Chancellor's Blog

Students converse at URSCA day event 

Moments of Pride

Monday, March 6, 2017 | by Dean Van Galen

A few years ago I was interviewed by a student reporter and was asked the question: "What is your favorite part of being a Chancellor?" For me, interacting with students and seeing the impact our faculty and staff have on student's lives is immensely enjoyable, and probably most rewarding. Shelby Springman (pictured above at the 2015 Undergraduate Research, Scholarly and Creative Activity Gala) comes to mind. Shelby graduated in December 2015 with a bachelor's degree in animal science. While at UW-River Falls, Shelby found a passion for research as she worked with her academic and research Adviser Dr. Justin Luther, on a project focused on sheep reproduction. Shelby also demonstrated a commitment to leading and helping others, as shown through her role as vice president of the UWRF Block and Bridle Club, her work with the 4-H youth development program, her induction into the academic honor society Phi Kappa Phi, and her experience as captain on a Relay for Life team. 

I personally got to know Shelby through her involvement as a Chancellor's Student Ambassador, and I found her to truly exemplify the work that we do well here at UW-River Falls:  providing students with opportunities to develop their knowledge and hone their passions in ways that will help them to positively impact the world once they leave our campus. Shelby is currently pursuing a master's degree in animal science at the University of Nebraska, and can be said to be following her dreams - dreams that were shaped by her experiences at UW-River Falls and which will help her to go on and contribute much to her field and beyond.

I feel great pride in my work as UWRF Chancellor when I see the accomplishments of individual students such as Shelby. I also am proud of other moments when we are able to highlight the successes of our departments or campus as a whole, such as when UWRF hosted the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents meeting in 2014. Hosting a regents meeting happens for us only about once every seven years, and it is a great chance to communicate the unique strengths and culture of our campus to regents and other state leaders (many members of the Board of Regents are from the Madison and Milwaukee area and are not familiar with this part of the state). Another similar moment of pride occurred recently when on February 2, UW-River Falls had the honor of making a presentation at the Board of Regents meeting in Madison on our dairy science program, one of our most distinctive programs which has measurable impact on an important Wisconsin industry.

Among the 50 states, Wisconsin ranks first in cheese production, and second in milk production (however, we all know that Wisconsin cows are still happier than California cows, right?)

The dairy industry has become increasingly sophisticated, competitive, and global, both in terms of the underlying science and business practices. With this, there is a strong need for well-prepared talent in the industry, and for growing partnerships with higher education. Mentored by outstanding faculty and staff, our dairy science students gain knowledge and hands on experience at the Mann Valley Farm, but they also benefit from a broad-based educational program that develops skills that are critical to industry such as creative problem solving and effective communication. Our program is renowned, and the numbers demonstrate that. Many at the Board of Regents meeting were surprised to learn that UW-River Falls boasts the second largest undergraduate dairy science program in the country.

Our 137 dairy science majors are second only to Cornell University in New York, and we are the only Wisconsin university in the top five programs nationally.

The university's connections with the dairy industry are numerous across the state, as well as globally. Wisconsin's dairy processing companies small and large have been generously supporting the renovation of our Dairy Pilot Plant (where students develop and produce Falcon Foods cheese and ice cream!), and UWRF has even worked to help promote Wisconsin dairy products in China, as described at the Board of Regents meeting by Jennifer Lu from Wisconsin's Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

There are over 3,000 universities and colleges in the United States. While the purpose of higher education, in part, is to help educate informed and engaged citizens, in my view, it is becoming increasingly important for universities to also define their niche-to identify and pursue a specific set of priorities that it seeks to do extraordinarily well. The idea is that, especially during challenging times, a university cannot be "all things to all people."

The University of Wisconsin-River Falls has committed itself to focusing on distinctive academic excellence, to better distinguish itself among the higher education institutions in the region, the State, and the nation. While the Board of Regents heard about one of our most distinctive academic programs -- dairy science -- UWRF has also become a national leader in undergraduate research, places a strong focus on internationalization and innovation, and recently has launched high-demand, new academic programs including agricultural engineering, data science, criminology, and neuroscience.

Leading the university's presentation on our dairy science program at the Board of Regents was a true honor and moment of UWRF pride, and reminded me of the tremendous impact we have not only on the lives of our individual students in all the academic programs we offer, like Shelby Springman, but also the impact UWRF has on those student's families, on an entire industry, on a state, and on the world.