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Alumni Awards

UW-Eau Claire Alumni Awards

We are always excited to recognize individuals who have made outstanding contributions to their professions and communities, and who advance the mission and goals of UW-Eau Claire.

Do you know of a UW-Eau Claire outstanding Blugold? Do they embody one of the award descriptions below? If so, please complete this short form so they can be considered for a future award.

Alumni Distinguished Achievement Award

The Alumni Distinguished Achievement Award recognizes distinguished service to the community, state or nation in a manner that brings credit upon the award recipient and UW-Eau Claire. Alumni Distinguished Achievement Award Recipients doc file

2021 Recipients

Ron Walsh

Dr. Ronald Walsh has dedicated his career and life to education in Wisconsin. During his long career, Walsh worked his way through the ranks as a teacher, guidance counselor, principal and school superintendent. In 2014, he was selected Wisconsin’s Superintendent of the Year by the state and national school district administrators associations.

In his retirement, Walsh has mentored new superintendents to ensure that Wisconsin schools maintain strong leadership.

“I truly believe that success is never individually earned,” Walsh says. “It’s a combination of luck – not to be discounted, either – and the help of countless others. We don’t necessarily deserve the help and support of others and such kindness reminds us that our purpose in life is really to focus on the wellbeing of others. I hope I’ve helped others succeed in their lives.”

Walsh says his college advisor, Dr. John “Jack” Whooley, professor emeritus of education, helped him narrow his career path by suggesting he major in elementary education.

“Dr. Whooley’s kindness and caring drew me to always try to be kind to everyone I’d teach in the future, as well as everyone else,” Walsh says. “Dr. Whooley is second only to my father in helping me shape my future and the successes I’ve enjoyed in education.”

Walsh is a strong advocate for organ donation as he donated a kidney to his then six-year-old daughter Laura in 1991.

Pamela White

Pamela White has been chief nursing officer for Mayo Clinic Health System Northwest Wisconsin since 2012, working collaboratively with physicians and operations colleagues to maintain a regional practice consisting of five hospitals, 14 ambulatory clinics, and a home health and hospice program. She leads more than 2,400 individuals within the nursing department across the region.

White has served in leadership roles on the Wisconsin Board of Nursing and the Wisconsin Hospital Association Board.

“I have had many proud moments as a leader, yet nothing is even close to the pride of leading and working alongside thousands of staff throughout the COVID-19 pandemic over the last two years,” White says. “These staff have continuously given back to the ongoing patient care needs in our region and I am proud to be a part of that team.”

White advises UW-Eau Claire graduates to be patient, yet persistent, as they figure out their purpose in life.

“It will happen in time,” White says. “Be attentive and learn from those around you. Timing is everything, and your current challenges can turn into future opportunities and success. This will all help to shape your future.”

“Be confident in everything you learned at UWEC. Your education is well grounded in principles and concepts that will be the foundation of your ongoing success and future learning.”

Christopher Gleason

Christopher Gleason grew up in the school band rooms of his music-teaching father, following in those footsteps to become one of four finalists for the National Teacher of the Year Award.

Gleason calls his college days at UW-Eau Claire “paramount” in preparing him to be an award-winning music teacher.

“What impressed me most about UWEC wasn’t anything that would show up in a number,” Gleason says. “It was the care and attention that professors gave you. It was the family-like environment created within departments and on campus.”

Gleason is a middle school music educator in the Sun Prairie School District and has been an engagement specialist for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, delivering presentations at universities, school districts and conferences across the state. Gleason’s bands have performed throughout Wisconsin, including in the Capitol rotunda, and the middle school band he directs commissioned 13 world-renown composers in its ComMission Possible Project.

He has had leadership roles in state music organizations, has taught workshops regionally, nationally and internationally, and been nominated for teaching excellence awards.

Gleason was the Wisconsin Middle School Teacher of the Year and a national finalist in 2017. In 2021, he was one of 50 finalists selected from thousands across the world for the Global Teacher Prize and one of 45 from across the country to win a National Education Association award.

Eric Jergenson

As an FBI special agent, Eric Jergenson is credited with helping to thwart a 2009 planned al-Qaeda terrorist attack on New York City’s subway system, earning the U.S. Attorney General’s Award for Exceptional Service, the Justice Department’s highest civilian honor.

Jergenson enrolled at UW-Eau Claire undecided on a career path, but he quickly found a home with the school’s criminal justice program. He praised Dr. Randy Beger, emeritus professor of criminal justice, for taking the time to provide individual attention to students.

“To this day, I am still so appreciative for having been part of the UWEC CJ program, and for the instruction and guidance provided to me throughout my tenure there,” Jergenson says. “Much of my success today is due in part to the opportunities provided to me by UWEC.”

