Grad continues her family’s Blugold legacy

| Judy Berthiaume

If imitation is the greatest form of flattery, a 1952 UW-Eau Claire grad named Van Egan should be feeling pretty good right now.

When Van’s great-niece, Nicole Egan, walked across the stage in Zorn Arena, she became the third generation of Egans to earn their degrees from UW-Eau Claire.

Van became the Egan family’s first Blugold 60+ years ago, but he soon was followed by his younger brother, Durwood Egan. Durwood, Nicole’s grandfather, earned a mathematics degree in 1960.

Nicole’s dad, John Egan, continued the Blugold family tradition, graduating from UW-Eau Claire in 1986, also with a mathematics degree.

Given the Egans love of all things blue and gold, it’s not too surprising that Nicole’s mom, Kari (Hanken) Egan, also is a grad, earning her education degree in 1987.

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May grad Nicole Egan stands with her parents, Kari and John Egan, both of whom are Blugolds.

“I love that my family history includes UWEC,” Nicole says. “My grandpa has told many stories of when he went to college here, and many other stories revolving around the community since he grew up in Eau Claire.

“But I did not realize until a couple of weeks ago that I will be crossing the exact same stage in Zorn Arena that many of my family members have crossed. To me that seems like such an honor. I am literally walking in my family's footsteps.”

While no one pushed her toward UW-Eau Claire, it really was a given that Nicole would become a Blugold.

She jokes that she was in high school before she figured out that there were a whole lot of colleges and universities out there that she could consider.

“Ever since I can remember, I told anyone who would listen that I was going to the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire,” Nicole says. “My family never pressured me into going to Eau Claire; they were always open to whatever would make me happy.

“It wasn’t until high school that I really realized there were so many other school options out there. So I toured 10 other schools to try to figure out if UWEC was really for me.”

As soon as her official tour of UW-Eau Claire was done, she was all in as a Blugold.

“I decided right then that this is where I was meant to be,” Nicole says, noting that the beauty of the campus won her over in the end.

As she prepared to graduate, Nicole was more convinced than ever that UW-Eau Claire was the perfect fit for her.

“I decided in high school I wanted to major in social work,” Nicole says. “This initial idea came from wanting to help people. Now, as I am finishing up my undergrad education, I realize that social work is about so much more. Social work is working with people to assist them in realizing they are capable of anything if they truly put their minds to it.”

As she looks back at her college career, Nicole is thankful that she embraced the many opportunities UW-Eau Claire offers students to immerse themselves in new cultures both within the United States and around the world.

Those experiences, she says, will make her a better social worker and a better person.

Among the highlights was studying abroad for four weeks in Stellenbosch, South Africa.

“I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to study abroad at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa,” Nicole says. “I took classes in political history, HIV/AIDS and philosophy. Each class had a field trip into Cape Town to enrich our learning.

“This experience helped me learn all of the social and political actions that can be taken to stand up for what you believe in. I witnessed race, gender and class issues firsthand while abroad.”

The summer study abroad program included 100 students from all over the world.

“This allowed us to have very worldly discussions in all of my classes,” Nicole says. “I am grateful that 14 South African students took the classes with us. This gave the entire class the perspective of the people living the issues we were learning about.”

A cultural immersion experience in Fresno, California, also added great value to her college experience, Nicole says.

“The cultural immersion in Fresno gave me a chance to learn more about the Hmong and Latino cultures,” Nicole says. “I had the opportunity to visit many different agencies and services where social workers worked. This gave me an excellent perspective on how many options are out there in social work.”

A meeting at a hospice agency in Fresno was especially powerful, helping to open her eyes to the many different opportunities available to her as a social worker, Nicole says.

“Because of that meeting in Fresno, I chose to do my social work internship at Mayo Home Health and Hospice,” Nicole says.

After she graduates, Nicole will move to Madison to look for a job in her field.

Wherever life takes her in the years ahead, she hopes she will someday inspire another generation of Egans to pursue their dreams as a Blugold.

“UWEC has always been a part of my family, and hopefully that will continue to be true for many more years,” Nicole says.

Photo caption: Studying abroad in South Africa was among the highlights of Nicole Egan’s years as a Blugold. She’s the third generation in her family to earn degrees from UW-Eau Claire.