Whirlwind year leads to inaugurationFor nearly a year, Renee Wachter has been on a treasure hunt. The University of Wisconsin-Superior chancellor has discovered nuggets of creative, student-centered activities in every department she’s visited since coming to the school in July.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
For nearly a year, Renee Wachter has been on a treasure hunt. The University of Wisconsin-Superior chancellor has discovered nuggets of creative, student-centered activities in every department she’s visited since coming to the school in July. They range from “hive nights” where staff and faculty visit dorms to talk with students to varied research opportunities and the sheer number of students engaged in some kind of experience of the arts.
“We are so rich,” Wachter said. “That’s been a complete joy.”
Weathering unplanned mid-year budget cuts has been the new chancellor’s biggest hurdle to date. She said the school met that challenge with open, candid conversation about priorities and a sense of solidarity. Since she came to the school in July, Wachter has been discussing the institution’s future course with people both on and off campus. Common themes have emerged, including a passion for helping first-generation students succeed and commitment to the school’s liberal arts core.
“Creating an education for tomorrow I think is no more appropriate than in the turbulent world that we’re experiencing today,” Wachter said.
School administrators will highlight UWS’ strengths for the visiting UW-System Board of Regents next week. They include the school’s research centers, the physical transformation of the campus, the university’s high impact liberal arts education practices and a new NorthWERD regional education consortium to help economic development. And Thursday, Wachter will be inaugurated as the school’s 12th chancellor.
“I think the inauguration and the Board of Regents meeting is as much a celebration of the past history of the university and the success it has had as it is the installation of the new chancellor,” she said. “And we’ll be doing a lot of reflecting and celebrating the unique aspects of the campus.”
The community is invited to drop by for campus events, including public Board of Regents meetings April 12-14.
“When opportunities are available to the public I really encourage people to come out and take a look, especially if you haven’t been on campus for a while because it has been so transformed these last few years,” Wachter said. “And it’s the people’s institution.”
There are no walls on campus; the university and community are inextricably linked.
“The whole theme of my inauguration and this Board of Regents meeting is partnerships for progress, meaning that if one of us suffers, we all suffer and if one of us grows, we all grow,” Wachter said.
That’s why entering the NorthWERD group made sense. Combining public, private and tribal higher learning institutions and agencies should create a synergy in which the sum of the whole is greater than its parts, Wachter said.
“We know that communities and institutions in the communities won’t have a lot of financial resources in the future because of what’s happening with state funding priorities,” she said. “But it also means that this is the best time to be able to leverage the assets that each of us has to be able to contribute to the development of the region. I think we have lots of room to collaborate.”
Research centers that work to solve real problems have made UWS No. 3 in the UW system in terms of federal grant and research funding.
“And the exciting thing for students is they’re right there with the faculty members learning about the pressing issues surrounding the various industries,” Wachter said.
More than 600 UWS students are engaged in service learning this year at more than 50 different businesses.
“And if you were to put a price tag on that, on the service that the students provide, it’s over $300,000 … to the community at large,” Wachter said.
The chancellor’s first year has been a whirlwind of activity. She may be hoping for more chances to sail and a few tomato plants in her garden, but Wachter’s focus remains on the campus she leads. Just take a look at her car — painted yellowjacket gold with a design of Buzz on the hood.
“There is no (other) place that I can imagine being,” she said. “I think in a certain sense all roads led to Superior.”