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Ten to receive UW-Eau Claire alumni awards

Ten alumni and friends of the university will receive UW-Eau Claire Alumni Association awards May 20 at an event in conjunction with spring commencement. The awards recognize the recipients' professional and personal successes as well as their contributions to their alma mater, their communities and their professions.

Learn more about the Alumni Association honorees below. Also read their words of advice for UW-Eau Claire's May graduates.

Outstanding Recent Alumnus Award

The Outstanding Recent Alumnus Award acknowledges the special achievements and great promise of alumni who are within 15 years of their graduation from UW-Eau Claire.

Catherine Emmanuelle ’11, bachelor’s degree in women’s studies and economics


Catherine Emmanuelle

Since her graduation from UW-Eau Claire just six years ago, Catherine Emmanuelle has thrived as an admired local elected official and community leader, and as a respected family educator and devoted advocate for underrepresented populations.

In 2013, Emmanuelle became the first Latina elected to the Eau Claire City Council. That same year, she was awarded the UW System Outstanding Women of Color in Education award to recognize her significant achievements. In 2014, she earned a master’s degree in advocacy and political leadership from the University of Minnesota Duluth.

Emmanuelle was voted as one of the area’s “favorite local elected officials” through Volume One magazine for 2013, 2014 and 2015, and in 2014 she was voted as the "#1 best community advocate.” As an at-large City Council member, she has led efforts for fundraising of private dollars and passage of the Confluence Project in downtown Eau Claire, among other progressive city initiatives.  Emmanuelle’s scholarly work and civic contributions have been published in diverse sources, including Feminist Teacher, The Shriver Report, MSNBC, the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram and Volume One magazine. She serves on the board of directors for Visit Eau Claire, and on the city of Eau Claire appointments committee, economic policy advisory committee, and affirmative action committee.

In addition to her Eau Claire City Council post, Emmanuelle works as family living educator for UW-Extension Trempealeau County, where she implements educational programming to support thriving youth, families, organizations and communities; a resilient and productive environment; and food safety, security and health.

Nicole Griensewic Mickelson ’05, bachelor’s degree in German and history


Nicole Griensewic Mickelson

Nicole Griensewic Mickelson is the executive director for the Region Nine Development Commission, which serves nine counties in South Central Minnesota. Region Nine works with and on behalf of counties, cities, townships and schools to develop programs and identify solutions in the areas of economic development, business development, healthy communities, transportation, community development and the leveraging of regional resources.

Griensewic Mickelson is the youngest executive director of a regional development commission in the country. Her passion for public service is reflected in Region Nine’s accomplishments, including national innovation awards for transportation projects, communication and marketing, and flood mitigation. As executive director, Griensewic Mickelson has made it a priority to foster collaboration and engagement by sharing Region Nine’s story both locally and globally. At the third Americas Competitiveness Exchange on Innovation and Entrepreneurship tour, she presented to leaders from 28 countries, highlighting efforts and best practices from Region Nine.

In addition to her professional position, Nicole is an active board and committee member for multiple organizations throughout Minnesota. She serves on the executive committee for the Minnesota Medical Manufacturing Partnership as part of the Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership of the U.S. Economic Development Administration. She also serves as vice president for the Greater Minnesota Partnership board of directors and is an executive committee member of the Center for Transportation Studies at the University of Minnesota.

John Raymond ’09, bachelor’s degree in music performance


John Raymond

John Raymond has made a name for himself in the world of jazz music. Called a “prepossessing young trumpet player” by The New York Times, the twice-Grammy-nominated artist received the 2015 Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composer and Down Beat Magazine’s 2016 Rising Star Trumpeter awards. He has performed with many of the biggest names in the industry, and at notable events like the New York Winter Jazz Festival, the Austin City Limits Music Festival and NPR’s Toast of the Nation New Year’s Eve celebration.