Jergenson also found a home in the swimming pool, where he became a four-year letter winner for the Blugolds and an All-American as a senior.

“It wasn’t until I joined the swimming team at UWEC that I clearly understood the value of hard work, and more importantly, teamwork,” Jergenson says.

After the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, Jergenson dedicated his life’s work to helping prevent such tragedies, working as an officer in federal courts in Baltimore and Chicago. He joined the FBI after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and was assigned to the joint terrorism task force in Denver, Colorado, where he was lead investigator on the team that prevented the subway suicide bombing.

Jergenson currently oversees investigations involving civil rights violations and public corruption matters for the FBI.

Sherrill Smith

After an outstanding nursing career in the military, Dr. Sherrill Smith transitioned to higher education where today she is dean of nursing and a professor at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, Wyoming.

Smith attributes her nursing success to her preparation and experiences as an undergraduate at UW-Eau Claire. She says the education preparation, along with the leadership opportunities in the UW-Eau Claire Student Nurses Association, were instrumental in developing the path and skills that have shaped her career.

After receiving her nursing degree at UW-Eau Claire, Smith received a master’s degree in nursing from Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, and a doctor of philosophy in nursing education from the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, Colorado.

Smith began her professional career as an active-duty Air Force nurse and remained a nurse reservist after leaving active duty. She was selected Air Force Nurse of the Year in 2005 and retired in the rank of colonel in 2011.

In addition to her military career, Smith had leadership roles in community health before pursuing a path in nursing education. She has published 27 manuscripts, four textbook chapters and presented numerus papers at regional, national and international conferences.

Honorary Alumnus Award

The Honorary Alumnus Award is presented to non-alumni or non-degreed alumni who have demonstrated great love of and service to UW-Eau Claire or the greater community. Honorary-Alumnus-Award-Recipients.

Lifetime Excellence Awards

The Lifetime Excellence Awards are presented to alumni who have demonstrated longtime, successful commitment to their careers and communities. These individuals have made a positive and dramatic impact through enthusiastic dedication to service and living their lives as a testimony to UW-Eau Claire's motto, "Excellence." Lifetime Excellence Alumni Award

Woubeshet Ayenew

Dr. Ayenew is a staff cardiologist who serves as the director of the Cardiovascular Clinic and Outreach Services at Hennepin Healthcare in Minneapolis. He is a respected leader in the cardiology field whose name regularly appears on lists of Minnesota’s top doctors.  He serves on the boards of the American Heart Association Twin Cities and Open Hearts Big Dreams.

Dr. Ayenew, a native of Ethiopia, has focused his work primarily on advocating for underserved communities locally and internationally. He champions self-reliance and sustainability in these communities. He has worked tirelessly to increase the number of minority physicians after realizing during his residency training at Hennepin County Medical Center that people of color who sought care often benefited when there was diversity in the care team that was advocating for them. 

He is a co-founder and the first board chair for the East African Health Board, where he organized Twin Cities doctors and nurses to engage 3,000 members of the surrounding communities in health education and advocacy. Since 2003, he has taken regular medical mission trips to Ethiopia and has facilitated international volunteering to underserved public hospitals for more than 100 volunteers from Minnesota and other states.  

 Dr. Ayenew calls UW-Eau Claire the “launching pad” for his career.

“Without UWEC, I would not have known teachers who could take you under their wing, mentor you and give you opportunities and encouragement, so you could do things you never thought you would do,” Dr. Ayenew says. “So many people at UWEC gave me these opportunities.

“It felt like my mentors at UW-Eau Claire were holding a torch and they handed it to me, telling me to keep doing this sort of thing for others. I’ve tried to keep the torch going.”

Outstanding Recent Alumnus Award

The Outstanding Recent Alumnus Award acknowledges the special achievements and great promise of alumni who are within 15 years of their graduation from UW-Eau Claire. Outstanding Recent Alumnus Award Past Recipients pdf.

2021 Recipient

Tyler Patterson

Tyler Patterson has worked for Fortune 250 company CH Robinson since 2009. He opened offices in two different countries – in Warsaw, Poland, in 2019 and Cork, Ireland, in 2021.

“Opening a new office is no small feat; doing it nearly 5,000 miles from your friends and family during a global pandemic is an experience that lives with you a lifetime,” Patterson says. “Learning a new language, engaging with new cultures, and building relationships with people in a new country were incredibly challenging. This challenge made the reward of success much richer.”

Patterson’s philanthropy shows his appreciation for UW-Eau Claire and future generations of Blugolds. He started a scholarship in 2015 for information system students and recently endowed that scholarship to ensure it will continue forever.

