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COB graduating senior excels in academics with a smile

| Gary Johnson

Photo caption: Joseph Micheel is glad he chose to attend college at UW-Eau Claire, just a mile from his home. (Photo by Shane Opatz)

As a University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire freshman, Joseph Micheel steered away from the accounting field, in part, because he was unsure whether his outgoing personality and sometimes quirky sense of humor fit with the profession.

“I had the idea that accounting was for people who sit in a cubicle and crunch numbers and don’t talk to people at all,” Micheel says. “I’m a pretty social person. But I found out that’s not what people do. And I found out I was good at it.”

Micheel turned out to be very good at it, earning multiple scholarships from the College of Business, UW-Eau Claire Foundation and other sources. He worked several jobs during his college career and will graduate debt-free Dec. 18 with accounting and business finance degrees.

After working this past summer as an intern at global accounting firm Ernst & Young in Minneapolis, he will begin a full-time job with the company in Minneapolis after graduation.

Those who know him predict continued success for Micheel in his professional career.

“We have a lot of very good students in the College of Business and everywhere at UW-Eau Claire,” says Cynthia Hofacker, senior lecturer emeritus in the College of Business who taught Micheel in multiple courses. “I would say Joe is one of the best of the best.”

Micheel wasn’t always sure he would be a Blugold. He has lived in Eau Claire since 2010, but attended a private high school in southern Wisconsin. He visited several larger universities between his junior and senior years of high school before his father suggested touring UW-Eau Claire.

Micheel didn’t know if he wanted to attend college just a mile from his home, but a campus tour changed his mind.

“I always liked the town, and the campus is beautiful,” Micheel says. “I thought, ‘I can actually see myself here. It’s a really good school and a good price.’”

Micheel started his college career as a finance and economics major before discovering that accounting was an even better career fit. He calls accounting “the central spoke of business,” an area that makes everything else work.

Business communication classes were his favorite, Micheel says, calling them “probably the most important classes I’ve had.”

“Business communications really help you work with other people,” Micheel says. “Communication is one of the most important things in anything. If people are smart, but don’t know how to tell other people what they are working on, it doesn’t work out very well.”

Hofacker, who retired in 2019 after 39 years as a UW-Eau Claire educator and business leader, called Micheel a “phenomenal young man” who excelled in the two business communication classes she taught. The courses taught communication through writing and presentation; Hofacker says most students are good at one or the other, but Micheel excelled at both.

“He was just an outstanding listener,” Hofacker says. “Whether he was with his peers getting feedback from them or on a team, Joe just got it. He got my main point. He was able to pull out what was important, what could be used to improve or enhance a presentation.

“It’s hard to teach communication skills, hard to teach people to be passionate and humble and kind. Joe had those basic traits and was willing to absorb what he could from the leaders and professionals around him. That’s what we hope happens with college students.”

While he excelled in his courses, including his University Honors Program classes, Micheel also worked for the UW-Eau Claire Foundation for more than three years. As an entry-level student worker, he helped the Foundation with day-to-day tasks. During his more than two years as an accounting intern, he worked with Foundation financials and helped start the process of transferring paper files to a database.

Foundation employees found Micheel to be smart with an engaging personality that made him popular with co-workers.

“One of the first things that struck me was how personable and friendly and funny he was,” says Sheila Hurt, Foundation assistant stewardship coordinator. “Sometimes students are a little shy. Joe is the type of person who could talk to anyone.”

Foundation financial specialist Angela LaGesse called Micheel “super fun, outgoing but very intelligent.”

Micheel was thankful for his work at the Foundation, using the experience as a springboard to additional opportunities, including internships at Wipfli in Eau Claire and the Ernst & Young one in Minneapolis. He noted that several people he worked with at Ernst & Young are Blugolds.

When Micheel starts his full-time professional job in Ernst & Young’s auditing department, he'll look forward to the work.

“It’s kind of like solving puzzle pieces,” Micheel says of auditing. “You just have to use a more creative part of your brain rather than hard facts and data. It’s really rewarding when you figure something out.”

Hofacker says Micheel’s welcoming and approachable personality will make him a “rising star” in the business world.

“He will definitely be a leader in whatever company he is in and a leader in whatever community he is in,” Hofacker says. “He will find an organization, a charity or cause and one day we will read that he is leading it.”

As he looks back on his college career, Micheel’s advice to other Blugolds is to embrace the connections they’ve made and push themselves out of their comfort zones, potentially creating new opportunities.

“And don’t be afraid to lighten up and enjoy things,” he says.