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More than a decade ago, Spring Commencement at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside was changed to a morning-and-afternoon affair. The reason? With just one event, and a growing number of graduates, the university decided to hold two ceremonies rather than limit the number of guests each graduate could invite.
Saturday, May 14, 2016, the university set a record with 509 students eligible to participate in the ceremonies. That number topped last year's record-setting mark of 502. UW-Parkside Chancellor Debbie Ford told graduates and close to 4,000 guests that she is proud to lead an institution which reflects the diversity of the region it serves.
"I could not be more proud of our students and of our graduates – those who grew up just minutes from campus and those who grew up a world away," Ford said. "I'm proud of their success and proud of our faculty and staff for providing a highly relevant and engaging educational experience."While our vision, mission and core values are grounded in southeastern Wisconsin, the university's influence stretches far beyond. In just the past 12 months, we have added academic partnerships in Russia, China and Germany. Our students now have study-abroad opportunities on four continents."
This year marked the first graduates from UW-Parkside's Institute of Professional Educator Development. Six students were enrolled when the redesigned teacher education program opened in fall 2013. Today, more than 200 students are preparing to serve the region and the state as highly qualified professional educators.
Ms. Thelma Sias, vice president Local Affairs at We Energies and WEC Energy Group, reminded graduates that their educational process is far from over. "You are just beginning to get another degree," Sias said, "the degree that will be taught to you by the power of life. Your education is the license you need to build a new world. You are the keeper of hope for future generations."
Chancellor Ford, in her opening remarks, stressed the importance of UW-Parkside and UW-Parkside graduates in sustaining the economic vitality of southeastern Wisconsin. According to the Kenosha Area Business Alliance and the Racine County Economic Development Corporation, southeastern Wisconsin has witnessed more than $1 billion in capital investment in just the past few years.
"One reason this area is so popular is right here in front of us," Ford said. "UW-Parkside graduates bring the talent businesses and organizations depend on to succeed. Another reason is lifestyle … science night, concerts, theatre, art exhibits, and NCAA Division 2 athletics all add to the quality of life in our area."
Five students were honored as Outstanding Graduates, with Tyler Farrell, a geography and economics major, receiving the Chancellor's Award emblematic of the top graduate. Farrell's parents, Mike and Wendy, are UW-Parkside graduates. "Doing a little research the past few weeks," Ford said while introducing Tyler Farrell, "this appears to be the first time in UW-Parkside history that both parents of the Chancellor's Award recipient are alumni."
Geography Professor and Chair of the Geography Department Dr. Richard Walasek was among the faculty members nominating Tyler Farrell for the Outstanding Graduate honor. Walasek called Tyler Farrell one of the most outstanding students he has had the pleasure of teaching during his 35-year UW-Parkside career. "Tyler has challenged himself with rigorous courses … and has excelled," Walasek said. "He has a remarkable record of achievement and success. His two majors, overall academic record, leadership roles, and extra-curricular activities clearly indicate that this graduate is truly 'outstanding.'"
Tyler Farrell (economics and geography) Tyler Farrell says UW-Parkside has helped him grow and discover the things that he wants to pursue in life. "The skills I obtained here have prepared me for the many opportunities I will encounter in the future," he said. "The doors that have been opened for me by UW-Parkside are endless. My experiences on this campus have confirmed my belief that I want to help others." While Tyler was succeeding inside and outside of the classroom throughout his UW-Parkside educational experience, he was helping others succeed as an orientation leader, and as a supplemental instruction leader in both physical geography and the principles of microeconomics. Tyler served the university as a campus ambassador, and represented his fellow students as president of the Tennis Club and Geography Club. The value of a diverse learning community has also impressed the Chancellor's Award recipient. "The dynamic of the classroom changes when it is filled with a diverse community of students," he said. "Not only do you get the professor's knowledge, but the knowledge of a retired business owner, or an active-duty military veteran, a 36-year-old father of two, or a fellow peer living on their own, working three jobs and attending school full time. The experience and wisdom this diverse group possesses is unfathomable."
Tyler graduates with a double major in geography and economics. He also earned a concentration in environmental geography, a minor in geographic information systems (GIS), and a certificate in coaching. Both of Tyler's parents, Michael and Wendy Farrell, are Parkside grads.
Glenn Margraff (biology and economics) One faculty member wrote of Glenn Margraff, "As I consider all the accomplished economics students I have had the pleasure to teach and advise, Glenn Margraff has the strongest combined record in the three areas on which the Outstanding Graduate Award is based: academics, leadership, and service." Glenn graduates in just three years earning a bachelor of science degree in biology and a bachelor of arts degree in economics with a quantitative concentration. Following high school, Glenn participated in the AmeriCorps City Year program tutoring and mentoring inner-city youth in reading, math, and behavioral life skills. His ultimate goal is to open a charter school that focuses on integrating environmental sciences into the classroom. "Though I am unsure of the exact route I will take to achieve this dream," he said, "the experience and education I have received at UW-Parkside have provided me with the tools I will need to get there."
Rebekah Mokry (molecular biology and bioinformatics, and criminal justice) From an academic perspective, Rebekah Mokry is nearly flawless. Pursuing a bachelor of science degree in molecular biology and bioinformatics, and a bachelor of arts degree in criminal justice, Rebekah received all A grades and just three A-minus grades. The molecular biology and bioinformatics program is a small, selective, program that requires its students to conduct a minimum of two semesters of independent-study research. Faculty nominators note that Rebekah's accomplishments are even more impressive given that she is a nontraditional student with a young child. Rebekah's ability to achieve a balance between family and academics, faculty nominators say, is enviable and appears rooted in a tenacious will to succeed, tempered with a nurturing and giving nature that benefits those around her.
Mike Novak (marketing and business management) Mike Novak believes higher education is much more than going to class and getting good grades. "It's about developing new relationships, gaining new social skills, giving back to your community, and personal development," he said. Mike graduates with a double major in marketing and business management along with minors in economics and global studies. Outside the Business Department classroom, Mike served the university as a residence hall advisor and an intern in the College of Business, Economics, and Computing. Mike also worked at the Small Business Development Center office on campus, and was a member of two UW-Parkside competitive National Sales Teams. Mike also found time for international study opportunities in Dubai and India. Mike says his future includes pursuit of a Ph.D. with an ultimate goal of becoming a marketing professor.
Liz Robinson (art) When Art Department faculty nominate a student for the Outstanding Graduate Award, strong academic and artistic credentials are a must. Faculty also look for an excellent citizen, someone who is a model to their peers in and out of the studio. Elizabeth (Liz) Robinson, Art Department faculty say, is that person. In addition to a near-perfect academic record as a graphic design major, Liz earned a "Volunteer Service Award" from President Barack Obama, won the Kenosha Mayor's "Youth Commission Award for Volunteering," and became a member of Phi Eta Sigma National Honors Society her freshman year. Liz is a state-certified respite worker, is fluent in American Sign Language, and volunteers for the Midwest Therapeutic Riding Program. As for the future, the goal is pretty simple – Liz wants to become the best person she can be. "Living a life as a good person makes you happier and makes life better for everyone."