Chronicling the sustainable forestry practices of the Menominee Indians. Studying the impact of Super Bowl ads on a company’s success. Traveling to Finland to write for an international journal.
At most universities, these would be experiences reserved for junior- or senior-level undergraduate students or graduate teaching assistants. However, over the past 10 years at UW-Eau Claire, these opportunities — and others in virtually all disciplines represented at the university — have been the reality for nearly 200 undergraduate students selected for the Blugold Fellowship program.
Each year since 1998, a group of talented incoming UW-Eau Claire freshmen have been awarded the prestigious Blugold Fellowship, which provides the opportunity to assist a faculty member on a research project. Students selected for the fellowship receive a $1,000 scholarship and, for their work as faculty research assistants, a $1,200 stipend. The award is renewable in the student’s sophomore year.
Kathleen Sahlhoff, UW-Eau Claire’s director of financial aid, was among those who initiated the Blugold Fellowship program in the late 1990s. The program, Sahlhoff said, was created as a way to attract bright students to UW-Eau Claire and help them succeed at the university by offering them the chance to participate in research early in their college career. That research participation provides the students with relevant work experience and an early connection with a faculty member — key ingredients to success as an undergraduate, she said.
“What we know is that students who have on-campus work experience of less than 20 hours a week get better GPAs than those who don’t work at all, and students who connect with someone on campus and feel engaged have higher retention levels,” Sahlhoff said. Matthew Evans, Blugold Fellowship program director, also stressed the value of the fellowship’s work experience and faculty connection components.
“The fellowship allows students to have a job doing something related to their education, and it allows them to form a professional connection with a faculty member very early in their college career,” he said. “Such a connection usually doesn’t happen until a student’s junior or senior year.”
The Blugold Fellowship has been successful in attracting talented students to the university, Evans said, noting that 85 percent of accepted prospective freshmen offered the fellowship choose to attend UW-Eau Claire. The minimum ACT score among incoming Blugold Fellows has been 27, and fellows rank academically in the top 15 percent of their high school graduating classes, he said.
Blugold Fellows agree that the fellowship enhances their undergraduate experience and is a determining factor in the decision to attend UW-Eau Claire. “The fact that I got the fellowship was the reason I chose UW-Eau Claire,” said Jasmine Wiley, a senior pursuing a double major in biology and American Indian studies.
During and after her fellowship, Wiley has worked with Richard St. Germaine, professor of history and an American Indian studies faculty member, on research chronicling the sustainable forestry practices of Wisconsin’s Menominee Indian tribe. In spring 2008 she presented the research at UW-Eau Claire’s Student Research Day, and this April she presented at the National Conference of Undergraduate Research in La Crosse.
Last August, because of her work with the tribe, Wiley was invited to the Menominee annual powwow, which was a special celebration of the tribe’s sustainability practices. There she was asked to participate in the event’s honor dance.
“It was a great honor to me,” Wiley said. “I’m still completely floored that they invited me to be there.”
Wiley said one of the most important benefits of her Blugold Fellowship has been the connection with her faculty mentor, to whom she has been able to go for guidance on academic issues beyond those connected to her research.
“I have a faculty member to talk with about other academic issues,” she said. “To have that familiar face in one of my departments has been really, really nice.”
St. Germaine had worked previously with undergraduates on various research projects, but his work with Wiley was his first experience as a Blugold Fellow faculty mentor. He said he’s been “delighted by the process and results,” adding, “I was fortunate to have teamed up with someone as talented, ambitious and steady as Jasmine Wiley.
“It strengthens my hope for young people that they too will have the interest, drive and work ethic that are required to undertake this level of research on a topic of value at such an early time in their undergraduate program,” St. Germaine said.
For senior marketing major Dan Rozumalski, research involvement both during and following his Blugold Fellowship has been a way to develop confidence and important skills for a future in the work force and possibly graduate school.
As a freshman, working on Super Bowl advertising research with management and marketing professor Chuck Tomkovick helped him get connected on the UW-Eau Claire campus.
“I’m not one to get involved easily in campus organizations,” Rozumalski said. “A lot of what you can get through campus organizations, I got through the Blugold Fellowship.”
