Moving forward: Top 10 stories of 2023 highlight success for and by students

Heritage Hall renovation, record gift for Recreation Complex lead the list
State Reps. Clint Moses, right, and Rob Summerfield speak at a news conference to celebrate the Legislature's funding of the Heritage Hall renovation project.
​Jerry Poling | January 3, 2024

Student success, current and future, was at the heart of major progress made on multiple fronts during 2023 at UW-Stout.

The university’s top 10 news stories of the year reflect that progress. The list is led by state approval for the renovation of Heritage Hall and record private support for another project, the Recreation Complex. The facility improvements will support students on their higher education journey in the classroom and on campus in the years and decades to come. 

Student success, the leading goal of UW-Stout’s FOCUS2030 strategic plan, also was the focus of the other top stories of the year, including new academic programs, major grants, achievements and awards. 

A digital rendering of the Heritage Hall renovation
Heritage Hall at UW-Stout will feature more glass on the exterior and state-of-the-art classrooms and labs when renovations are completed. / UW-Stout

1. Heritage Hall renovation fully funded

In the spring, $139 million in state funding for Heritage Hall, one of UW-Stout’s major academic buildings, was approved and included in the state’s 2023-25 state budget. Bidding for construction will begin in fall 2024.

Renovating the 50-year-old building will directly address Wisconsin's workforce needs in hospitality and tourism, mental health and wellness, child care and education, food science, disability and rehabilitation services. Nearly 60% of UW-Stout graduates remain in Wisconsin, and the employment rate of recent graduates is 99.4%, based on a spring First Destination report.  

The project also has received $13.5 million in private funding from university supporters, industry partners and alumni made through the Stout University Foundation. 

Another renovation project wrapped up in the summer at South Hall, a residence hall. The $22.5 million refresh of the 1967 building, with 356 beds, began in spring 2022.

Also last summer, the university’s largest solar photovoltaic array to date was installed at Jarvis Hall Technology Wing, part of a multibuilding solar and energy efficiency project. 

A new west entrance and gathering space will be built at UW-Stout’s Recreation Complex, thanks to a $5 million gift.
Thanks to a $5 million donation from Dallas and Edye Pankowski, a renovated Recreation Complex at UW-Stout will include a new welcome center. / UW-Stout

2. Record-setting $5M gift for Recreation Complex

In the fall, UW-Stout received more good facilities news: Alum Dallas Pankowski and his wife, Edye, a Menomonie native, committed the largest private gift in school history, $5 million, toward the planned Recreation Complex renovation.

The gift will provide one-sixth of the cost for the $30.5 million project and create a new welcome and community space named in honor of the Pankowskis. The 2,700-square-foot addition will be on the west side of the Sports and Fitness Center, just south of the adjoining Johnson Fieldhouse.

3. Major grants

In October, the U.S. Department of Education awarded UW-Stout a $2.5 million Title III federal grant over five years to provide comprehensive student support.

The STRONG — Strategic Technology, Retention and Organizational Networks and Guidance — program will holistically support students with increased support in academic advising, first-year experiences, financial wellness and mental health counseling. 

Students work in Galloway Creek as part of the watershed monitoring project.
Students collect macroinvertebrate samples last summer in Galloway Creek. / UW-Stout

In August, UW-Stout’s environmental science and applied science programs received three research grants totaling more than $463,000 from the Freshwater Collaborative of Wisconsin. One of the grants, $358,940 for the Red Cedar Watershed Monitoring Project, will focus on water quality in the area’s lakes, rivers and streams.

Earlier, in April, the cybersecurity program received a $299,000 state Fast Forward grant to address workforce and infrastructure needs. The grant provides paid industry internships to students.

4. NSA cybersecurity designation

In the fall, the university received renewed designation from the National Security Agency and its partners as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity based on the strength of the cybersecurity and the computer networking programs.

The designation, through the 2028 academic year, is an extension of the university’s 2017-2022 designation from the National Security Agency. UW-Stout was the first four-year university in the state to receive it in 2017, and the university’s computer networking and information technology degree is the only undergraduate program in the state designated a CAE Program of Study.

