Outstanding Graduates Honored

Published: December 12, 2014

By: John Mielke

At the University of Wisconsin-Parkside Winter 2014 Commencement Ceremony Saturday, Dec. 13, Christopher Buss of West Bend, Wis., Mila DeChant of Mt. Pleasant, and Bryan Miller of Paddock Lake were recognized as outstanding graduates for their academic achievement, and campus and community engagement.
Academic departments nominate students for the Outstanding Graduate designation. The recipients are selected by a committee of Parkside faculty. Of the three, Miller was chosen as the Chancellor's Award recipient, symbolic of the top graduate in the class.

The university awarded more than 270 degrees at the winter ceremony. 

Bryan Miller, Chancellor's Award
Miller's story exemplifies the opportunities provided by UW-Parkside to nontraditional and part-time students. Miller began his journey in higher education at the age of 30. Although he didn't start at Parkside, it became his academic home. 

His nominators wrote: "While a 4.0 GPA says a lot, it doesn't fully capture the excellence of his work." Faculty members describe Miller as, "a natural leader who knows how to bring out the best in his teammates by building trust and rapport, as well as creating respect for himself while respecting others." 

Miller demonstrated his leadership capabilities outside the classroom in 2003. When he and his now husband were threatened by Wisconsin's move toward banning gay marriages and civil unions, Miller felt the need to become a political advocate. He ran for and was elected chairman of the Kenosha County Democratic Party, where he served two terms. 

Amongst all this, Miller still found time to start a second career as a Zumba instructor. Despite opportunities to teach on cruise ships, he focused on using his new career to further serve the community. He participated in Zumbathons and other fitness demonstrations to raise funds and awareness for causes including the Susan G. Komen Foundation, Milwaukee PrideFest, and more. 

"Not only did UW-Parkside give me this top-notch education," Miller said, "it provided me an opportunity to really connect on campus." He was active serving as a Ranger Welcome Leader, the nontraditional student representative on parent Q&A panels, and as a peer mentor for the 2012-2013 academic year. 

His nominators say Miller sets a wonderful example for all students at UW-Parkside: "It is rare to see an individual with a perfect academic record despite full-time work and life responsibilities." 

Miller said that he will use his education to stay engaged in his local communities by making them better places to live for everyone, and ensuring others have an enhanced quality of life. 

Christopher Buss 
Buss is not the first UW-Parkside student to earn a double major. He may, however, be the first to combine English with computer science. Nominators from the Computer Science Department describe Buss as talented and hard-working. Those from the English Department say he is an engaged and engaging student with a clear, analytic mind and a gift for writing and imagining. 

Buss served the Parkside Academic Resource Center (PARC) as both a writing tutor and a computer-science tutor. PARC Director Nick Tryling noted that Buss almost "single-handedly doubled the activity of computer-science tutoring from the previous semester." What the PARC will miss most when Buss graduates, Tryling said, "is simply his happy disposition." 

Buss says that Parkside taught him to, "appreciate people who educate me rather than give me answers, and I feel that Parkside has given me the ability to give the same gift to others." 

Many of his peers believe Buss will make a good professor. He likes to think those comments reflect the way in which Parkside educated him on how to effectively share knowledge. "I have no doubt," Buss said, "that my education at Parkside will assist me as a software engineer, professor, or even simply as a guy who loves to teach and be taught." 

Mila DeChant 
DeChant credits her accomplishments at UW-Parkside to the place and the people. "My gratitude," she said, "goes to this institution and to everyone who has contributed to my success. I truly had a support system. Even those with whom I had disagreements have allowed me to grow." 

The Communication Department nominated DeChant as an Outstanding Graduate because of her "high standards of excellence, professionalism, and creativity and insight in applying theory to practice." 

In addition to majoring in communication, DeChant completed minors in organizational communication and public relations, and a certificate in conflict analysis and resolution. She is a member of the national communication honor society, Lambda Pi Eta. 

DeChant was elected president of the Parkside Association of Communicators (PAC), a student organization that had been dormant for almost two years. She successfully revived it with her unwavering determination and enthusiasm and built awareness of the club among communication majors and non-majors through creative and collaborative events that positioned PAC as a vital community-oriented organization. 

Her nominators say: "Mila demonstrates both intellectual and personal leadership. Her passion for social justice is contagious. What makes Mila unique, and uniquely valuable, is her rare combination of intellectual rigor, moral courage, and joyful participation in whatever it is that needs to be done."

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