UW-System Interim President Tommy Thompson

A focus on providing solutions — both on campus and in the community — has been a guiding priority for the University of Wisconsin system during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a visit to UW-River Falls, UW System Interim President Tommy Thompson said he wants people to turn to the university for help and solutions when needed.

“Next to our people in Wisconsin, the University of Wisconsin system is our biggest asset,” he said.

The universities have reopened, and Thompson has set a goal for 75% of classes to be in-person by the fall. Thompson said the only way to reopen schools successfully was to develop a successful testing program to keep professors, administrators and students safe.“I set up what I consider to be the best testing program of any university in the country,” he said.

The program received $60 million from the federal government for expansion into the communities. That expansion was seen in River Falls with a community surge testing site.

All of the system campuses are also opening up as vaccination centers, with nursing, pharmaceutical and other medical-related students volunteering.

Thompson was on River Falls campus the week of March 19 to visit the agricultural campus, including the dairy plant that was recently renovated thanks to a donation from Ellsworth Creamery.

River Falls is a unique campus within the 13-school system, he said.

“This campus has got so many wonderful things going for it,” Thompson said.

As the university is searching for a new chancellor, Thompson said he wants someone who will help grow the university.

Current enrollment is at about 6,000, he’d like to see it at least 7,000. He said he wants to expand the dairy science, business, engineering and education programs.

“Who better if you can do it than River Falls?” he said. “I want River Falls to grow and I want a chancellor that’s dedicated to growth.”

That person will need to be ready to raise funds after the difficult pandemic year, Thompson said. The new UW-River Falls chancellor has to be entrepreneurial.

“I want a chancellor to look around and see the facilities here, what are the facilities we have that are not being utilized properly?” he said.

The campus is in an area of growth in the St. Croix Valley, and the university can use that to find more ways to be a valuable member.

“I want the University of River Falls to bust out and I want an entrepreneurial, aggressive, articulate leader,” he said.

The Interim Chancellor Connie Foster is doing a great job in all those capacities, Thompson said.

The university has seen a lot of development recently, but Thompson said it’s not enough yet. He would like governor and legislature support to remodel the old science hall to stimulate some of that growth. UW-River Falls is the third highest in graduating STEM students. Further development will serve as an attraction to more students — especially those nearby in Minnesota.

“I want that new science building to be able to be utilized as an attraction to students, he said,” especially from across the river, to come over here and bring them this wonderful clean Wisconsin air and meet the nice people,” he said.