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Chancellor's Blog: A look back at our 100th academic year

| Chancellor James Schmidt

Here we are, at the end of UW-Eau Claire’s 2016-17 academic year and our Centennial Celebration.

After such an eventful year, it’s important to remember all we did to carry on our 100-year tradition of excellence — and to ensure it continues well into the next century. I wanted to highlight here some of what stands out for me about this historic year.

Working toward an equitable, diverse and inclusive campus

At the top of my list is our progress toward our guidepost goal to increase enrollment of students of color and close the opportunity gap. With that goal in mind, we have named our first assistant chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion. Dr. Tamara Johnson will join us on campus starting in mid-June and begin her collaboration with stakeholders across campus to continue implementing our EDI plan.

We also saw actions by the University Senate, University Staff Council and Student Senate that supported the inclusion of employee contributions to equity, diversity and inclusivity in performance reviews. These actions help solidify our commitment to creating an equitable and inclusive campus environment. I’m also pleased by the success of our pilot Circles of Change program this past spring and am excited to see that initiative continue in the fall.

Another notable EDI-related achievement this year was the selection of our Blugold Beginnings program for the UW System Board of Regents 2017 Diversity Award. I was elated to see this important program recognized for its critical work and impressive outcomes for students who are members of historically underrepresented populations.

Let’s celebrate!

Last summer, Blugold Central launched and helped change the way our students engage with the university from a business standpoint, and the Advising, Retention and Career Center was created to help students find a successful path to graduation and a career. Dozens of professionals helped these important centers for student support get off the ground. Our Administrative Support and Knowledge Center also has made great progress in merging and co-locating the many support functions serving UW-Eau Claire’s faculty, staff and student employees.

Other accomplishments included unveiling our new UW-Eau Claire Strategic Plan and Academic Master Plan, both of which we shared, along with our EDI plan, at the Blugold Breakfast last August. These plans will continue to guide us forward for years to come.

We also were fortunate to host the Board of Regents meeting last fall, where we were excited to announce our national honor by the Council for Undergraduate Research. The top master’s-level university in the country for undergraduate research — that is truly something special! The dedication of many faculty and staff over the years brought UW-Eau Claire this national recognition, and Blugolds everywhere share in that prestigious award.

Unleashing the power of possible

Early in this spring semester, the UW-Eau Claire Foundation announced the outcome of its highly successful Power of Possible Centennial Campaign. The eight-year campaign raised a total of $73.4 million for the people, programs and places of UW-Eau Claire, exceeding its initial goal by $13.4 million!

Campaign gifts from 39,000 very generous donors support a wide array of university needs, including our facilities priorities, student scholarships and high-impact learning opportunities, and faculty professional development. The campaign has positioned us to continue serving our mission well into the next century.

Facilities projects — ongoing and soon to begin

You may have had the opportunity to watch the recent drone video that showed a bird’s-eye view of the ongoing Garfield Avenue redevelopment project. From high in the sky, it was clear a lot of work has been done as the new and improved Garfield Avenue begins to take shape. It’s exciting to think about the beautiful, sustainable green space that will become reality when the project concludes in fall 2018 — and about the wonderful views of the Chippewa River we will enjoy.

An upcoming project that will improve students’ on-campus experience is the Towers Hall renovation, which begins at the end of the summer. In February 2018, we also will break ground on a new suite-style residence hall on upper campus. We are making great strides in better meeting student on-campus housing demand and providing the residence hall amenities students expect.

The power of partnerships

Work continues in downtown Eau Claire on the Confluence Arts Center, as the facility to be used by UW-Eau Claire students and community arts groups begins to take shape. The arts center, of course, is part of the Confluence Project, a public-private initiative first announced back in 2012. Another piece of the project, Haymarket Landing, housed UW-Eau Claire students for the first time this academic year — and its rooms are booked for visitors attending regional events this summer.

Meanwhile, fundraising is now underway by the partners collaborating to create the John H. and Carolyn Sonnentag Event Complex on Menomonie Street in Eau Claire. Also, thanks to a $500,000 grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, clearing of the land for the project will begin later this year. The project — jump-started in 2014 by a generous gift from the Blugold alumni couple who are its namesakes — involves the Blugold Real Estate Foundation, the Eau Claire YMCA and Mayo Clinic Health System. This phenomenal initiative will create a complex that will bring people together for major events as well as activities with a focus on health, wellness and recreation.

Investment in our faculty and staff

At the start of 2016-17, I introduced the very first goal in our 2020 strategic plan, which is to “invest in our faculty and staff.” I was pleased to announce this spring our own compensation package, which in part will begin righting salary inequities where we are able. Using $3 million in GPR funds that come mostly from one-time UW System utilities and benefits savings, we also will issue awards to employees for performance excellence and compensate individuals and teams for their work on projects supporting our strategic initiatives.

Meanwhile, I have spent and continue to spend many hours advocating for the inclusion of a state-funded pay plan in the upcoming biennial budget, and I am hopeful that will come to pass.


Thank you to all who helped UW-Eau Claire celebrate our centennial. It was a historic, heartwarming year. As we celebrated the many aspects of UW-Eau Claire’s 100 years of excellence, I was reminded of the rich tradition of this place and of what a privilege it is to serve as its chancellor.  And I’m proud of the collaboration and teamwork that is carrying us forward to serve students, our community and our state for years to come.

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