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Alumni award honorees share words of advice for new grads

This December's UW-Eau Claire Alumni Association honorees have done a few things right since earning their degrees from UW-Eau Claire. They are award winners, after all.

But they didn't achieve their goals without a few missteps here and there, and — this is key — learning from them. Below, for the benefit of UW-Eau Claire's newest graduates, these award-winning Blugolds share some of the wisdom gained from valuable experiences. (Learn more about the alumni award honorees.)

Jane Berenz '82, bachelor's degree in special education

Alumni Distinguished Achievement Award recipient

Jane Berenz is the superintendent of Minnesota's Independent School District 196, known as the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan Public Schools.

Advice to new Blugold alumni: "Be patient as you begin your new journey. Even if your first job isn't what you thought you would be doing after graduation, learn and grow from each experience. Every job is an opportunity to learn new things, grow as an individual and advance your career aspirations. Also spend time identifying your core beliefs and values. Write them down and revisit them from time to time. This understanding will guide you through the most difficult of situations with integrity and grace to find solutions that are consistent with your beliefs and values and will help you sleep well at night."

Jeffrey Koenig '95, bachelor's degree in education
President's Award recipient

Jeffrey Koenig wears multiple hats as athletic director, business education teacher and award-winning head football coach for the Stanley-Boyd School District in west-central Wisconsin.

Advice to new Blugold alumni: "One thing I hope to be instilling in our current players is to never stop learning. Continually challenge yourself to take the next step. Many people let fear of failure dictate their lives. In today's world there are so many ways to learn and push yourself. Find the way that fits you best and continually learn through that method."

James Ward '92, bachelor's degree in geography
President's Award recipient

James Ward is the president and co-founder of Applied Data Consultants, a 20-year-old west-central Wisconsin company that provides Web technologies, software development services and geographic information systems across the U.S. and internationally.

Advice to new Blugold alumni: "I joke often about wishing I knew when I graduated that I was going to own a business someday. Taking a few business classes while at UWEC I'm sure would have helped immensely!

"To be successful in any business means mastering the art of being likable, even in tough situations with difficult people. It is often tough to swallow your pride and check your ego for the greater good. It is also easier to be liked when you enjoy what you do, so finding your passion and a work environment where you enjoy getting up every morning is a must."

John Sonnentag '66, bachelor's degrees in business administration and history, and Carolyn Sonnentag '67, bachelor's degree in medical technology
Lifetime Excellence Award recipients

John and Carolyn Sonnentag have worked as a team since the early 1970s building and managing the success of their third-generation family-owned business, County Materials Corp., a manufacturer and distributor of concrete and related construction products that today has more than 50 locations and, at times, more than 2,000 employees throughout the U.S.

John's advice to new Blugold alumni: "Vision is a trait that all successful people have. Vision is the ability to look into the future and answer the questions, 'What do I want to become?,' 'What legacy do I want to build?' and 'What kind of life do I want to have?' It is my hope that you will strive to have the vision to be more than you think you can be."

Carolyn's advice to new Blugold alumni: "The only limits that really matter are the ones you put on yourself; stand up for your convictions and don't let the opinions of others drag you down. Remember that from this day forward you have a choice: You can either be a passive victim of circumstance, or you can be an active hero of your own life."

Brian Goldbeck '73, bachelor's degree in political science, and '79, bachelor's degree in education
Lifetime Excellence Award recipient

Brian Goldbeck's career has been one of international public service, most recently as the deputy chief of mission, or deputy ambassador, at the U.S. Embassy in Manila. Goldbeck is a minister counselor — the equivalent of a two-star general — in the U.S. State Department's Senior Foreign Service.

Advice to new Blugold alumni: Among UWEC's attractions is that it encourages exploration of possibilities, which allows students to discover their interests, dreams and, ultimately, careers. Beyond that, skills development empowers students to achieve their goals whether operating alone or in groups — an increasingly important consideration. Some will aspire to leadership responsibilities, and UWEC offers a full range of opportunities to develop those skills and experiences. Be yourself, be real, be committed, be energetic and be prepared to fail and try again. After discovering my life goal of becoming a foreign service officer, I took and failed the State Department's entrance test. Over several years, I developed the requisite skills to pass the test and gain acceptance. Great goals take time, patience, preparation and commitment.

Karen Stuber
Honorary Alumnus Award recipient

Karen Stuber served the students of UW-Eau Claire for 46 years through her work in Davies Center. Beginning in 1969 when she began her UW-Eau Claire career in the position of Typist 2 until her retirement in July 2015, Stuber was responsible for the scheduling and setup of University Centers events. As University Centers assistant director for Event Services, Stuber oversaw an organization that produces more than 13,500 events each year, employs dozens of students and has an impact on every student who attends the university.

Advice to new Blugold alumni: "Be patient and open-mindedly assess a situation rather than jumping right in with first instincts. While intuition is important and can often lead to great results, it is important to understand and take the time to learn other people's perspectives and views on the situation at hand. It also is important to have a sense of humor; when things go wrong or situations become frustrating, if one approaches it with the right attitude the difficulty of a situation can be minimized."