A tradition of excellence paired with unlimited opportunity makes the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh the place for students to transform into leaders, researchers and champions. It is a unique place where an innovative general education curriculum combines with a dedication to inclusive excellence, a national ranking in sustainability and a true focus on student success.
“Students are at the heart of all we do at UW Oshkosh,” Provost Lane Earns said. “Faculty-student collaboration, which has a long history on campus, plays a central role in our educational philosophy. Across all academic disciplines, our dedicated faculty members work closely with students to help them reach their potential in and out of the classroom—often well beyond graduation.”
As today’s students explore their options and begin to discover what kind of Titan they will be, 90,000-plus UW Oshkosh alumni make an impact every day in their careers and communities.“Through our general education University Studies Program and a broad array of academic programs, the faculty helps our students to think critically, communicate clearly, solve complex problems, develop interpersonal skills and appreciate diversity,” Earns said. “These are skills that not only prepare our graduates for the ever-changing workplace but also position them to lead fulfilling lives.”
It all starts with UWO.
Titans Are Leaders
As a tough middle school kid growing up in inner-city Milwaukee, Susan (Stigall) Gordon Barker ’79, had never once thought about going to college. No one she knew had ever gone.
“It was just not part of my frame of reference,” Gordon Barker said.
That is until UW Oshkosh professor emeritus of speech Joseph Mazza showed up in her classroom one day to share his experiences and talk about education.
“I remember sitting in the back of the room, not paying close attention and being a bit disruptive, which was my m.o. (modus operandi),” Gordon Barker said. “I was super smart and even back then a leader…just in the wrong way.”
Despite Gordon Barkers’s antics, Mazza sought her out after his presentation.
“He asked me a few questions and in my disrespectful, sarcastic way I replied. I am not sure what he saw in me or why he saw it but from that point on he became a fixture in my life—a second dad—and he would not give up on me.”
Mazza later told Gordon Barker that she had a chip on her shoulder that he was determined to knock off.
“He was and is a true educator and quite a human being. He gave me a different frame of reference for the world and made me want that world…that is how my journey began with him and with UWO,” she explained.
Decades later, Mazza remembers it a bit differently.
“She was loving and kind,” he said. “She was strong intellectually and emotionally.”
Once at UWO, Mazza put Gordon Barker to work as a tutor in his fundamentals of speech class that was geared toward minority students. “She could relate to and help others,” he explained.
Gordon Barker’s world opened up.
“I grew up around all black people—all black schools, neighborhoods and churches,” she said. “UWO taught me that goodness, or for that matter badness, has no color. That was huge for a kid who had no prior exposure to folks who did not look like me.”
Gordon Barker also discovered that with hard work she could achieve a life of success not unlike her mentor’s.
“He was a leader who was strong—tough when needed—but always compassionate,” she said. “I have tried very hard to honor that and to lead in the same way all these years later.”
Today, Gordon Barker lives in Fort Mills, South Carolina, and serves as a global leadership development executive with General Electric Healthcare. For more than three decades, she has been a leader of leaders, guiding others to grow and define their careers.
In October 2016, she returned to UW Oshkosh to receive a Distinguished Alumni Award at the Alumni Awards Celebration.
“I believe in leading by example. I have to be the person I want those I lead to emulate,” she said. “I believe a great leader is one who has compassion…compassion that is demonstrated each day.”
That’s not to say Gordon Barker doesn’t make decisions when necessary that are difficult.
“Good leaders see people as the primary consideration over all else and when that is done, all the other stuff gets taken care of … cost, growth, process, etc.,” she said. “I think leadership should be empowering and supporting without doing it for folks but allowing them the knowledge that some failure is permitted.”
Titans Are Researchers
At first, Nilay Sheth ’13, thought studying for his master’s degree in microbiology at UW Oshkosh was just a good backup plan after he was wait-listed for pharmacy school. But the decision turned out to be the perfect option for an environmentally minded young scientist who enjoys solving problems.
Born in India, Sheth moved with his family to Fort Atkinson when he was 12. As an undergrad at UW-Whitewater, he switched majors from computer science to biology/pre-pharmacy. He attributes his varied interests to a thirst for knowledge.
“I am a pusher, and I crave knowledge,” he said.
At UW Oshkosh, Sheth said he learned the meaning of “research” as he worked on his thesis project with environmental microbiologist Sabrina Mueller-Spitz. The results didn’t match his expectations in his research into finding an alternative molecular indicator target for detecting fecal population in surface water.
