The University of Wisconsin Oshkosh will add a fresh round of graduates to its worldwide family of alumni on Saturday, May 15. The spring commencement marks the return to in-person celebrations of graduates and includes four ceremonies.
The spring class will earn more than 1,200 bachelor’s degrees, 200 master’s degrees, 157 associate degrees and more than 40 doctorates.
Here are a sampling of those proud grads who continue UW Oshkosh’s 150 years of excellence and opportunity.
Emily Koerner, a human resource management major from Oshkosh, has a job waiting for her as a talent acquisition coordinator for American Family Insurance in Madison. A member of the Honors College, the College of Business Dean’s Student Advisory Council and a former president of the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), she said her involvements outside the classroom were a benefit when charting her path forward.
“My involvement in SHRM provided me with so many opportunities to network with other HR students and HR professionals within the Fox Valley area,” she said. “Being involved in SHRM stood out when I was talking with employers for internships.”
Her commitments outside the classroom—plus special opportunities like studying abroad in London with the Honors College—also helped her earn the Katie Buchert Scholarship in Human Resource Management.
Kyle Gretz of Wauconda, Illinois was the first UW Oshkosh student to declare for what was then the newly created double major in sociology and criminal justice. He’d first chosen criminal justice with the plan to work in law enforcement, then bumped his sociology minor up to a major knowing it would only benefit him. He also earned UWO’s social equity and diversity certificate, knowing it would give him leverage in job interviews and, when working in a community, would help him when dealing with people from all walks of life.
“I see sociology as a great addition to my skill set, as it will allow me to examine the issues that I face within the public every day and analyze them on a more structural level,” he said.
On May 3, he was presented with the Don Martin Distinguished Sociology Scholar Award. He’s hoping to begin his law enforcement career and eventually work for a federal agency.
Sydney Thompson of Mercer graduates with a degree in finance and with the insurance and risk certificate and international business certificate. Finance wasn’t always her plan but she found her way at UWO.
“One thing I did know is I wanted to help people,” she said. “Becoming a financial advisor gives me the opportunity to help people reach their goals whether that be personal or financial. This career allows me to connect with so many amazing people and families and develop strategies that assist them in accomplishing their greatest objectives.”
Thompson transferred to UWO in fall 2019 transfer from Minnesota State University and has since become a two-time track and field letter-winner. As of the first week in May she’s ranked nationally in discus, shot put and hammer throw. “I will miss my teammates and coach the most,” she said. “I will miss seeing them every day and joking and laughing with them at practices and meets.”
Burgundy Pendragon of Oshkosh is wrapping up a six-year college career, earning a bachelor’s degree with a triple major of biology, English and environmental studies, plus a creative writing minor and the LGBTQ+ Studies certificate.
“I have been so fortunate to have so many wonderful and incredible mentors,” Pendragon said. “The support, love and pride that I feel from at least a dozen professors from across my five programs is overwhelming.”
In 2019, they earned a grant from the Office of Student Research and Creative Activity and the Green Fund for an environmental creative writing project called Wisconsin, the Wilderness, and the Anthropocene: The Existentialist Dread of a Gen Z’er. In April, Pendragon presented on the 57,000-word anthology at the National Conferences on Undergraduate Research and UWO’s Celebration of Scholarship & Creative Activity.
Among many other achievements and involvements, they also helped found Q+ Unity, the second queer club on campus.
Kylie Wendt, a double major in human resources management and economics, hit that ultimate goal of getting hired before graduation way back in September 2020. She has been doing double duty ever since—working full-time at Amcor Flexibles North American in Oshkosh while finishing up her coursework. “I am doing the role of HR administer, which consists of processing payroll for 2,000-plus employees, supporting union negotiations and helping deploy a new timekeeping system across the organization,” she said.
On campus, Wendt has served since December 2018 as the networking director for SHRM, the student chapter of the National Society for Resource Management. “I think the biggest lesson I have learned from this role is leadership,” she said. “Being able to plan events, see my ideas come to fruition and provide a space for insightful and diverse perspectives to be showcased has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my college career.”
In 2020 Wendt won the prestigious SHRM Foundation Undergraduate Scholarship. This semester she took on a research-based independent study, culminating in a paper titled Solution To Reduce Absenteeism: Nudge Employees Through Incentives.
