Experiences as Blugolds inspire grads to pursue careers in higher education

| Judy Berthiaume

UW-Eau Claire alumna Emily (Langer) Johnson was taking a tour of the Inver Hills Community College campus on her first day as the Minnesota college’s new director of Career Services when a familiar face — literally — jumped out at her.

“When my tour guide brought me to our Admissions Office, Jenna practically jumped out of the office to ask me if I had remembered her,” Emily says of fellow Blugold Jenna (Hamersky) Baumgard. “Almost 10 years prior we had been resident assistants at UWEC together. We had stayed in contact for a year or so, but lost track of each other as time passed and our lives changed.

“It was like a blast from the past and made me feel as if I had a home in this new place.”

Those blasts from her Blugold past have kept on coming for Emily, who earned a degree in social work from UW-Eau Claire in 2007.

In addition to Emily and Jenna, a 2007 UW-Eau Claire psychology graduate who is an admissions advisor at Inver Hills, the college’s Student Affairs division also includes Blugolds Amanda Fischer, who earned a degree in kinesiology in 2015 and also works in Admissions, and Randi (Winchester) Goettl, a 2014 social work graduate who is director of Accessibility Resources.

“I love the fact that I am able to work alongside other Blugold alumni,” Jenna says. “It’s kind of crazy, in the best ‘it’s a small world’ kind of way.

“We all are different and have had a variety of personal and professional experiences that have landed us all here. But Blugold pride runs deep. We all had memorable, invaluable and pivotal experiences as students at UW-Eau Claire that tremendously shaped our futures.”

Jenna already was working at the school when Emily started, but Emily helped bring Randi and Amanda to the Inver campus, knowing that their experiences at UW-Eau Claire had prepared them well for their positions at the small college.

“I was ecstatic when I saw Randi’s application because I knew her program and one of her references,” Emily says. “It helped that she exceeded the qualifications for the job.”

Last summer, Emily met Amanda by chance at a community event. They quickly bonded when they learned of their UW-Eau Claire connection.

“She shared that she was looking to relocate and I offered to help her with her resume/application because that’s what you do for a fellow Blugold,” Emily says. “The day Amanda reached out, our campus posted a job that was in line with her career path, so I shared it with her and now she is my co-worker.”

While the four Blugolds graduated in different years with different majors and took different paths to Inver Hills, they all discovered a passion for working in higher education because of outside-the-classroom experiences they had while still students at UW-Eau Claire.

All were resident assistants, campus ambassadors, orientation assistants, leaders of student organizations, or active in immersion and other programs.

Those experiences — as well as the connections they made with UW-Eau Claire staff through those experiences — inspired them to consider pursuing careers in higher education, the alumni say.

“I always tell students to get involved,” Emily says. “It is that simple. Classroom learning is important, but applying your learning outside of the classroom is essential to your career planning and are skills employers value. UW-Eau Claire has so many opportunities that there is literally something for everyone.”

At UW-Eau Claire, Emily was involved in several student organizations, including one that aimed to make the university more intercultural.

“My involvement in that group opened up all of the opportunities I took advantage of at UWEC, including being a resident advisor,” Emily says. “It opened my eyes to the world outside of myself and laid the foundation for my career path.”

While active in many organizations as a student, it was working with prospective students as a campus ambassador and as an intern in UW-Eau Claire’s Admissions Office that inspired Amanda to consider a career in higher education.

“I was heavily involved in student affairs, which is exactly how I ended up in the profession I am in,” Amanda says. “I fell in love with helping students find the place they could call a home away from home, just like I did.

“I love seeing the look in students’ eyes when they realize they’re exactly where they want to be.”

Being a campus ambassador also convinced Jenna to pursue a career in student affairs.

“I was one of those high school kids who visited the UWEC campus, fell in love and knew it was where I would go to college,” Jenna says. “I toured and applied at other schools, but really did so to please my parents. I had a clear goal, and did what it took to make it happen.

“Being a campus ambassador opened my eyes to the reality that it is not always as clear-cut for everyone. There are many questions, many unknowns, and a lot of uncertainty with the process and the idea of going to college.”

It was rewarding to help prospective Blugolds find answers to their questions and see what UW-Eau Claire could offer them, Jenna says.

“Sharing my love and passion for my campus was energizing,” Jenna says of being a campus ambassador. “So much so, that in combination with my other experiences, when I graduated I knew I wanted to work in higher education, specifically admissions.”

While she found her career path through admissions, other Blugolds might discover their own passions, talents and professional opportunities through any of the outside-the-classroom experiences that UW-Eau Claire offers, Jenna says.

“Going to class and doing well is important, but it’s also important to be involved in extracurriculars, challenge yourself to make connections, get involved, and push your own personal boundaries,” says Jenna. “Participate in things you are passionate about and the things that are a part of who you are, but also try new things, meet new people, value learning from all points and perspectives.

“I have memories and experiences that I still pull from, even 11 years post-graduation. I am still learning. I am still reflecting. I am where I am today, professionally and personally, due to the education and experiences that I had at UWEC.”

Randi found her inspiration by exploring other cultures during her college years.

UW-Eau Claire’s immersion programs were powerful learning experiences that helped shape her thinking about her future, she says.

While at UW-Eau Claire, Randi traveled to California with future social workers, nurses and teachers to learn about the Hmong culture; went to Philadelphia as part of the Engaging Religious Pluralism Immersion program; and spent time in South Africa assisting in a research project that was studying resiliency of care workers.

“These are a few of the experiences that led me to find a passion to work and educate myself more on diverse populations,” Randi says.

Those experiences changed her thinking and her life, and inspired her to consider working in the higher education field, Randi says.

“I know how influential higher education has been in my life,” Randi says. “I was a first-generation, low-income student who had to use the maximum number of student loans to go through school.

“I find it so rewarding to give back to students who have barriers to succeeding in the educational setting, and being one person who believes in their journey and assisting them in pursuing their goals.”

While Randi, Jenna, Emily and Amanda credit UW-Eau Claire for preparing them to excel in their higher-education careers, they say their Blugold colleagues help to make their current campus feel like home.

“I’m the newest Blugold at Inver and, honestly, the fact that three other Blugolds worked here made it even easier to make the decision to take the job,” Amanda says. “I believe that Blugolds are a unique breed.

“You know you’re going to a special place when there are other Blugolds there. I felt at home the first day I stepped on campus at UWEC and I felt at home the first day I stepped on campus at Inver.”

Photo caption: Blugold alumni (from left) Emily Johnson, Amanda Fischer, Jenna Baumgard and Randi Goettl now are all coworkers in a student affairs unit at a Minnesota college.