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UW Oshkosh access campuses lay higher education foundation for two grads

Principal Matt Steinbarth’s educational path may be different than the nearly 2,000 students at Fond du Lac High School envision, but he is convinced his start at the University of Wisconsin-Fond du Lac was a perfect fit.

He completed his general education courses while living at home and working part-time at the Fond du Lac Recreation Department and a local video store. He finished his bachelor’s degree in education at UW Oshkosh, graduating in 4.5 years. He received his diploma in December 1998, and the next month, in January 1999, he began his first teaching job at Parkside Elementary in Fond du Lac.

“Students might say it’s too small or it’s staying at home,” he said about starting at his hometown access campus. “There’s this perception that they have to get out of Fond du Lac. I loved everything at UW-Fond du Lac. It’s a great place.”

Starting at the Fond du Lac campus of UW Oshkosh was a great way to minimize costs during the first couple of years that brim with general education courses.

Steinbarth was accepted at University of Wisconsin institutions at Madison, La Crosse and Whitewater, but he chose to start his educational journey on the UW-Fond du Lac campus. He was a first-generation student and said he avoided distractions that can come at bigger schools away from home. He was named all-conference on the UW-Fond du Lac men’s basketball team and received a Mary “Ma” Kelly academic athlete award.

From an early age, Steinbarth had a vision about his future. But for students who don’t have a clear idea about a career, he said, that first year or two at an access campus provides a little more time to think about their future.

After starting his education at his hometown access campus, Steinbarth completed his bachelor’s degree in Oshkosh, followed by a master’s degree in education from Marian University in 2003, and administrative license from Concordia University (Wisconsin) in 2013.

Focus on the future

Around junior year of high school, Steinbarth knew he wanted to become a teacher. He had worked with the city’s recreation program as a playground leader, coach and referee.

He was close to his aunt, a longtime math teacher at Sabish Middle School, and he decided he didn’t want to take over his father’s roofing business.

“I knew I wanted to teach in Fond du Lac,” he said.

When it came time to student-teach during his senior year of college, he chose Fond du Lac. The principal at his assigned school—Rosenow Elementary—said he was a “good candidate to interview” when he was applying for his first job.

Steinbarth worked briefly at Parkside Elementary before transferring to a long-term position at Fond du Lac’s Woodworth Middle School in 2000, where he was an algebra teacher and later, assistant principal. In 2014, he was named principal across town at Lakeshore Elementary—a role he held for three years.

In 2017, he was hired as principal of Fond du Lac High School—the state’s largest high school in physical size and near the top 10 in enrollment.

“If someone had told me, even at Lakeshore, that I’d be principal at the high school, I’d have said ‘no way,’” he said.

On her way to a “CSI” career

A native of Greenville, Wisconsin, UW Oshkosh graduate Leigh Hayes ’18, is in her first year of a master’s program in anthropology at California State University at Chico, studying in a program described as one of the top in the country. Due to her educational path, Hayes was among several students asked in fall 2018 to participate in the search and recovery of victims of the fires that destroyed Paradise, California.

Before coming to UW Oshkosh, Hayes conducted research with Beth Johnson, a faculty member on the UW-Fox Valley campus, and the late Joanne Kluessendorf, former director of Weis Earth Science Museum at UW-Fox Valley.

She presented findings at the prestigious Research in the Rotunda at the Wisconsin Capitol while a student at UW-Fox Valley and again as a student at UW Oshkosh. She took part in the 2018 National Conference on Undergraduate Research her senior year.

Hayes said she knew she wanted to be a geologist when she was a senior at Hortonville High School. A quiet student, she welcomed the smaller atmosphere on the Fox Valley campus.

The school was the size of her high school and gave her a competitive start academically—pushing her to do research and present her findings.

“If you go to (a large school), you are one face out of 300,” she said.

On the Fox Valley campus, she had the opportunity to practice presenting her research and get over her nerves. Her professors boosted her confidence, telling her she knew her research better than anyone else.

Right choice for her

“I only applied to UW-Fox Valley,” she said. “It made the most sense financially, and my older sister was there.”

During her first year Hayes took an introduction to anthropology course and she was hooked. She began to explore how geology and anthropology degrees could work together.

After earning an associate degree in geological science at UW-Fox Valley, she completed her bachelor’s degrees at UW Oshkosh where she was a McNair Scholar. The McNair program helped her achieve greater confidence, as well as the skills to be a good researcher and successful in applying to graduate school.

At UW Oshkosh, she studied summers in the Ukraine in 2017 and 2018, with assistant professor Jordan Karsten.

“We would excavate and be digging during the day,” she recalled, “and then look at things we found at night.”

The scientists spent time cleaning bones and separating human from non-human remains, then identifying and cataloging their findings.

Hayes hopes to get a doctorate in forensic anthropology or bioarcheology and then secure a fellowship with an organization connected to the Department of Defense, recording the condition and age of human remains. She envisions work with Vietnam-era or other remains, where DNA can be compared to that of close relatives.

These are high aspirations from a once shy student from a small town in northeastern Wisconsin.

“I had a very positive experience at Fox Valley and Oshkosh,” the first-generation college student said. “The professors make the difference. They want to get students involved, and help us be successful and reach our goals.”