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Alumni Spotlight: Brad Caskey

October 19, 2016

Whether it was during student orientation or Week of Welcome, students who first attend UW-River Falls have probably heard one man talk a bit about his experiences at UWRF.

Bradley Caskey is currently serving as the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, overlooking sixteen academic departments served by the college, including art, psychology, history and other disciplines. As a professor of developmental psychology, he has taught and worked at the university for over 25 years. In addition to his tenure serving as faculty, he is also an alumnus of the university, having attended the school as an undergraduate during the 1970s.

As a senior in high school, Caskey had the option to attend other colleges around the region, but he said that one reason he chose UWRF was a college recruiter by the name of George Hanson. Caskey met Hanson during a recruiting session in Caskey’s high school with nine other students.

“George came in and talked about River Falls,” Caskey said. “What a friendly place it was, and how they were looking for people to come here to be successful. And it worked; eight out of the 10 of us went there in a group.”

He said he felt that it was a perfect choice for him, as it was a short distance from his hometown of Colby, Wisconsin, and was a relatively small campus in comparison to other universities.

Caskey immediately got involved in campus activities, becoming the president of McMillan Hall his first year and getting involved with Student Senate his second year. While he separated from many of his high school friends during his first year, he said he instantly made many good friends.

“Back then, it was a lot like it is now,” Caskey said. “Everyone in the halls were really close, so I got that sense of community right away.”

What Caskey said he really enjoyed about UWRF was the ability to interact with faculty, both on an academic and a personal level, something that he believes is getting harder to do recently. He said he remembers during Friday afternoons that many students and faculty would get together to hang out, talking about life rather than academics.

“That really influenced me that this was a place that I could hang out with my teacher, and that I think they want me to succeed.”

Originally majoring in optometry, Caskey soon lost interest in pursuing that field due to the amount of chemistry required for that field. However, he later sparked an interest in psychology, which at the time was a fairly new major. He would later graduate with a Bachelor of Science, double majoring in secondary education and psychology as well as minoring sociology with an emphasis in biology.

After graduating from UWRF in 1980, Caskey later went on to earn his master’s degree and Ph.D. in developmental psychology in 1985 at Purdue University in Indiana, researching trends ranging in childhood development and aging adults. Having done research in his undergraduate studies, he said that the guidance and experience he gained at River Falls helped him feel less overwhelmed about graduate school.

After earning his doctorate, despite being offered several positions at Div. I research universities, he declined those positions in favor of a school that was more focused on education rather than research.

“I wanted to go to a school that really valued teaching,” Caskey said. “And you might be thinking, ‘Don’t all schools value teaching?’ and the answer is no.”

In addition to finding a school that valued education, he said he also wanted to find a school in which faculty worked well together, which he felt was lacking in the previous schools he had worked. After a few years of teaching at some private institutions, he decided to apply for a position that was being offered at UWRF.

When Caskey applied, he decided not to disclose the fact that he had graduated from UWRF ten years earlier, despite the fact that his college roommate, Professor Richard Seefeldt, was hired in the same department two years earlier. When Caskey got the position, he said he realized that it was an excellent choice.

“One of things I wanted to know was, ‘Do these people like each other?’” he said “And it was a great department. They got along, they joked with each other, they were serious, but that’s what made me come back here.”

During his time as a professor at UWRF, he taught and advised over thousands of students in undergraduate and graduate classes, and would later earn the Distinguished Teacher Award in 1997 and the Advisor of the Year award in 2004.

Having enjoyed several years of teaching and advising students throughout the years, Caskey said he believes that many of the current students are at UWRF for the same reasons as the students before them. Without the sense of entitlement that other institutions offer, he said he feels that more students at UWRF have a primary objective to learn than at other schools.

One piece of advice that Caskey has given to his students is that the ability to react to failure is important, and it is something that he suggests to many of the students that he works with.

“It’s going to be difficult, but the key now is. ‘What do you do next?’” he said. “Because I know that the first reaction to failure is to stop everything, so how you react to that first failure [is important].”

He also said that getting involved with at least one activity on campus is a good way to balance one’s schedule. For Caskey as a student, that meant playing broomball.

“I didn’t do it because I thought I would be good at it,” Caskey said. “I just wanted to try something different, and every time I think of broomball now it brings a smile.”

In all, Caskey is an example of not only the people who strive to make UWRF welcoming and well balanced, but also how far alumni strive toward success. Caskey will be a presence on campus for years to come.