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Blugold's work as a regent helps shape UW System's future

| Judy Berthiaume

With plans to someday be a lawyer, Ryan Ring always knew that college would play an important role in shaping his future.

When he came to UW-Eau Claire, however, he had no idea he would end up also shaping the future of his college.

Ring is in his second year serving as a student representative on the UW System Board of Regents, the 18-member board that is responsible for establishing rules, policies and budgets for the system’s 13 universities and branch campuses as well as UW-Extension.

“This has been an invaluable experience for me, especially as a student,” says Ring, a senior finance major from Howard. “It is hard to come up with the words to describe this opportunity. I am very fortunate and humbled to be a student regent.”

Two students from a UW System institution — one traditional and one nontraditional — are appointed by the governor to two-year terms on the Board of Regents. They join a board that also includes 14 other governor-appointed regents and two ex officio members.

Active in and passionate about student government in high school, Ring began looking for opportunities to become involved in UW-Eau Claire’s Student Senate as soon as he was accepted into the university.

His ambition paid off as he was asked to serve on Senate committees his first semester as a Blugold, was appointed an on-campus senator his second semester, and was then elected twice as an off-campus senator.

With those experiences on his resume, Ring applied for the regent position after learning about the opportunity from a friend who previously held the post.

“When I got notified that I was selected, I was almost in shock because I never would have thought that I would be selected to serve the state of Wisconsin in this capacity as a student,” says Ring, a first-generation college student. “I was very excited.”

Drawing on his experience as a student senator, as a regent, Ring talks regularly with Blugolds and students from other UW schools about issues, concerns and opportunities that relate to their college experience.

He also encourages UW System student representatives from every UW campus to contact him with concerns or to share information with him that will be helpful to regents as they go about their work and planning.

“I try to get as much student input and interaction as I can and whenever I am able to,” Ring says. “I strongly believe in hearing student voices from across the UW System.”

The topics students most often bring up to him relate to college affordability, shared governance, student life and campus-specific initiatives, Ring says.

While he enjoyed his first year on the board, it was a challenge to understand the complex budget and operations of the large and diverse UW System, which serves more than 170,000 students and employs about 39,000 faculty and staff.

“There was a big learning curve,” Ring says, noting that the UW System is one of the largest systems of public higher education in the country. “Suddenly, I was responsible for the governance of the UW System and I felt like I had thousands of questions.”

Understanding the process of how building and capital projects are formulated and funded within the UW System was particularly challenging, Ring says, adding that the processes are necessarily complicated.

“It is a complex process, but for good reasons,” Ring says. “It took me a couple meetings and many questions to fully understand the process. It makes me appreciate the many hands, hours and people it takes to get a building built on a campus.”

During Ring’s first year on the board, the regents faced some significant — and sometimes controversial — issues, including the joining of all UW two-year campuses with four-year institutions.

“It was definitely interesting,” Ring says. “Integrating UW Colleges campuses with four-year campuses was one of the most difficult, yet needed, changes the UW System has undertaken since the merger of the state system schools in 1971 to form what is now the UW System.”

When it was first announced, the plan created a lot of anxiety on campuses across the state.

However, much of that angst has gone away as institutions have come to recognize the opportunities that come with the new structure, he says.

“It’s going to be a very positive thing,” Ring says. “Everyone I talked to recently said it is an exciting time and they are embracing this opportunity in a positive light.”

As he begins his second year, Ring says he expects the regents will spend significant time on issues around faculty compensation and tuition affordability.

“I am excited about this upcoming year,” Ring says. “I now have a good grasp on how the UW System operates and what it means to students, faculty, staff and the people of Wisconsin. I’m looking forward to expanding on initiatives that we have been discussing and working on this past year. I am also excited about the many opportunities we have going forward.”

Balancing the demands of being a full-time student and being a regent has sometimes been difficult, Ring says, noting that he also has a part-time job at an Eau Claire law firm.

But knowing that he’s helping advance initiatives and solve problems to improve the lives of current and future students makes it worth the effort, he says.

“Days, especially during the school year, get very long and tiring,” Ring says. “I miss classes almost every month for Board of Regent meetings and for other things related to the operation of the UW System, like campus visits. With that said, I manage my time very well and I am proud to serve the state of Wisconsin in this capacity.”

As he looks toward his graduation in May 2019, Ring says the opportunities he’s found at UW-Eau Claire — including his regent appointment — exceeded his already high expectations for his college career.

“I chose UW-Eau Claire for many of the same reasons my fellow Blugolds choose UW-Eau Claire,” Ring says. “It is a beautiful campus that has so much to offer, in terms of extracurricular activities, academics, and one-on-one professor relationships, for an affordable price. UW-Eau Claire was a great fit.”

Among the highlights of his time as a Blugold is being part of his fraternity, Delta Tau Delta. Through his fraternity, he met lifelong friends, and found support on campus and through the organization’s worldwide network.

Being a member of the College Republicans and the Financial Management Association also helped him gain knowledge, experience and contacts, he says.

Other high-impact experiences that enhanced his time at UW-Eau Claire include engaging in faculty-student research that relates to his finance major, and working as a legal intern at a local law office.

Those opportunities — including serving as a regent — are preparing him for future success by strengthening his communication and problem-solving skills, teaching him the value of considering multiple points of view, and giving him an appreciation for the responsibility that goes with helping to guide a respected higher education system that has a $6 billion-plus budget, Ring says.

“It has definitely made me more confident,” Ring says of his work as a regent. “Knowing that 17 other people on the board will value my opinion gives me the confidence needed to accomplish things that I never would have thought possible.

“I know that I want to be a lawyer in the future, and the things I have been fortunate enough to experience will help me accomplish that goal.”

Photo caption: Senior Ryan Ring is in his second year as a student representative on the UW System Board of Regents.