Six alumni will receive awards from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Alumni Association on Dec. 17 as part of the university’s fall commencement celebration.
Outstanding Recent Alumnus Award
Tyler Patterson ’09, bachelor’s degree in information systems
Tyler Patterson has worked for Fortune 250 company CH Robinson since 2009. He opened offices in two different countries — in Warsaw, Poland, in 2019 and Cork, Ireland, in 2021.
“Opening a new office is no small feat; doing it nearly 5,000 miles from your friends and family during a global pandemic is an experience that lives with you a lifetime,” Patterson says. “Learning a new language, engaging with new cultures and building relationships with people in a new country was incredibly challenging. This challenge made the reward of success much richer.”
Patterson’s philanthropy shows his appreciation for UW-Eau Claire and future generations of Blugolds. He started a scholarship in 2015 for information systems students and recently endowed that scholarship to ensure it will continue forever.
“Never stop being a student, keep learning and stay curious,” Patterson says of his advice to new UW-Eau Claire graduates.
Jennifer Borski ’96, bachelor’s degrees in geology and mathematics
Jennifer (Tobias) Borski is a hydrogeologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources whose specialty is cleaning up contaminated brownfields. For 20 years, she was a project manager who led efforts to clean up and redevelop complex contaminated properties. For her redevelopment work on one brownfield site along the Fox River near Appleton, she was recognized with the naming of Borski Boardwalk.
For the past two years, Borski has been a DNR hydrogeologist serving as the vapor intrusion team leader, specializing in developing policy and training regarding the contaminated air (vapors) emanating from the historical soil and groundwater contamination.
Borski remembers her time as a UW-Eau Claire student, and especially the importance of her geology department field classes, which she calls “by far the most valuable courses I took while at UWEC.”
Borski also appreciated the opportunities for internships, undergraduate research and independent thought that were encouraged by her professors.
“Getting an education at UWEC was so much more than a classroom setting,” Borski says. “I fondly recall hours in Phillips Hall working on undergraduate research projects in the labs and routinely meeting with professors to continue discussions beyond the classroom. Phillips Hall was the hangout where everyone was treated as contributing adults and opinions mattered.”
Her advice to graduates today is simple: “Be true to who you are — the world deserves to know you. And always be kind.”
Paul Kohler ’88, bachelor’s degree in business finance
Paul Kohler has been president and CEO at Charter Bank for the past eight years, recently celebrating his 25th year with the financial institution. Charter Bank is one of the largest banks headquartered in Wisconsin with approximately $1.2 billion in assets.
Kohler had an internship at First Wisconsin Bank during his senior year at UW-Eau Claire and was hired as a management trainee upon graduation. The extensive training gave Kohler insight into all areas of banking that would be valuable in his banking career.
Every job teaches an individual something to grow in their working lives, Kohler says. He recommends that graduates take risks and follow their instincts to find a career they love.
“Perhaps the most important advice I can give is to be a good, genuine and kind person,” Kohler says. “Doing the right thing and doing what’s best for your co-workers, company and community will always pay dividends.”
Kohler has been a leader on state and local banking organization boards, and in many community activities, including United Way, The Community Table, Eau Claire Children’s Museum, Boy Scouts, Lions Club and the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce.
Alumni Distinguished Achievement Award
Dr. Ronald Walsh ’79, bachelor’s degree in elementary education
Dr. Ronald Walsh has dedicated his career and life to education in Wisconsin. During his long career, Walsh worked his way through the ranks as a teacher, guidance counselor, principal and school superintendent. In 2014, he was named Wisconsin’s Superintendent of the Year by the state and national school district administrators associations.
In his retirement, Walsh has mentored new superintendents to ensure that Wisconsin schools maintain strong leadership.
“I truly believe that success is never individually earned,” Walsh says. “It’s a combination of luck — not to be discounted, either — and the help of countless others. We don’t necessarily deserve the help and support of others, and such kindness reminds us that our purpose in life is really to focus on the wellbeing of others. I hope I’ve helped others succeed in their lives.”
Walsh says his college advisor, Dr. John “Jack” Whooley, professor emeritus of education, helped him narrow his career path by suggesting he major in elementary education.
“Dr. Whooley’s kindness and caring drew me to always try to be kind to everyone I’d teach in the future, as well as everyone else,” Walsh says. “Dr. Whooley is second only to my father in helping me shape my future and the successes I’ve enjoyed in education.”
Walsh is a strong advocate for organ donation as he donated a kidney to his then six-year-old daughter, Laura, in 1991.
Dr. Pamela White ’82, ’89, bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing
Dr. Pamela White has been chief nursing officer for Mayo Clinic Health System Northwest Wisconsin since 2012, working collaboratively with physicians and operations colleagues to maintain a regional practice consisting of five hospitals, 14 ambulatory clinics, and a home health and hospice program. She leads more than 2,400 individuals within the nursing department across the region.
White has served in leadership roles on the Wisconsin Board of Nursing and the Wisconsin Hospital Association board.
“I have had many proud moments as a leader, yet nothing is even close to the pride of leading and working alongside thousands of staff throughout the COVID-19 pandemic over the last two years,” White says. “These staff have continuously given back to the ongoing patient care needs in our region and I am proud to be a part of that team.”
White advises UW-Eau Claire graduates to be patient, yet persistent, as they figure out their purpose in life.
“It will happen in time,” White says. “Be attentive and learn from those around you. Timing is everything, and your current challenges can turn into future opportunities and success. This will all help to shape your future.”
“Be confident in everything you learned at UWEC. Your education is well grounded in principles and concepts that will be the foundation of your ongoing success and future learning.”
Lifetime Excellence Award
Dr. Woubeshet Ayenew ’92, bachelor’s degree in biochemistry/molecular biology
Dr. Ayenew is a staff cardiologist who serves as the director of the Cardiovascular Clinic and Outreach Services at Hennepin Healthcare in Minneapolis. He is a respected leader in the cardiology field whose name regularly appears on lists of Minnesota’s top doctors. He serves on the boards of the American Heart Association Twin Cities and Open Hearts Big Dreams.
Dr. Ayenew, a native of Ethiopia, has focused his work primarily on advocating for underserved communities locally and internationally. He champions self-reliance and sustainability in these communities. He has worked tirelessly to increase the number of minority physicians after realizing during his residency training at Hennepin County Medical Center that people of color who sought care often benefited when there was diversity in the care team that was advocating for them.
He is a co-founder and the first board chair for the East African Health Board, where he organized Twin Cities doctors and nurses to engage 3,000 members of the surrounding communities in health education and advocacy. Since 2003, he has taken regular medical mission trips to Ethiopia and has facilitated international volunteering to underserved public hospitals for more than 100 volunteers from Minnesota and other states.
Dr. Ayenew calls UW-Eau Claire the “launching pad” for his career.
“Without UWEC, I would not have known teachers who could take you under their wing, mentor you and give you opportunities and encouragement so you could do things you never thought you would do,” Dr. Ayenew says. “So many people at UWEC gave me these opportunities.
“It felt like my mentors at UW-Eau Claire were holding a torch and they handed it to me, telling me to keep doing this sort of thing for others. I’ve tried to keep the torch going.”