21 female CEOs of current Fortune 500 companies.

Laschinger's road to the Fortune 500 began with a UW-Eau Claire on-campus interview that led to a job as a production planner with Kimberly-Clark, another Fortune 500 company. She later held various positions in product management and distribution at Kimberly-Clark and James River Corp. before joining International Paper Co. She was president of International Paper’s xpedx division when she accepted the opportunity to be CEO of what would become Veritiv.

Laschinger, who also will deliver the "Charge to the Class" during commencement ceremonies May 20, says she found value in UW-Eau Claire’s business curriculum and the real-life experience of its faculty.

“If you ask me what’s been the greatest lever in my success, it’s that I’ve been able to surround myself with really great people,” she says, adding, “You don’t have to be the smartest in the room to do what I do. You need to be well-rounded, and I think the business degree does that for you.”

Laschinger encourages new graduates to be willing to change their focus from one of “going up the ladder” to one of going across an organization. She notes, “You can learn a lot more, and long term, it expands your opportunities.”

Elizabeth Willis

Elizabeth Willis

Elizabeth Willis '83, bachelor's degree in English

Elizabeth Willis, who has been described as "one of the most outstanding poets of her generation," is a highly decorated writer who in 2016 was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for her collection titled "Alive: New and Selected Poems." Her publications are extensive and include books, chapbooks, magazine articles, works in anthologies, prose publications and others.

Currently a professor of poetry at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, Willis previously served as the Shapiro-Silverberg professor of creative writing at Wesleyan University. A recent Guggenheim fellow, Willis has held professorships and writing residencies at many colleges and universities and has received numerous writing awards. She holds a doctorate from the State University of New York at Buffalo.

Willis, who grew up in Eau Claire, says she is forever grateful to UW-Eau Claire English faculty members Bruce Taylor, John Hildebrand and Douglas Pearson, now professors emeritus, who helped hone her early writing and encouraged her to pursue a doctorate.

"Poetry is a strange field because making a career as a poet is sort of the opposite of fame and fortune,” Willis says In reflecting on her career as a poet and educator. “I've had a job since I was 16, including several years at J.C. Penney, then in downtown Eau Claire, so it was a great affirmation when a few years after I graduated I received a writing residency and an artists' fellowship — an actual check, modest as it was, for doing the thing I love to do.

"Much later, when I received a Guggenheim Fellowship, and last year when I was a finalist the Pulitzer, it was the same kind of unexpected thrill. But the most rewarding experiences are more personal than that: hearing from a young writer that my work has been meaningful to them, or seeing books and magazines by my own students coming into the world."

View the list of past recipients of this award.