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Student finds her voice and makes a difference at UW-Eau Claire – Barron County

| Gary Johnson

Photo caption: Grace Arrigoni will graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire – Barron County with an associate of arts and sciences degree. She plans to transfer to a four-year university to major in marketing and minor in communications.

Grace Arrigoni was unsure about her future career path when she graduated from Rice Lake High School amid the start of the pandemic in spring 2020.

Arrigoni didn’t want to attend a four-year university without a definitive major and felt a small-school environment in her own backyard could be a good fit for the start of her postsecondary education.

In May, Arrigoni will graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire – Barron County with an associate of arts and sciences degree. She plans to transfer to a four-year university to major in marketing and minor in communications.

“UW-Eau Claire – Barron County is a great place to start your education, especially if you are unsure of what major you want to study,” Arrigoni says. “It’s also a more economical option to start your college education. Even though it’s a small campus, it still offers a quality education. Small class sizes allow you direct access to your professors as well.”

Arrigoni certainly has “found her way” since coming to campus, says Gary Wheeler, interim campus director at UW-Eau Claire – Barron County.

She was a student ambassador, introducing new students to campus, and a Student Government Association senator her first year at UW-Eau Claire – Barron County. During her second semester as a freshman, Arrigoni became SGA vice president before being elected president for the 2021-22 academic year.

“Her confidence has grown exponentially as she has taken on more responsibilities in student government,” Wheeler says.

Barb Ritzinger, director of the UW-Eau Claire – Barron County Foundation, has known Arrigoni and her family all of the student’s life. Ritzinger was a day care provider in her home for many years, and Arrigoni was among the children who came to her house each day as a child.

“She was always super engaged but a very quiet person,” Ritzinger says. “She was the youngest of three, so she followed her sisters around. She was soft-spoken but would step up if something needed to be done.”

Arrigoni is the type of person who wants to make a difference in people’s lives, Ritzinger says, noting she was ecstatic to see Arrigoni be a leader on the UW-Eau Claire – Barron County campus.

“When I saw that she ran for student government president for her sophomore year I was like, ‘Wow, way to go Grace for putting yourself out there,’” Ritzinger recalls. “She really stepped outside of her comfort zone. I think for her that was a big step.

“She has done an awesome job. She has been a great advocate.”

Arrigoni says her work with SGA helped her learn valuable leadership skills and develop greater confidence to be a voice for the student body.

Arrigoni’s Rice Lake roots have been an integral part of ongoing efforts to make the campus more connected with the greater Rice Lake community, Wheeler says. As a member of the Rice Lake Main Street Association board, she helps show students that Rice Lake has great opportunities for student involvement.

“They said they would like to garner a little more of a college town feel for Rice Lake,” Wheeler says of the ongoing efforts to collaborate with the community.

Arrigoni helped recruit student volunteers for community activities such as the holiday parade and the Chalk and Bubble Fest, working the ice cream stand at the latter event. She also joined other UW-Eau Claire – Barron County students to place third in the chalk fest drawing contest.

In addition, Arrigoni is an assistant coach for the Rice Lake High School cross-country team.

The campus and community involvement has been an important part of Arrigoni’s university experience.

“Leadership opportunities like SGA and being a volunteer high school cross-country coach have helped me develop communication and teamwork skills,” Arrigoni says. “Participation in the Main Street Association has shown me the importance of promoting small businesses to keep a community healthy. Being able to see the appreciation on a recipient’s face when delivering Meals on Wheels, especially on a very cold day, gives me a great feeling.”

Ritzinger is proud that Arrigoni found her comfort zone on the Rice Lake campus. Ritzinger took a similar route to her degree by starting her postsecondary career at the two-year center in Marshfield before receiving her bachelor’s degree at UW-Eau Claire.

“She reminds me of me,” Ritzinger says. “For me, I was the first generation to go to college; to jump right into UW-Eau Claire, I would have floundered.

“For students who don’t quite know what field they want to go into or don’t necessarily want to move away, (the Barron County campus) is definitely a great place to let them start out on a different educational path.”

Arrigoni couldn’t agree more with her longtime family friend Ritzinger, saying she always will remember the tight-knit college community she found in her hometown. She said the school could be a good fit for other Rice Lake-area students who are unsure about their futures.

“UW-Eau Claire – Barron County can often be overlooked because it’s a small school in our hometown,” Arrigoni says. “There’s greater opportunity to be involved in leadership roles because it’s a smaller campus and you receive a quality support system.”