Like Wiley, Rozumalski launched what has turned out to be a long-term research stint by becoming a Blugold Fellow. Each year he has worked with Tomkovick and Rama Yelkur, associate professor of management and marketing, on a different aspect of their Super Bowl advertising research.
Rozumalski said improved presentation skills have been one result of his research experiences. As a freshman he led a team of junior and senior marketing students in coding Super Bowl ads, and now he directs new Blugold Fellows
as they join the research team.
He also has presented research findings at professional conferences. Last November he presented at the annual conference of the Society for Marketing Advances in St. Petersburg, Fla. In March he presented at the Marketing Management Association’s conference in Chicago.
“It was exciting — everybody there was already in grad school or were already professors, and I was the only undergrad there,” Rozumalski said of his SMA presentation, adding that conference attendees were impressed after hearing his presentation and learning he was an undergraduate.
Tomkovick, who has mentored five Blugold Fellows over the past decade, said the fellowship program accelerates students’ academic growth and personal development.
“Plus, they routinely get a taste of success with their research work, which fuels further scholarship and aids in obtaining high-quality employment or entrance to grad school,” Tomkovick said.
UW-Eau Claire alumni who are former Blugold Fellows say their fellowships still have an impact on their lives today.
Dawn (Holte) Pachniak, a 2004 music education graduate, worked as the assistant editor of the International Tuba and Euphonium Association Journal under music professor Jerry Young when she was a Blugold Fellow from 2000-02. During her fellowship she traveled to Finland to write an article for the journal about Lieksa Brass Week and the festival’s featured instrument, the tuba.
Pachniak said her fellowship experience helped her develop skills she utilizes as a fifth- and sixth-grade band director in the Greendale School District.
“My experience has had a great effect on how I approach my job,” she said. “I was prepared to communicate better with colleagues, parents and students. I also have a greater respect for the different cultural experiences and backgrounds of my students.”
Logan Ausman, a 2004 chemistry graduate, also was a Blugold Fellow from 2000-02 and worked with (now emeritus) professor of chemistry Jack Pladziewicz studying intermolecular electron transfer reaction rates. He later worked as an undergraduate on research with associate professor of chemistry Stephen Drucker. This summer Ausman will complete his doctorate in chemistry at Northwestern University. He then plans either to seek employment in industry or to attend law school and later practice patent law.
“The value of the Blugold Fellowship, in my opinion, is that it gives the recipient the experience of learning how the ideas and research that shape our world are developed,” Ausman said. “I think that these are valuable lessons regardless of one’s future career or vocation.”
Photos by Bill Hoepner and Rick Mickelson
Foundation provides funds for fellowships
Funding for UW-Eau Claire’s Blugold Fellowships comes from differential tuition (a student fee used to support various enhanced undergraduate student experiences) and the UW-Eau Claire Foundation.
“The support from both the student body and alumni shows how valued these opportunities are for our exceptional students,” said Blugold Fellowship program director Matthew Evans.
Each year the Foundation provides, through its unrestricted dollars, an annual commitment of $50,000 to fund the scholarship portion of the fellowships.
Also, two Blugold Fellowships are funded through endowments and/or additional directed support from donors, said Kimera Way, Foundation executive director. Those fellowships are sponsored by UW-Eau Claire alumni Tom and Jeannie Flesch of Columbus, Ohio, and Dr. John and Helen Drawbert of Altoona. In addition, UW-Eau Claire alumnus Ralph Duxbury has supported the Blugold Fellowship program with his annual gifts.
“We have been working over the past few years to secure support to endow individual Blugold Fellowships to expand our ability to help other areas of the university with our unrestricted funds,” Way said, adding that the Blugold Fellowship program promotes one of UW-Eau Claire’s marks of excellence — faculty/undergraduate student collaborative research.
“Promoting this program and expanding its support will further enhance the university’s efforts to expand its collaborative research focus,” she said. “The Foundation is pleased to have been a catalyst to get the Blugold Fellowship program up and running and is committed to its future. Investments by our donors to support this enterprise will further enhance its important role in furthering the university’s strategic plan. We welcome gifts to support this program.”