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Inaugural celebrates tradition, promise

<i>Photo courtesy of Jens Gunelson/UW-River Falls</i> UW-River Falls Chancellor Dean Van Galen (center) joins about 100 students to watch the Viking-Packer Oct. 5 regular season game on the large screen in the Falcon's Nest in the University Center.

Dean Van Galen says his inauguration as the 18th chancellor of UW-River Falls is not just about him.

"It offers an occasion to celebrate the traditions and promises of this campus, of telling the story of our university to the rest of the state," he said. "It's also a time, like commencement, that encourages us to reflect, to step back from the day-to-day issues and evaluate our role as a university, both in the past and as stewards of its future."

Van Galen's inaugural will be held at 2 p.m. Friday, March 26, in the Riverview Ballroom, of the University Center on campus. The community is welcome.

Inaugural week leading up to that Friday has other events and speakers. Van Galen called attention to one, Bowls of Hope, 5-7 p.m. Wednesday, March 24, also at the University Center, that he expects will be held yearly.

Bowls of Hope is a community fundraiser. This year proceeds go to Our Neighbors' Place in support of local homeless housing and services.

A $20 entry fee buys participants a bowl made in ceramic/pottery classes at UW-RF, the high school, middle school or one donated by an area artist. Samples of soup given by area restaurants will be served and local musicians will perform.

Van Galen, a Wisconsin native who attended UW-Whitewater, replaced Don Betz last June. Van Galen was vice president for advancement at West Florida University.

Van Galen said that so far, one of his strongest impressions of UW-RF is hardly a surprise.

"It's the uncommon commitment to students and learning done by faculty and staff, the mentoring they do, that happens daily on this campus," Van Galen said. "I would call it the hallmark of this university. The student experience here, the personal attention that's given, is very different from that of a large university.

"This is what attracted me here, and, in many ways, what I found has exceeded my expectations."

Van Galen said the mentoring isn't always profound or done by faculty. He told of an anecdote that reached him of a residence hall custodian showing a male student how to knot a necktie before the student left for a social outing.

Van Galen also notes that River Falls has a high percentage of first-generation college students. In addition, UW-RF students from Wisconsin come from families with the second-lowest household incomes in the UW System -- only UW-Superior has a lower household income level for its Wisconsin students.

"What those two statistics show is that UW-River Falls is a place of opportunity, and that's another impression that has struck me since taking this job," Galen said. "The impact through a college education that we can make in these students' lives is of greater value than what students get at Harvard or Yale -- and that's because of the difference in the backgrounds of students who attend Harvard or Yale and those who attend River Falls."

Van Galen, who lives in River Falls, said he is very comfortable settling into a small-town lifestyle with his wife Mary, who's from Fort Atkinson. The two met at college.

Van Galen said being UW-RF chancellor is exactly where he should be.

"No job is perfect," he said. "But I really enjoy what I do every day. Each of the days is unique and provides fresh opportunities to see the value of the work being done at this university. That's why I love being here."

Read more on this story in the March 18 print edition of the River Falls Journal.