Harvesting homegrown talent

The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater does not have a sprawling, bustling urban campus like its Madison and Milwaukee counterparts.

And unlike those larger schools, Whitewater alumni cannot boast of high-profile Division I athletic conference championships (although the Warhawks football team nearly won the NCAA Division III championship in 2005 and 2006).

What UW-Whitewater does have is a solid reputation as a quality regional university with a very strong business school that is producing some of southeastern Wisconsin’s most prominent and dynamic corporate and civic leaders.

Now the university is working to build on that reputation. UW-Whitewater is making significant changes to raise admission standards and enhance its campus, including its College of Business and Economics.

The school is also looking for a new chancellor. Richard Telfer will serve as interim chancellor for one year, ending in June 2008, when the UW Board of regents is expected to name a permanent successor for former chancellor Martha Saunders.

In the next six years, the Whitewater campus will undergo more than $100 million in construction projects and increase the requirements for its admissions, with the goal of achieving premiere status among regional comprehensive universities.

The business school is a focal point for the new construction. Earlier this year, UW-Whitewater broke ground on Timothy J. Hyland Hall, a $41 million business school building.

The 217,000-square-foot structure will feature 38 classrooms, a state-of-the-art trading room, a 400-seat auditorium, two 150-seat lecture halls, five computer labs, faculty and administrative offices, a center for entrepreneurial development, a global research center, a fiscal economic research center, an international studies room and three student lounges with study areas.

The business school is expected to move from its current location in Carlson Hall to the new building by the summer of 2009.

The modern building will become a symbol to those affiliated with the university and outsiders of the level of learning offered at UW-Whitewater and the future of the campus. Most of the university’s buildings were built in the 1950s. The last major construction project, an addition to library, was done in the 1980s, Telfer said.

“When we finish the facility, it is certainly going to be one of the finest academic business facilities in the Midwest,” said Christine Clements, dean of UW-Whitewater’s College of Business and Economics. “And while I think we have done a laudable job (at Carlson Hall) doing everything we possibly can to make this the ultimate learning experience for our students, we do it on a wing and a prayer. And (this building) isn’t pretty. I would say we really have earned this facility, given how much we do and how hard we work to be a good resource, to offer tremendous educational opportunities and how little we have actually used of state money.”

For the past three years, UW-Whitewater’s administration, guided by Saunders, with the help of students, faculty, and community participants, have been carrying out a strategic plan for the campus and the curriculum.

UW-Whitewater is taking its best programs and raising their benchmarks. It is taking its weaker buildings and creating sleek, high-tech environments for students. It is embracing the fact that learning happens both inside and outside the classroom, creating meeting spaces and necessary partnerships locally and regionally.

From 2003 to 2008, UW-Whitewater will have increased its average ACT score for incoming freshman from 22.09 to 23; its courses offered through alternative delivery from 114 to 200; and its grant funding from $6.63 million to $7 million.

“We are truly looking at who we were, where we are now and where we want to be,” Telfer said.

UW-Whitewater is located in a community of about 13,500 residents, located 53 miles southwest of Milwaukee. The campus is about a half-hour drive off of Interstate 43, through winding roads and fields of corn.

About 10,000 students are enrolled at UW-Whitewater. The majority of students come from towns within a 100-mile radius of campus. Many of them are the first generation in their families to go to college.

In its quaint location, UW-Whitewater focuses on making its students feel welcome and comfortable so that they can learn from professors, professionals and each other and build a solid foundation for success in the workplace.

It is at once a microcosm for its inhabitants and a beacon for employers.

“I think we are perceived as a strong institution. I think we are perceived as an institution where our students work hard, our students are successful. The people who hire our students regularly tell us that the students are prepared, they know their stuff, they are hard-working and ready to work,” said Telfer. “Our graduates are leaders in the community and very much a part of the state.”

Between 80 and 85 percent of the school’s graduates remain in Wisconsin to start their careers, according to Telfer. Forty percent of its students are enrolled in the College of Business and Economics.

“In our college, we are committed to what we would call a work-integrated learning model, and the work-integrated learning model means we not only want students to have rigorous academic learning while they are here, but we also want them to leave here having applied experienced in their career areas,” Clements said.

Part of UW-Whitewater’s mission involves providing accessible education, with low student-to-teacher ratios and a high amount of training and attention. UW-Whitewater is looking to improve what it can offer its students without becoming a large destination school, Telfer said.

Although the new buildings do not themselves provide a high quality education, it is difficult for a university to attract high-quality students and faculty when other colleges in the state have new buildings and high-tech capabilities readily available, said Lee Riordan, a partner with New York-based Deloitte & Touche LLP and managing tax partner in Wisconsin.