Raymond, who also earned a master’s degree in jazz studies from Purchase College, State University of New York, recently joined the faculty at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music. He has long been a sought-after clinician at high schools and colleges across the country, including multiple clinics with UW-Eau Claire jazz students. His latest CD, “Foreign Territory,” has received rave reviews from The New York Times and Down Beat and Jazziz magazines — with Down Beat stating that Raymond is “steering jazz in the right direction.”

In a 2015 interview with JAZZed Magazine, Raymond said he bases his entrepreneurial approach to music on advice from UW-Eau Claire Professor Robert Baca, who told him as a freshman to “bloom where you are planted.” The words stuck with him, and he began as a student to do just that, self-producing two original jazz albums and founding a horn section that frequently worked and performed in the Twin Cities during college. Raymond interpreted Baca’s advice as “transcend your location, the people you’re around, even your own abilities by getting to the heart of the matter — the reality that you and only you are in control of your own development and success.”

President's Award

The President’s Award recognizes outstanding professional and personal achievements and service to UW-Eau Claire.

Mary Laschinger ’85, bachelor’s degree in business management


Mary Laschinger

Mary Laschinger is the chair and CEO of Veritiv Corp., a leading North American distributor of print, publishing, packaging, facility and logistics solutions. In June 2016, with this Blugold alumna at the helm, Veritiv was named to the Fortune 500 — just two years after the company was established. Laschinger is one of only 21 female CEOs of current Fortune 500 companies.

Laschinger's road to the Fortune 500 began with a UW-Eau Claire on-campus interview that led to a job as a production planner with Kimberly-Clark, another Fortune 500 company. She later held various positions in product management and distribution at Kimberly-Clark and James River Corp. before joining International Paper Co. She was president of International Paper’s xpedx division when she accepted the opportunity to be CEO of what would become Veritiv.

Laschinger, who also will deliver the "Charge to the Class" during commencement ceremonies May 20, says she found value in UW-Eau Claire’s business curriculum and the real-life experience of its faculty.

“If you ask me what’s been the greatest lever in my success, it’s that I’ve been able to surround myself with really great people,” she says, adding, “You don’t have to be the smartest in the room to do what I do. You need to be well-rounded, and I think the business degree does that for you.”

Laschinger encourages new graduates to be willing to change their focus from one of “going up the ladder” to one of going across an organization. She notes, “You can learn a lot more, and long term, it expands your opportunities.”

Elizabeth Willis '83, bachelor's degree in English


Elizabeth Willis

Elizabeth Willis, who has been described as "one of the most outstanding poets of her generation," is a highly decorated writer who in 2016 was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for her collection titled "Alive: New and Selected Poems." Her publications are extensive and include books, chapbooks, magazine articles, works in anthologies, prose publications and others.

Currently a professor of poetry at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, Willis previously served as the Shapiro-Silverberg professor of creative writing at Wesleyan University. A recent Guggenheim fellow, Willis has held professorships and writing residencies at many colleges and universities and has received numerous writing awards. She holds a doctorate from the State University of New York at Buffalo.

Willis, who grew up in Eau Claire, says she is forever grateful to UW-Eau Claire English faculty members Bruce Taylor, John Hildebrand and Douglas Pearson, now professors emeritus, who helped hone her early writing and encouraged her to pursue a doctorate.

"Poetry is a strange field because making a career as a poet is sort of the opposite of fame and fortune,” Willis says In reflecting on her career as a poet and educator. “I've had a job since I was 16, including several years at J.C. Penney, then in downtown Eau Claire, so it was a great affirmation when a few years after I graduated I received a writing residency and an artists' fellowship — an actual check, modest as it was, for doing the thing I love to do.

"Much later, when I received a Guggenheim Fellowship, and last year when I was a finalist the Pulitzer, it was the same kind of unexpected thrill. But the most rewarding experiences are more personal than that: hearing from a young writer that my work has been meaningful to them, or seeing books and magazines by my own students coming into the world."