Student Sarah Dillon use equipment in the Manufacturing Engineering Labs
A student works with a robot in a UW-Stout engineering lab. The new automation leadership program addresses advances in engineering and manufacturing technology. / UW-Stout

5. First automation leadership program of its kind

In July, UW-Stout announced a first-of-a-kind bachelor’s program in automation leadership. Inspired by industry, it addresses the new age of manufacturing — robots, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, analytics and more, called Industry 4.0, or smart automation. 

In the fall, UW-Stout began an esports coaching minor to reflect the growing interest in esports competition. UW-Stout has an intercollegiate esports — competitive video game — team, the first in the Universities of Wisconsin.

In January, the School of Management began offering a first-of-its-kind Service Excellence course with the support of Forbes Travel Guide, which is known for its independent annual ratings of luxury hotels, restaurants and spas in more than 74 countries. 

6. First state apprenticeship program of its kind 

In December, UW-Stout and the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development announced a first-of-its-kind state initiative to combine instruction at a four-year college with the Registered Apprenticeship program. 

The Workforce Development Specialist Certificate program, also known as the Train the Trainer apprenticeship, teaches students about employment and training solutions that meet the needs of businesses and workers.

UW-Stout is the first four-year university collaborating with Wisconsin Apprenticeship since it began in 1911. The program offers classes that fulfill instruction requirements for a Registered Apprenticeship and could be credited toward an undergraduate or graduate degree program. The three-class online program teaches students ways to design, develop, implement and evaluate training and development solutions.

Coding Club student members in Jarvis Hall
UW-Stout’s Coding Club took first place in a Midwest computer science programming competition. / UW-Stout

7. Students shine in competitions

Student success was tangible throughout 2023 with trophies and awards in numerous competitions. They won industry-sponsored, national sustainability challenges in San Diego and Scottsdale, Ariz.; a Midwest computer science programming competition; and took second in a regional computing competition.

Areeba Ali, M.S. food science and technology, won the Wisconsin Biohealth Communications Competition for graduate students at the Wisconsin Biohealth Summit. She also won the state title and People’s Choice Award for “Development of Eco-friendly Milk Whey Protein Isolate Biodegradable Packaging,” at the annual WiSys SPARK Symposium’s Quick Pitch final.

Game design student Aden Weisser won two awards at the M+DEV state conference in Madison while Isabel Roberts took first in a regional graphic design competition in the Twin Cities.

Three students, two from packaging and one from video production, took first place in a 48-hour national packaging design competition sponsored by the Institute of Packaging Professionals.

Make48, Chippewa Falls team members Brett Schaeffer and Megan Schutte
High school students compete in the Make48 competition. / UW-Stout

8. First Make48 Career Pathways competition

In late October, UW-Stout hosted Make48, a long-running, 48-hour national competition television show. Students from six area high schools invented physical prototypes to solve real-world problems in maker spaces at the Fab Lab while competing for cash and other prizes in Make48’s first Career Pathways competition.

Another version of the Make48 competition, building on UW-Stout’s applied learning focus and industry partnerships, is scheduled for fall 2024.

9. Women’s basketball championship

In February, the Blue Devils claimed the university’s first Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title in 16 years by defeating rival UW-Eau Claire 63-45 in a February showdown at Johnson Fieldhouse. Hannah Iverson was named WIAC Coach of the Year.

The women’s gymnastics team finished third in the National Collegiate Gymnastics Association championships.

Athletics also announced a new men’s soccer program. The team will begin play in fall 2024.

10. Top UW school for veterans

In November, UW-Stout was named the top public university in Wisconsin for veterans and active military students, according to Military Times as part of its national Best for Vets rankings.

In the spring, UW-Stout also earned a silver rating and made the national Military Friendly list for the 14th straight year.

Special services for veterans at UW-Stout include a peer-to-peer Veteran Mentorship ProgramMilitary and Veteran Resource Center, a Council on Veteran Services and a student Veterans Club.


Bonus: Top photo of 2023

Homecoming Parade
The top photo of 2023 at UW-Stout features members of the women’s conference championship basketball team in the homecoming parade. / UW-Stout

In addition to the top stories of the year, a photo of the year was chosen: Members of the women’s basketball team taking part in the fall homecoming parade.

The university's photographers and social media manager selected their 10 favorite photos of the year. Faculty and staff were invited to vote, as well as student families and supporters through the StoutFam newsletter.

The 2023-24 academic year at UW-Stout continues Monday, Jan. 22, with the start of spring semester classes.


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