UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN River Falls
From left, UW-River Falls Chancellor Maria Gallo, Universities of Wisconsin President Jay Rothman, and River Falls business owners and UWRF alums Kristi and Jeff Cernohous participate in a groundbreaking ceremony Monday for the Science and Technology Innovation Center (SciTech) building under construction at the university. UWRF photo.
Oct. 24, 2023 - As supporters of the largest building project in the history of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls gathered on campus Monday for a ceremony celebrating the construction of the $117 million structure, the roar of nearby construction was evidence that work on the Science and Technology Innovation Center (SciTech) has already begun.
UW-River Falls officials, faculty and staff were joined by local and state government politicians, Universities of Wisconsin officials, business owners and others to applaud building at the site that began in late summer after Hagestad Hall was torn down. They told an audience that SciTech will be transformational to students and the regional economy and is only possible because of numerous strong partnerships necessary to overcome challenges since SciTech planning began in 2015.
“You were tireless proponents for this project, and in so many meaningful ways you ignited the power of collaboration,” Gallo told the audience. “So many of you have been there ready, willing and able to invest in a facility and vision which will not only impact our campus but the entire community and region.”
Referencing the sound of construction behind him, Universities of Wisconsin President Jay Rothman said SciTech will address critical needs in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) instruction to address industry needs. The celebration of SciTech marks a “historic day” at UW-River Falls, he said.
“SciTech demonstrates the power of collaboration with industry and business, further opening the doors to internships and career opportunities in Wisconsin’s fastest-growing region,” Rothman said, noting the proximity of UW-River Falls to the Twin Cities. “This didn’t just happen. It took all of you.”
Other speakers also noted the enhanced learning opportunities that will take place once SciTech opens, scheduled for January 2026. A range of student majors will learn through hands-on, high-impact experiences in biology, chemistry, physics, psychological sciences and other science programs in the building.
SciTech and its state-of-the-art equipment will foster research opportunities and prompt new areas of study and majors, speakers touting the much-anticipated project said. The project also will enable more partnerships between UW-River Falls and businesses that will improve existing business operations and create new ones while directly linking students to internships and job opportunities, thereby growing the region’s economy.
The ability to conduct research in a high-tech, collaborative environment working with businesses will have a significant positive impact on student learning, said Erin Jacobsen, a senior chemistry major from Stacy, Minn. Working in SciTech, where students from different scientific disciplines will be near each other, will enhance learning, she said.
“Working in an industrial setting, I’ve seen how important those connections are, and how vital they were to me getting my projects done,” she said.
Turning the idea of SciTech into reality took years of effort and required many partners collaborating. Jeff Cernohous recalled first discussing SciTech with former UWRF Chancellor Dean Van Galen and envisioning the project as more than a building. He and his wife Kristi, both UW-River Falls alums, donated the first $1 million of the $5 million that UW-River Falls must raise to add to the $111.73 million the state approved toward the project.
“How can we use it to attract and train a workforce to help build the region … to bring academia and industry together,” Jeff Cernohous said. “I can’t tell you how pleased we are today to see the progress.”
The partnership between UW-River Falls and state lawmakers was key to getting SciTech to the finish line. Rep. Shannon Zimmerman (R-River Falls) recalled first hearing about SciTech in 2016 and the challenges of convincing others in state government to make the project a priority.
SciTech nearly didn’t garner approval at the committee level because of a numerical discrepancy, Zimmerman said. However, UW-River Falls officials were adamant about the need for the science building and how it would expand the regional economy. They continued to work closely with Zimmerman and other state lawmakers, and ultimately SciTech received state funding.
“Projects like this are never assured,” he said. “But people just kept working on this one, kept partnering, and eventually we got it through.”
Once SciTech is finished and open, work must continue to link faculty, students and businesses and create innovative programming that leads to improved student opportunities, Cernohous said. Gallo said she looks forward to the day SciTech opens and instruction there begins.
“That is why this project is really so exciting,” she said. “It’s about what this building will mean in terms of enhanced opportunities for our students and how we can use this to benefit our entire region and state.”
To learn more about SciTech, or to donate to the project, visit https://www.uwrf.edu/university-advancement/support-scitech.