Riordan is a 1976 graduate of the accounting program at UW-Whitewater. He continues to be connected with the school by serving on the business advisory board for the College of Business and Economics, in addition to personally recruiting graduates to Deloitte and spearheading an employee-run fundraiser for the new business building. The Milwaukee office of Deloitte hires more graduates from UW-Whitewater than any other UW school, he said.

“Clearly, when I go to campuses like UW-Milwaukee and UW-Madison and see their new business schools, it kind of makes you wonder how (UW-Whitewater) can attract the best and brightest because they are at a little disadvantage,” Riordan said. “The building will help to attract top quality students and enhance the educational experience.”

The $350,000 that employees of Deloitte raised will go toward the Deloitte Café, a cafeteria within the building, but also to fund endowments for professorships. Still, a building is just a building to Deloitte, Riordan said.

“The quality of the education is really dependent on the professors,” Riordan said.

Carol Schneider, founder and chief executive officer of Grafton-based Seek Careers/Staffing Inc., is a 1958 graduate of the business school. Schneider serves on the university’s business advisory board, has talked to students about entrepreneurship and has held sales contests to recruit and hire graduates.

Deloitte, Seek and other local businesses also recruit on a continuous basis from the business school because the majority of the graduates intend to stay in Wisconsin.

“There is definitely a better focus by Wisconsin companies recruiting from Whitewater because they know a larger percentage of students want to stay in the state of Wisconsin,” said Rich Meeusen, a Whitewater alumnus who is the president, chairman and chief executive officer of Milwaukee-based Badger Meter Inc. Meeusen also serves as chairman of the business advisory board for the school’s College of Business and Economics.

“We have a lot of brain drain in this state, and UW-Whitewater students run contrary to that trend,” Meeusen said.

Richard Hobbs graduated from the college’s accounting program in 1970 and currently serves as vice president and chief financial officer of Sensient Technologies Corp., a $1.1 billion corporation based in Milwaukee.

“There is no question, it was an outstanding education, and I had outstanding teachers, many of whom really took an interest in students to give them practical knowledge,” Hobbs said. “The foundation I received at UW-Whitewater gave me a good base in accounting and finance.”

Local accounting firms have benefited and grown their businesses by hiring Warhawk grads, and many returned the favor when UW-Whitewater was raising money for its new business school.

Timothy J. Hyland, a 1982 Whitewater grad and retired senior vice president of business development, mergers and acquisitions for Phoenix, Ariz.-based Schaller Anderson Inc., donated $2 million toward the building project.

Appleton-based Schenck Business Solutions; Peoria, Ill.-based Clifton Gunderson LLP; Brookfield-based Vrakas/Blum S.C.; and Brookfield-based Kolb+Co. each offered gifts of $75,000 each to the building. UW-Whitewater received $150,000 from Madison-based Virchow Krause & Co. LLP for the business building.

The Whitewater College of Business and Economics has on average about 4,000 students working toward undergraduate degrees, Clements said. Because of the large size of the business school, it is able to offer 12 majors.

“It isn’t just that we have these majors, but we have a very broad and deep curriculum,” Clements said. “You can go in the catalog of a lot of schools and see classes listed, but they get offered once every two years, once every three years, or unfortunately the faculty member who proposed the class left.”

Because the business school has the ability to fill the classes with students to offer full degree programs in specialized areas, UW-Whitewater is able to attract faculty interested in working in a specialized field of interest, Clements said.

“So, when the students go into the classroom, it isn’t just a management professor who is also teaching human resource or operations management. This is multiple faculty members whose main reason for getting up in the morning is operations management,” Clements said. “I think we have an extraordinary curriculum for a regional comprehensive (university), and along with it we are able to attract an extraordinarily talented faculty.”

The faculty has also embraced the future of education by collaborating with the school’s administration to offer online courses, which have already garnered national attention for their quality, Clements said.

“They are always evaluating their programs and what they need to do for the future,” said Ann Klisurich, vice president and corporate secretary for We Energies. Klisurich received a bachelor’s degree in business administration from UW-Whitewater in 1969 and a master’s degree in accounting from 1971. She serves on the business advisory board for the college.

“I believe UW-Whitewater provided me with the background you need to succeed,” Klisurich said. “The accounting program is probably one of the best in the Midwest.”

With the new donations, the strong faculty and the new buildings, UW-Whitewater will continue to generate a pool of talent for southeastern Wisconsin’s businesses.

“Our goal is not related to size. Our goal is related to strength and quality. We probably will grow, but it has to be managed growth because we can’t compromise the quality of what we do,” Clements said. “It is great to talk about being big, but to me, being big is not good in and of itself. It is good here, because it allows us to do what you can’t normally find at a school like UW-Whitewater.”

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