By playing center for the Titan women’s basketball team, Karsyn Rueth learned discipline, time management and the importance of working hard. Those skills led to success on the court and in the classroom as she earned recognition on the WIAC Scholastic Honor Roll and as a basketball letter-winner who played in three WIAC championships and on two WIAC regular season championship teams and two NCAA Division III postseason teams.
“These four years at UWO have exceeded all expectation,” said Rueth, a rehabilitation science major from Loyal. “Trying to balance school while playing collegiate basketball is definitely not easy but taught me skills I will use for the rest of my life and prepared me to be successful.”
The next “season” of life will bring Rueth right back to UWO as she begins a graduate program in athletic training here in June.
“I decided to stay at UWO for grad school because I love the campus and the professors in the athletic training program. Along with that, the relationships I made with teammates, coaches and professors is one of the reasons I decided to stay, so I have the ability to watch and cheer on my teammates as they compete for another WIAC championship,” she said.
As an Honors College graduate and a secondary education major, Shay Hendricks of Appleton focused his capstone project on equity in high school math education.
“The best way to make mathematics accessible to all students is to provide them with an experience that is meaningful,” he said. “One of the greatest inequities in math is the use of rote and isolated procedures. When concepts do not connect, the learning remains very shallow and connections are not made.”
Instead, the solution is to encourage problem-solving skills, reasoning, creativity and analytical thinking to help create that “meaning” for students, Hendricks explained.
“I have learned that to be an educator means to make a difference in the lives of EVERY student who walks in my classroom. Equity does not mean giving everyone the exact same resources and teaching everyone the exact same way to succeed. Each student will have different needs to achieve high levels of growth and learning,” he said.
Hendricks plans to put all the skills he learned at UWO to use by teaching in the Fox Valley … and grad school is a long-term goal as well.
Appleton native Anna Murphy-Pociask has earned an Associate of Arts and Science degree from the Fox Cities campus. The sophomore originally planned to transfer to another UW school, but has since decided to continue her studies in public relations at the Oshkosh campus.
“I wanted to come to the Fox Cities campus because it is very close to my home and I wanted to save money and make money at the same time,” she said. “Living at home, I was able to work part-time as well as go to class.”
Murphy-Pociask said she is excited about the opportunities before her. She hopes to someday work in healthcare communications, possibly representing women’s health, or handling event planning in a corporate setting. She said she loves public speaking and representing brands.
“I have bounced around from education, business administration, communications, and now I found public relations,” she said, “which is where I belong.”
Cassidy Vande Berg of Eldorado, who graduates from the Honors College with a nursing degree, said she will deeply miss UWO and the wonderful professors and friendships she’s developed during her time as a nursing student. “The nursing program is amazing here and the instructors truly care for the success of each and every student,” she said.
Nursing alumna Bryn Portelli ’20, instilled confidence in Vande Berg that she would be successful in the nursing program and helped her with the application process. She also credits fellow nursing students who supported each other along the way.
“I hope to work for a few years to gain some bedside nursing experience and I look forward to returning to school someday,” she said. “I have always thought about teaching, so if I pursue that route, I would want it to be at UWO … my home!”
Vande Berg will begin working as a medical/surgical nurse at Theda Medical Center in Berlin. She also will work as a casual call registered nurse at Aurora Medical Center in Oshkosh. She will have her twin sister Cayley do the formal pinning at the nursing pinning ceremony Saturday.
Alyssa Schwebke, who graduates from the Fond du Lac campus with an Associate of Arts and Science degree, is planning to continue her studies at UW-River Falls, where she will study animal science.
The Fond du Lac native and aspiring vet tech has maintained a nearly perfect GPA since her freshman year of high school, works a part-time job and has earned six scholarships.
She said UWO Fond du Lac was a great place to start her education; she could get her pre-requisites done while living at home, take advantage of opportunities that come with a smaller campus and smaller class sizes.
“I grew up with both of my parents diagnosed with cancer, which gave me a different outlook on life and how your life can be taken from you at any moment,” she said. “This makes me a stronger person because it makes me live in the moment and do everything I can. My parents are a big support system and I want to make them proud.”