“If you find the results the first time, it’s just a search…not research, right?” he said, with a chuckle. “You have to keep looking. Research can be discouraging, but you have to ask the question, ‘why?’ Look at the bird’s-eye view, develop a hypothesis and put it to the test.”
Mueller-Spitz said while Sheth didn’t come into his master’s program with much extensive knowledge of microbiology laboratory techniques, his excellent work ethic and ability to learn quickly made an impression on her.
“He takes great pride in his work, and that’s no trivial thing,” she said. “He was open to learning. You can’t give up at your first failure.”
Through his research, Mueller-Spitz said he learned how to handle big data sets as well as how to communicate his scientific work.
Not only did Sheth test the waters, so to speak, by developing his own research question at UWO, but he also found work on campus as a research assistant in the Environmental Research and Innovation Center (ERIC).
In the ERIC lab on the west side of campus along the Fox River, Sheth has continued to grow in his career. Today, he serves as senior research scientist, managing the drinking water program, supervising the Door County beach testing program and gaining grant-writing experience.
“In my opinion, a good scientist asks tough questions and tries to answer them on their own,” he said. “Whichever discipline you are in, you have to be able to write that objective and hypothesis and try testing it on your own.”
Meanwhile Sheth’s desire to learn has kicked in again. He is currently working on a second master’s degree at UWO through the College of Business Executive MBA path. The program involves a rigorous 16-month, cohort-based curriculum with classes meeting on Saturdays.
He draws parallels between the critical-thinking skills necessary to be a scientist and the analytical nature of business. Combining a long-time interest in finance with his research background, Sheth’s goal is to be a chief financial officer at a laboratory or science-related company.
“It’s an idea,” he said. “I’m setting a goal, pushing it, and we’ll see what happens.”
Titans Are Champions
A self-described “workhorse,” UW Oshkosh alumnus John Dewitt ’14, of Milwaukee, commits to training for marathons the same way he prepares for teaching math and AP statistics at Nathan Hale High School in West Allis.
“I put in the hours and am very competitive,” he said. “Consistency is huge. Day in and day out, week upon week, you have to put in the time.”
As a dedicated student-athlete with a 4.0 GPA at UWO, Dewitt achieved a multitude of honors running cross country and track for the Titans. He won numerous conference championships, two All-American honors and two prestigious Elite 90 awards for the competitor at a national championship with the highest cumulative-grade-point average.
“Dewey (as we call him) capped his career by winning the UW Oshkosh John Taylor Scholar Athlete Award, which is given to the UWO top senior athlete,” said UWO cross country coach Eamon McKenna ‘04. “His resume is incredibly impressive…even more so when you consider he was working part time, serving as a tutor and an active member of several campus groups, including Athletes in Action, which works to bring together Christian athletes.”
To top it off, Dewitt developed arrowgrams (mathematical puzzles consisting of letters connected by arrows) under the mentorship of UWO associate math professor Ken Price.
“The research John conducted with me was very challenging,” Price said. “We spent dozens of hours trying to prepare an example with certain specific properties. This kind of time investment can be frustrating for students. Ultimately, we discovered enough new results to prepare a journal-quality research article.”
The results also led to a presentation at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and publication in the 2013 edition of Oshkosh Scholar, UW Oshkosh’s undergraduate research journal.
“John’s successes are due in part to his willingness to work hard, his high expectations and his attention to details,” Price explained. “He hated losing points on anything. John was always the last one to turn in his tests because he was working on ways to check his answers even though he had finished all of the problems. Habits like this can really make a difference in your grades.”
Yet underneath all that competitiveness and determination, there was a student who genuinely cared.
“John is very kindhearted. He is quick to compliment and encourage his teammates and others. He goes out of his way to make others feel welcome,” McKenna said. “He would often lead by example—he was always willing to do more, to do extra work like miles and core work, and to push himself as a competitor. He also did a nice job of communicating team goals to build camaraderie and unity among his teammates.”
Those qualities have carried over into Dewitt’s role as a teacher and coach at Nathan Hale.
During a recent visit to UWO to present a colloquium on “Teaching, Coaching and Running: Advice for Teachers and Coaches in their First Year,” Dewitt shared lessons learned.
Among them, he recommends—not surprisingly—that teachers be consistent in staying positive with their students.
“Get pumped up,” he said. “Smile and live the dream every day.”