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Five to receive UW-Eau Claire alumni awards

| Gary Johnson

Photo caption: Five UW-Eau Claire alumni will receive awards on Oct. 17 as a part of the university’s Homecoming festivities. (Photo by Shane Opatz)

Five University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire alumni will receive awards on Oct. 17 as a part of the university’s Homecoming festivities.

President's Award

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

Brandon Riechers '98, '03, '17, bachelor of business administration degrees in finance and management information systems, and master’s degree in business administration

Brandon Riechers smiling in office.

Brandon Riechers

Brandon Riechers has spent a quarter century working at Royal Credit Union, today using a quiet voice, steady hand and drive in his leadership role as president and CEO of the institution that has 240,000 members.

Riechers joined Royal in 1996 and has worked in a variety of areas in the credit union, including branch operations, compliance, IT and training. Prior to becoming CEO in 2017, he was the executive vice president and chief lending officer.

Riechers is active in the community and financial industry, both locally and nationally. He serves on the UW-Eau Claire Foundation board of directors, the Eau Claire Confluence Arts Inc., and the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce. Riechers is the current board chair for the Wisconsin Credit Union League.

In 2014 Riechers was recognized nationally as a "Trailblazer Under 40" by Credit Union Times.

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.

Benjamin Griswold '13, bachelor's degree in finance

Benjamin Griswold

Benjamin Griswold

Benjamin Griswold has excelled in corporate finance, started his own business and worked to help people struggling with mental health issues, homelessness and housing instability.

Griswold manages the employee assistance program at Optum in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, creating more affordable and accessible avenues to mental health care. Before moving to Optum, Griswold co-founded Wildflyer Coffee in Minneapolis, a nonprofit organization focusing on employment and life-skill training for youth aged 16-24 who are experiencing homelessness and housing instability.

He started his finance career with Ecolab working on its acquisition of Champion Technologies in Houston, Texas. He later moved to Minneapolis to work in a customer-focused finance role with Treehouse Foods in natural and organic consumer packaged goods before making the entrepreneurial move to co-found Wildflyer Coffee.

Griswold and his wife, Rebecca, live in Minneapolis where he volunteers as a tutor, coach and mentor with the DinoMights urban youth hockey organization. He also works with InnerCHANGE ministry, engaging in peacebuilding and community development in the Phillips neighborhood of South Minneapolis.

Griswold is enrolled as a student in the master's of theology program at St. Catherine University in St. Paul.

Alumni Distinguished Achievement Award

The Alumni Distinguished Achievement Award recognizes service to the community, state or nation in a manner that brings credit upon the recipient and the university.

Dr. Sherrill Smith '85, bachelor’s degree in nursing

Sherrill Smith

Dr. Sherrill Smith

After an outstanding nursing career in the military, Dr. Sherrill Smith transitioned to higher education where today she is dean of nursing and a professor at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, Wyoming.

Smith attributes her nursing success to her preparation and experiences as an undergraduate at UW-Eau Claire. She says the education preparation, along with the leadership opportunities in the UW-Eau Claire Student Nurses Association, were instrumental in developing the path and skills that have shaped her career.

After receiving her nursing degree at UW-Eau Claire, Smith received a master’s degree in nursing from Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, and a doctorate in nursing education from the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, Colorado.

Smith began her professional career as an active-duty Air Force nurse and remained a nurse reservist after leaving active duty. She was selected Air Force Nurse of the Year in 2005 and retired in the rank of colonel in 2011.

In addition to her military career, Smith held leadership roles in community health before pursuing a path in nursing education. She has published 27 manuscripts, four textbook chapters and presented numerus papers at regional, national and international conferences.

Eric Jergenson '93, bachelor's degree in criminal justice

Eric Jergenson

Eric Jergenson

As an FBI special agent, Eric Jergenson is credited with helping to thwart a 2009 planned al-Qaeda terrorist attack on New York City's subway system, earning the U.S. Attorney General's Award for Exceptional Service, the Justice Department's highest civilian honor.

Jergenson enrolled at UW-Eau Claire undecided on a career path, but he quickly found a home within the school's criminal justice program. He praised Dr. Randy Beger, professor emeritus of criminal justice, for taking the time to provide individual attention to students.

"To this day, I am still so appreciative for having been part of the UWEC CJ program, and for the instruction and guidance provided to me throughout my tenure there," Jergenson says. "Much of my success today is due in part to the opportunities provided to me by UWEC."

Jergenson also found a home in the swimming pool, where he became a four-year letter winner for the Blugolds and an All-American as a senior.

"It wasn’t until I joined the swim team at UWEC that I clearly understood the value of hard work, and more importantly, teamwork," Jergenson says.

After the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, Jergenson dedicated his life's work to helping prevent such tragedies, working as an officer in federal courts in Baltimore and Chicago. He joined the FBI after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and was assigned to the joint terrorism task force in Denver, Colorado, where he was lead investigator on the team that prevented the subway suicide bombing.

Jergenson currently oversees investigations involving civil rights violations and public corruption matters for the FBI.

Christopher Gleason '97, bachelor's degree in music education

Christopher Gleason

Christopher Gleason

Christopher Gleason grew up in the school band rooms of his music-teaching father, following in those footsteps to become one of four finalists for the National Teacher of the Year Award.

Gleason calls his college days at UW-Eau Claire "paramount" in preparing him to be an award-winning music teacher.

"What impressed me most about UWEC wasn't anything that would show up in a number," Gleason says. "It was the care and attention that professors gave you. It was the family-like environment created within departments and on campus."

Gleason is a middle school music educator in the Sun Prairie School District and has been an engagement specialist for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, delivering presentations at universities, school districts and conferences across the state. Gleason's bands have performed throughout Wisconsin, including in the Capitol rotunda, and the middle school band he directs commissioned 13 world-renowned composers in its ComMission Possible Project.

He has had leadership roles in state music organizations, has taught workshops regionally, nationally and internationally, and been nominated for teaching excellence awards.

Gleason was the Wisconsin Middle School Teacher of the Year and a national finalist in 2017. In 2021, he was one of 50 finalists selected from thousands across the world for the Global Teacher Prize and one of 45 from across the country to win a National Education Association award.

More information on the award process and past recipients is available online.