Kaitlyn Smith of Friendship is graduating with majors in radio TV film and geography. Smith is looking for a job in TV or tourism. She interviewed for a social media specialist job for Marquette County and she plans to continue applying for jobs in central and eastern Wisconsin until she finds the right opportunity. Smith transferred to UWO from the Baraboo access campus. “I had an amazing time at UW Oshkosh. I feel prepared for the future.”
Tevin Sharp of Milwaukee is still debating his next move. A radio TV film (RTF) major, Sharp plans to stay in Oshkosh. He is considering editing, on-air radio talent or a camera operator. He said the time went fast since arriving in Oshkosh in 2016. Sharp originally was a music industry major but switched to RTF in 2018. Sharp will be accompanied by his mom, sister and grandparents at the ceremony that celebrates his accomplishments. “I was one of the first males in the family to succeed in college and graduation,” he said.
Alyssa Reinke of Fond du Lac, who will graduate with bachelor’s degrees in environmental studies and geography, said she’ll take a bit of a gap before applying to grad schools. Reinke, who earned an associate degree at UWO’s Fond du Lac campus, aspires to someday work as a professor. She enjoys cultural research and has been involved in Green Fund. She’ll work again this summer for the Fox-Wolf Watershed Alliance.
“I went straight from high school to college,” she said. “It will be weird to be done (with studies). I don’t know how to stop―I’ll still help with stuff on campus.”
Reinke will be cheered by four people in the stands at Kolf fieldhouse, including a stepbrother she hasn’t seen in a few years and his wife from Belgium she has not met. There will also be a UWO commencement watch party back in Fond du Lac.
Kenosha native Angel Camacho said he is very excited to be graduating with an accounting degree. His parents are planning to be at the ceremony. “I’m doing two things this summer,” Camacho said, “spending some time with my parents and then traveling to Mexico (to see his dad’s side of the family) and Los Angeles (to see his mom’s side).”
The new grad will spend a chunk of time studying for his certified public accountant licensure exam. “There are four parts to the test,” he said. “There will be lots of studying, but it will be worth it.” Camacho has a position secured with the Grant Thornton accounting firm in Appleton. He said he’ll miss his professors in the accounting department. “They were all great.”
For nursing major Becca Birriel of Schaumburg, Illinois, graduating is a bittersweet feeling. While she feels excited to apply the skills she’s learned from the UWO nursing program within her new position as an RN at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, she’s sad to leave her successful college career behind.
During her time on campus, she was awarded the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence, won one of the six Celebration of Scholarship & Creative Activity undergraduate awards for her Honors College capstone project and served as a campus leader involved in many campus and student organizations while maintaining an active schedule as a member of the UWO swim team.
Birriel said that what she will miss most about UWO is the faculty and staff who have provided her so much support during her college career. These connections have pushed her to grow as an individual into a strong leader and a great future nurse.
Earning a political science degree in three years while balancing being a member of the Titans wrestling team, Mike Baumann relied on communication and discipline to succeed both on the mat and in the classroom. He graduates as two-time WIAC Honor Roll member, a member of the UWO Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, company commander of the UWO ROTC program and a graduate of the Honors College.
“I found that open communication and flexibility can go a long way and discipline is what allowed me to balance everything,” said Baumann. “It was important for me to remember why I was doing it and give it my all. I have found that as long as you show up and give 100 percent, good things will follow.”
What follows for Baumann is Marquette University Law School in the fall. He’ll also fulfill his service obligation as an officer in the Army where he hopes to serve as a Judge Advocate General or field artillery officer.
“Being a member of the wrestling team was more than just winning on the mat,” he said. “We were expected to be hard-working, disciplined, and good people on and off the mat. They pushed us to excel in all our ventures in life.”
Two friends who had a lot of classes together say it will be strange not having to focus on homework in the coming weeks.
Megan Olson of Oshkosh (right) is graduating with a degree in biology and wants to be a conservation biologist or wildlife biologist.
Lauryn Wiedholz of Racine (left) is graduating with a degree in psychology. She is planning to go to med school and will be applying for 2022.
A transfer student from Arizona State, she says she’ll miss her UWO professors.
“What am I going to do with my nights and weekends? Wiedholz said. “To be graduating ―it’s kind of exciting.”