Alumni Spotlight: Wesley Chapin
October 26, 2016
This week’s featured alumnus has led many students abroad over his two decades of teaching at UW-River Falls, and will be leading two study abroad trips to Germany in the spring semester.
Wesley Chapin is currently serving as the Associate Chancellor of Academic Affairs and Graduate Studies, a position which overlooks faculty development, honors programs, graduate studies and other university functions. A professor of political science, he has worked for the university since 1997, and also has a daughter who attends the school.
Growing up on a farm in Wisconsin, Chapin’s interest in agriculture and business led him to choose UWRF, initially majoring in agricultural economics. He said that his first experience as an undergraduate was typical, like what most students experience today.
“I made some friendships that I still have to this day,” Chapin said. “And throughout my time as a college student, we’ve remained in touch.”
While living in McMillan Hall, Chapin interacted with many of his fellow peers throughout his time as an undergraduate, going to events like Minnesota Vikings games (ironically, he was wearing a Green Bay Packers tie during his interview), and getting involved in intramural sports and student government. He said that it was a good place to meet people who were different from the people in his hometown.
During his undergraduate studies, Chapin took a semester off due to financial reasons, which gave him time to rethink his major. During this period, he said he became more interested in learning economics than agriculture.
“I spent a lot of time thinking about what made sense for me,” he said. “And for some reason, the idea of being an economics major was very intriguing.”
Upon returning to UWRF, Chapin went on to be elected as Student Body President, which led to him to become more involved with political issues on campus, even some issues at the state and federal level. As his political interests grew, he began taking more political science classes, which would eventually lead him to becoming an intern for U.S. Sen. William Proxmire in the District of Columbia. By his senior year, he was able to graduate with a double major in economics and political science.
While he was an intern, he got a call from a former student affairs worker named Carell Ryan, who informed Chapin about a new study abroad program called “Wisconsin in Scotland.” Despite being unsure about whether he could pay for the experience, he would later appreciate his experience studying in Europe.
As one of the first students to participate in the program, his experience studying abroad in Scotland taught him more about international issues. Later, it would also influence him to help lead his own study abroad programs, where he has taken students for short-term and semester-long experiences all over Europe.
“I thought that it was a type of experience that benefited me that I liked to provide to other people,” Chapin said. “I really believe people not only learn more about themselves and develop confidence, but they can really get good academic experiences that can potentially make them more marketable when they’re looking for jobs.”
After graduating from UWRF, he went on to study at Marquette University, where he earned his master’s degree in international affairs. He decided to focus more on political science as he concluded that political decisions were driving economics. After a short period of time working in retail management, he went on to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign to complete his Ph.D. in political science in 1996.
After another short period as an adjunct professor in Eau Claire, he would eventually apply for a position back at UWRF as a political science professor. Despite the competitive job market during the time he applied, he said that his combined experience with international, domestic and economic politics fit the qualifications for the position.
What Chapin said he enjoys about UWRF is the diversity of the students that attend, specifically low income, first generation students. With his education that he gained attending River Falls, he was able to get the right knowledge and training he needed to follow his career path.
“I really think it’s critically important for the state, the democratic system we’re in and for people generally to have quality institutions of higher education,” Chapin said.
Chapin said that the importance of education contributes to the “Wisconsin Idea,” which is the impact “from the borders and beyond,” and “making that impact for all groups in Wisconsin.” He said he feels that this idea aligns with the school’s mission of offering a high quality education at an affordable price, which allows more people to have access to a college degree.
In regard to students, Chapin’s advice is to take advantage of all of the opportunities on campus, like attending concerts, doing undergraduate research or studying abroad.
“It will serve you well. You’ll grow as an individual, and you’ll create opportunities for yourself down the road that you may not even be able to imagine today,” Chapin said.