'University Ave.' would showcase local institution: column (with video)

4:35 PM, Jul. 29, 2013  |  Comments
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I sometimes hear the University of Wisconsin Marathon County being referred to as "the extension." In fact, in a July 10 story titled "Stewart Ave. name change unlikely," Daily Herald Media quoted one source who said that Wausau "isn't a university town. ... We're just an extension."

Because the presence of the University of Wisconsin in Wausau has evolved through the years, it's understandable that this perception of UWMC still exists.

We should correct this notion and celebrate what we do, in fact, have here.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison operated an "Extension Center" in Wausau, beginning in 1934 in the County Normal Training School for Teachers, at the corner of South 7th Avenue and Stewart Avenue.

In 1957, with great foresight, Marathon County pressed to change state law to permit the county to finance a university building. And so, in 1960 Marathon County opened the first University of Wisconsin Center in the state. This building, on the north end of the campus, remains part of UWMC.

The "outreach extension" relationship changed in 1964 when the nine UW Extension Centers were gathered into their own separate UW Extension division, the "UW Centers," under their own provost and governance. At this time four of the Wisconsin State universities also had branch campuses.

Both these two-year systems were combined with the larger merger of the UW and WSU systems in 1971. The UW Centers then had a completely separate identity within the UW System under their own chancellor. The UW Centers were renamed the "UW Colleges" in 1997.

UWMC has always been one very important point of access in a great university system, and you can pick either 1964 or 1971 as the year UWMC ceased to be an "extension" of any kind.

We're a university

Sometimes folks ask if Wausau will ever get a four-year UW campus. In fact, UW-Green Bay and UW-Parkside began as UW-Extensions, like UWMC. However, UWMC students can already earn baccalaureate degrees without ever having to leave Wausau, and this past year 20 students did so in business administration and American studies from UW-Stevens Point. UW-Platteville offers engineering degrees in electrical and mechanical engineering at UWMC. And starting in 2014, UW-Madison will offer a master of physician assistant studies degree.

As a UW institution, UWMC attracts students of all ages from across this region. In addition, while Wausau is sometimes referred to as the "Gateway to the Northwoods," we are also a gateway to the UW System for many Northwoods students, thanks to Marathon Hall, our 160-bed residence hall. We also have a growing international student population.

Wausau also has Northcentral Technical College, a developing branch of the Medical College of Wisconsin and wonderful high schools.

How do we let people who are passing through on Highway 51 know this?

We can hang out an educational shingle right on the highway - "University Avenue." Almost 20 million people pass through that intersection in a year.

Economic benefits

Calling attention to educational opportunities helps to recruit businesses, attract young people and encourage economic development. Look at the big picture: Only 26 people out of 100 in Wisconsin have college degrees. For this region to grow, we need more people studying beyond high school to prepare for the 21st century's workforce. Using this name is simply factual and shrewd marketing of educational possibilities already here.

The Chamber of Commerce, McDEVCO, and Central Wisconsin Progress have recognized the potential economic benefits to this, and last week Daily Herald Media also endorsed the proposal.

If the costs of this transformation can be covered with private fundraising, raising this sign on Highway 51 and Highway 29 would send a clear signal to the millions who drive through and into the city. Establishing University Avenue is a subtle but powerful way to demonstrate the region's commitment to education and to economic growth.

Let's get it done.

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If you've ever answered "Who has the ball?" with "It's halftime," you might recognize The Airhead. Check out the characters in our cartoon gallery of oddball fans.

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