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UW-Eau Claire alumnus visits campus while crossing the state by bike

| Denise Olson

Photo caption: Before moving to El Salvador to teach social studies, Gabriel Stauffacher first taught in the Boulder, Colorado, school system where he enjoyed taking his lifelong passion for cycling up the nearby mountain trails most days after work.

The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire is welcoming a special alumni guest who will be stopping by campus on his route across the state by bike.

Gabriel Stauffacher, a 2015 accounting and finance graduate, is making his way from Duluth, Minnesota, to Dubuque, Iowa, this week, stopping at UW-Eau Claire to check in with the people and campus that he says gave him opportunities, friendships and “many fond memories.”

Stauffacher, currently on summer break from a teaching position in El Salvador, is anxious to get a peek at all the changes to campus over the last decade and to connect with a few past supervisors and mentors.

“Being back in Eau Claire will definitely be a trip highlight, given my fond memories of going to school there,” he says. “It’s such a pristine landscape in the summer — I’m stoked to see how the campus has evolved over time.”

Before hitting the road for his journey, Stauffacher took some time to answer a few questions that help explain why a return to UW-Eau Claire was a “must-see” stop on his ride.

Gabriel Stauffacher ’15, accounting and finance

What is the story behind this ride across Wisconsin? What was the motivation? What is the overall plan for the trip?
close up shot of male bike rider in a mountain scene with other riders int he background

An avid rider since the age of 10, Gabriel Stauffacher chose to dedicate part of his 2023 summer break to visiting his home state by bike.

I grew up road cycling with my father who’s from Wisconsin and used to race all around the state. He helped me develop a love for the bike from a young age. Now that I’m teaching abroad, I want to reconnect with the beauty of my home state and do it with my favorite form of transportation — two wheels.

I grew up in Waunakee, and the goal of this tour is to reconnect with my roots in America’s prettiest state. I plan to travel ultra-light, only bringing a pair of flip flops, running shorts and T-shirts to sleep in — then switch back into cycling gear during the day. Many donuts will be eaten and an absurd amount of Snickers and Coca-Cola will be consumed.

I designed the route for “Gabby’s Dairyland Tour” with a drawing tool on RideWithGPS, which is a website that lets cyclists draw a route and then upload it to their cycling computers for turn-by-turn directions during the actual ride. My goal was to stay as rural as possible because those areas typically offer the best road cycling away from traffic, along with the friendliness of small-town folks.

Each day will be around five to six hours of riding with an average of 60-100 miles of distance covered. The beauty of going solo is being able to stop when you want for as long as you want or push harder when the legs are feeling strong.

What are the noteworthy stops other than UW-Eau Claire?

I’m really looking forward to the ride along the Mississippi River when I get south of La Crosse — that’s beautiful county. The towns along the planned route are Superior, Luck, Eau Claire, Ettrick, Viroqua, Boscobel and finally Dubuque, for a total of 464 miles.

three adults posing for a group photo outdoors, man on right wearing a Packer cap

Stauffacher (far right) and three teaching colleagues from La Escuela Americana in the capital city of San Salvador on a field trip to the Playa Los Cobanos beach.

How did you end up working as a teacher in El Salvador?

After working business for a while, I completed a master’s in curriculum and instruction at UW-Madison and began a teaching career in Colorado public schools in the Boulder area. Though I loved the mountain life and riding bike after a long day of teaching, I began to feel a pull toward my long-term professional goal of international teaching.

I signed up for a recruiting database called Search Associates online which helps American teachers go abroad to international schools teaching their content area, placements where we teach in English. I highly recommend checking it out to any Blugold teachers around the country; if they have questions, feel free to reach out to me about my experience with the process.

How long do you plan to teach in El Salvador?

I’ll definitely be back there for year two — there are some financial incentives for renewing my contract and I’ve made amazing friends and colleagues there. The country is extremely beautiful and small enough to do day trips to some unique places that don’t really exist in the U.S., outside of perhaps Hawaii. I can surf in the morning and be home by noon to hang out at my favorite cafe with my friends, then we can go watch the sunset from a restaurant on the side of a volcano. It’s hard to beat that lifestyle!

You quickly figure out if the international scene is for you or not, but I’d encourage anyone to try. As a social studies teacher, I believe we all stand to gain from living in a new country for a while and learning about and from other cultures. It has helped to broaden my perspective and develop deeper gratitude for all that we have in the United States.

lanscape scene in El Salvador including a distant volcano

A favorite recent climb in El Salvador Stauffacher made was to the summit of the mountain Volcán de San Vicente, the left of the two peaks shown here.

What were your most memorable or impactful student experiences at UW-Eau Claire?

I came in planning to play tennis, having been the best player in my small town, and quickly learned varsity tennis was beyond my skill set. However, in the process, I made great friends with the tennis team, all really nice guys.

Attending the career fairs run by the College of Business worked out well for me — I made a contact that brought about an internship between my junior and senior years working for UnitedHealthcare in Minneapolis. That experience proved to be a tremendous asset on my resume.

As a student worker in Davies Center, the full-time staff there made my campus time truly enjoyable. I became a building manager, which instilled a work ethic and sense of responsibility in me that I would carry forward after university.

I’m also still tight with a couple of my fellow building managers from Davies and the friends from working out at McPhee. My intramural basketball teammates and I still follow each other on social media and recently all found ourselves at the same wedding when two Blugolds got married.

Finally, I still talk to my boss, Chris Henricks, from Event Services in Davies Center. She was a terrific leader, always so kind to us students; my hope is to visit her when I pass through campus.

What advice do you have for today’s Blugold students?

Try all the experiences you can — you may not find those same openings after college with such a welcoming group of people. It’s a safe place to learn from failure, and you just may find a new passion.

Secondly, I’d say to invest in your friendships. It’s okay if that group changes after the first semester because everyone is still figuring themselves out. Still, find a solid core group and invest in those relationships — go visit their hometowns, take a trip together and be grateful they’re in your life. Chances are, you could be giving a speech at their wedding one day.