“Never stop being a student, keep learning and stay curious,” Patterson says of his advice to new UW-Eau Claire graduates.

Benjamin Griswold

Benjamin Griswold has excelled in corporate finance, started his own business and worked to help people struggling with mental health issues, homelessness and housing instability.

Griswold manages the employee assistance program at Optum in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, creating more affordable and accessible avenues to mental healthcare. Before moving to Optum, Griswold co-founded Wildflyer Coffee in Minneapolis, a non-profit organization focusing on employment and life-skills training for youth aged 16-24 who are experiencing homelessness and housing instability.

He started his finance career with Ecolab working on its acquisition of Champion Technologies in Houston, Texas. He later moved to Minneapolis to work in a customer-focused finance role with Treehouse Foods in natural and organic consumer packaged goods before making the entrepreneurial move to co-found Wildflyer Coffee.

Griswold and his wife, Rebecca, live in Minneapolis where he volunteers as a tutor, coach and mentor with the DinoMights urban youth hockey organization. He also works with InnerCHANGE ministry, engaging in peacebuilding and community development in the Phillips neighborhood of south Minneapolis.

Griswold is enrolled as a student in the masters of theology program at St. Catherine University in St. Paul.

President's Award

The President’s Award recognizes outstanding professional and personal achievements and service to UW-Eau Claire. Presidents Award Past Recipients pdf

2021 Recipient

Jennifer Borski
Jennifer Borski

Jennifer (Tobias) Borski is a hydrogeologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources whose specialty is cleaning up contaminated brownfields. For 20 years, she was a project manager who led efforts to clean up and redevelop complex contaminated properties. For her redevelopment work on one brownfield site along the Fox River near Appleton, she was recognized with the naming of Borski Boardwalk.

For the past two years, Borski has been a DNR hydrogeologist serving as the vapor intrusion team leader, specializing in developing policy and training regarding the contaminated air (vapors) emanating from the historical soil and groundwater contamination. 

Borski remembers her time as a UW-Eau Claire student, especially the importance of her geology department field classes, which she calls “by far the most valuable courses I took while at UWEC.”

Borski also appreciated the opportunities for internships, undergraduate research and independent thought that were encouraged by her professors. 

“Getting an education at UWEC was so much more than a classroom setting,” Borski says. “I fondly recall hours in Phillips Hall working on undergraduate research projects in the labs and routinely meeting with professors to continue discussions beyond the classroom. Phillips Hall was the hangout where everyone was treated as contributing adults and opinions mattered.”

Her advice to graduates today is simple: “Be true to who you are – the world deserves to know you. And always be kind.”

Paul Kohler

Paul Kohler has been president and CEO at Charter Bank for the past eight years, recently celebrating his 25th year with the financial institution. Charter Bank is one of the largest banks headquartered in Wisconsin with approximately $1.2 billion in assets.

Kohler had an internship at First Wisconsin Bank during his senior year at UW-Eau Claire and was hired as a management trainee upon graduation. The extensive training gave Kohler insight into all areas of banking that would be valuable in his banking career.

Every job teaches an individual something to grow in their working lives, Kohler says. He recommends that graduates take risks and follow their instincts to find a career they love.

“Perhaps the most important advice I can give is to be a good, genuine and kind person,” Kohler says. “Doing the right thing and doing what’s best for your coworkers, company and community will always pay dividends.”

Kohler has been a leader on state and local banking organization boards, and in many community activities including the United Way, The Community Table and the Eau Claire Children’s Museum, Boy Scouts, Lions Club and the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce.

Brandon Riechers

Brandon Riechers has spent a quarter-century working at Royal Credit Union, today using a quiet voice, steady hand and drive in his leadership role as president/CEO of the institution with 240,000 members.

Riechers joined Royal in 1996 and has worked in a variety of areas in the credit union including branch operations, compliance, IT and training. Prior to becoming CEO in 2017, he was the executive vice president/chief lending officer.

Riechers is active in the community and financial industry, both locally and nationally. He serves on the UW-Eau Claire Foundation Board of Directors, the Eau Claire Confluence Arts Inc., and the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce. Riechers is the current board chair for the Wisconsin Credit Union league.

In 2014, Riechers was recognized nationally as a “Trailblazer Under 40” by CU Times.

The Blugold Spirit Award

The Blugold Spirit Award is our newest alumni award, established in 2018. This award recognizes a supporter of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire who has a true love for the campus. Desired recipients will exemplify excellence in their everyday life and strive to share that excellence and the Blugold story with everyone they meet. Nominees must be alumni of the university, demonstrate a true pride for UW-Eau Claire, and “bleed” Blue and Gold.

Blugold Spirit Award nomination form

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