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Chancellor exhibits experience, poise at UWRF

December 9, 2011

When Chancellor Dean Van Galen first stepped foot on the campus of UW-River Falls, he knew that if given the opportunity, this was the place where he wanted to be.

Although he had not applied for a job in nearly seven years, he knew that with the environment that UWRF presented, with its strong emphasis on students, and the sincerity and commitment of the people, this was where Van Galen and his wife, Mary, who have been married for 27 years, could call home.

“There is something special about the Midwest,” Van Galen said. “The humor, the culture, the people, are all something special, and it is something you miss after being away for some time.”

As a first-generation college student and only child of parents who completed eighth and 10th grade, the Waupun, Wis. native and UW-Whitewater graduate never underestimated the power of education.

“When growing up, my mother would always tell me that education was something they could never take away from you,” said Van Galen.

It is through this mantra that Van Galen strives for as he confronts the rewards and challenges as UWRF’s 18th chancellor.

Van Galen met his wife, Mary, in a computer science course at Whitewater in 1982. He was studying chemistry, while she was studying nursing.

“The rest they say, is history,” said Chancellor Van Galen.

Van Galen’s professional career in academics began in 1987 as a chemistry professor at Truman State University in Missouri. Although he would describe himself as a “hard” professor, he still misses the interaction with students. In 1991 he was named Missouri’s Professor of the Year.

It was at Truman State where he would meet Jack Magruder, who would later become one of Van Galen’s mentors in helping him pursue higher education. Magruder had been a part of the chemistry department at Truman where he served for 22 years as the head of science. It was through Magruder’s guidance that Van Galen became the vice president for advancement at Truman and then at the University of West Florida from 2003-2009. Magruder credited Van Galen for helping secure $22 million in state funds for a science building at Truman. As vice president of advancement, Van Galen was left to raise an additional $2 million to complete the project. Magruder said that as vice president for advancement, Van Galen did things extremely well.

“In a book called ‘From Good to Great,’ the author talks about how the reason why CEOs, educators, and leaders fail, and that reason is because of insensitivity. Dean Van Galen will never fail,” said Magruder.

But how does someone who earned a Ph.D in analytical chemistry go from being a chemistry professor to being chancellor? “Sometimes other people believe in you, more than you believe in yourself,” Van Galen said.

“You will never meet someone who is more humble, intelligent, with more competence or who shows more sincerity than Dean Van Galen,” said Magruder. “When I first met Dean when he came to apply as a chemistry professor at Truman in 1987 I wanted to hire him on the spot.”

Prior to receiving a phone call about the opening of the chancellor’s position at UWRF, Van Galen had never set foot on the campus of UWRF. Van Galen officially became chancellor on June 1, 2009. In the winter 2010 edition of Falcon Features, physics Professor James Madsen, who chaired the 19-member search and screen committee, said Van Galen, “stood out because of his tremendous commitment to the values this campus is known for, including our shared focus on the student.” As over half of UWRF’s student population are first-generation college students, Van Galen himself could immediately connect to the River Falls community.

“UWRF has a strong commitment to students, teaching, and learning. That is what makes us unique and defines us,” said Van Galen. “The relationships that we build with students are a part of who we are. It is very rewarding to teach first-generation college students.”

With the many challenges that are facing higher education today, Van Galen believes that the upcoming months will test what the future has in store for UWRF. “Who we are as an institution, and what we can do with the limited resources, challenges us to become more focused. As a result, we are going to have to do fewer things, but we are going to have to do them well,” Van Galen said when discussing a main focus of the UWRF administration and staff, the Strategic Plan. The Strategic Plan will help dictate the future of UWRF.

“Despite the many challenges, I have a wonderful job. UWRF is a great place to be,” Van Galen said.

The road ahead may bring forth many challenges, but with Van Galen at the helm, UWRF can begin to move forward and upward, as the path is being paved for future generations.