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'Failing' forward

| Judy Berthiaume

When Brandon Cedarblade came to UW-Eau Claire as a freshman, he went looking for the very thing that most of his peers were working hard to avoid — failure.

“I think when most people look at college they think of things like wanting to do their best to succeed, and trying as hard as they can to not fail at anything,” says Brandon, a native of Pepin. “I took a bit of an opposite approach.”

While he worked hard and excelled in his classes, Brandon was determined to make the most of all that UW-Eau Claire offers both inside and outside the classroom.

“I think of my college experience as more than just my classes,” Brandon says. “When I came to UWEC, I looked at all of the different high-impact practices and all of the different organizations. Rather than trying to do something I knew I could succeed at, I strived for failure.

“I knew that if I pushed myself to get out of my comfort zone and to do the things that others were afraid to do, that, yes, I might fail at some point, but through that failure I would come out a stronger and better person for it. I pushed myself to always find the next thing that would challenge me in some new and incredible way.”

His innovative approach to thinking about college clearly worked.

Brandon will graduate this month with a degree in marketing analytics, earning his bachelor’s degree in just three years.

While his time on campus was shorter than the norm, he packed a whole lot of opportunities to “fail” into those three years.

For example, in the summer of 2015, he spent eight weeks working with a nonprofit in northern Brazil as a volunteer marketing intern.

“I led a marketing team of 14 people from all around the world while we were working and living together in Brazil,” Brandon says. “We helped the nonprofit implement different community awareness, tourism development and environmental protection campaigns that have helped grow the organization and surrounding community.”

The organization has since grown from a three-person volunteer staff to a full-time staff that runs the organization and community programs, Brandon says.

His volunteer work in Brazil was one of many life-altering experiences that he pursued as a Blugold, experiences that immersed him in the Eau Claire community as well as in communities around the globe.

When he graduates he will have visited eight countries, completed two international and two domestic internships, volunteered in Brazil for two months, attended two international conferences and 14 national conferences, and created an international expansion plan for an Eau Claire-based company.

In his spare time, he also started his own business, Orbital Imaging, which won the 2015 Eau Claire Startup 48 event, a two-day competition that helps entrepreneurs get their businesses started.

“I went through all of these experiences while earning my bachelor's in three years, working part time with the Veterans Affairs Office, being the president of a local nonprofit student-run organization, AIESEC, and as a combat medic in the Wisconsin Army National Guard,” Brandon says.

Once he graduates, he will work with the Orbital Imaging business he helped found, and also work in national sales for AIESEC, a not-for-profit organization that helps young leaders engage with people and communities around the world.

It was AIESEC that made it possible for him to experience so many different countries during his college career, Brandon says, noting that he’s looking forward to helping other young leaders have similar experiences.

“AIESEC has driven me to achieve a more definable understanding of who I am and what I am really passionate about, while giving me real experience in what it means to be a leader in the modern world,” Brandon says. “This organization shaped my ambition and introduced me to the concept of aiming for failure to learn as much as possible as quickly as possible. It’s unlocked many opportunities, along with allowing me to put the education I received in the classroom into action.”

While his involvement with AIESEC and his start-up company helped him make the most of his time at UW-Eau Claire, Brandon also credits UW-Eau Claire’s extraordinary faculty and staff for teaching and encouraging him.

“A lot of times we as students underestimate the effort that the faculty and staff put into our education,” Brandon says. “Everyone here helped make my experience what it has been, and helped me to graduate in 3 years. They were a large part of the support that allowed me to accomplish what I have done.”

So as he graduates with a resume full of experiences and accomplishments, what’s he most proud of?

His many failures, of course.

“These last three years have been a whirlwind of experiences with many different failures,” Brandon says. “I have failed at something in almost every one of these the experiences, and through it I have grown into the person I am today.

“When said out of context, this may not be seen as a good thing, but I truly appreciate UWEC helping me fail as much as I have.”

Through those many failures, Brandon says he’s learned how to make the world around him just a little better.

“UWEC has given me the platform to be a change agent in the lives of those around me,” Brandon says.