Honorary Alumnus Award

The Honorary Alumnus Award is presented to non-alumni who have demonstrated great love of and service to UW-Eau Claire.

Pat Toutant


Pat Toutant

Marathon runners know something about persistence, internal motivation and the satisfaction that comes from completing something extraordinary. Eau Claire native and marathon runner Pat Toutant wanted to share that feeling with others — many thousands of others, to be exact.

Toutant has served as the Eau Claire Marathon race director for five years. The event, which this year attracted 4,000 participants to its various races, has become a standout in the region — with the marathon race being a Boston qualifier drawing runners from across the Midwest.

As race director, Toutant has partnered with UW-Eau Claire to bring the race route through campus — creating the now widely known Blugold Mile. The partnership has forged an enthusiastic connection between students and the community and, through the creation of a running class for students and community members that prepares them for the full or half marathon, has introduced many athletes to the world of distance running.

A Minneapolis Running article cited the Blugold Mile as one of “three reasons to run the Eau Claire Marathon,” noting, “we’ve been told that you can hear the Blugold Mile from a block away, and the crowds rival those of Boylston St. in the famed Boston Marathon.”

Toutant has provided the leadership behind partnerships citywide that have brought the community together in support of the Eau Claire Marathon, which in turn supports numerous local nonprofits.

“The Eastside Hill, the Third Ward, the Downtown Association, the Blugold Mile, Water Street, all the police, the city — 850 volunteers help us out,” Toutant said in a recent interview with WEAU 13 News in Eau Claire. “Without all of that, this wouldn’t work. So this community has really come together to put it on and they’re proud of it.”

Lifetime Excellence Award

The Lifetime Excellence Award is presented to UW-Eau Claire alumni who have demonstrated longtime and successful commitment to their careers and communities. These individuals have made a positive and dramatic impact through enthusiastic dedication to service and living their lives as a testimony to UW-Eau Claire’s motto, “Excellence.”

Peter Scobie ’71, bachelor’s degree in business management, and Randi Scobie


Randi and Peter Scobie

Following his graduation from UW-Eau Claire, Peter Scobie went on to a 48-year career in the family insurance business, R.W. Scobie Inc., including his 35-year term as CEO of six branch offices serving independent agents in 14 states.

Peter Scobie also has dedicated his time to many national and local executive boards and charitable organizations, including the UW-Eau Claire Business Advisory Council, which advises the Dean of the College of Business in preparing Blugolds for success in the global business world.

Randi Scobie, a UW-Stout graduate, combined experience in both graphic design and real estate to help establish the St. Andrews Housing Development and St. Andrews Office Park in Eau Claire. She also has volunteered service to multiple charitable organizations in Eau Claire and the greater Chippewa Valley.

The Scobies also have been longtime supporters through the UW-Eau Claire Foundation of many university programs and initiatives, including the College of Business and the Confluence Arts Center.

Richard Johnson ’82, bachelor’s degree in accounting, and Mary Johnson ’82, bachelor’s degree in business education


Mary and Richard Johnson

After earning his UW-Eau Claire accounting degree, Richard Johnson began working as an auditor and systems developer with several firms before joining Eastbay, which led him to a more-than-20-year career in the sporting goods industry.

Eastbay eventually was acquired by Foot Locker Inc., and today Richard Johnson is chairman, president and CEO of Foot Locker. In late 2016, Footwear News named him the most influential leader in the shoe industry.

Mary Johnson, who also earned a master’s degree from UW-Whitewater, had a 25-year teaching and coaching career in elementary, middle and high schools as well as at technical colleges in Fond du Lac, Janesville and Wausau. As Dick’s career became more demanding, she turned her focus to being CEO of the Johnson household, which included the couple’s two sons. She also has served as a volunteer with a number of community organizations.

The Johnsons, who met as first-year students at UW-Eau Claire, now reside in the New York City area. They have generously supported Blugold athletics over the years through the UW-Eau Claire Foundation.