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Alumni Spotlight: Nora Koch

January 31, 2017

Nora Koch has an extensive background in the field of art, showing her creativity over the years through illustrations ranging from book covers to magazines.

Koch is an academic associate for the Department of Communication and Media Studies at UW-River Falls, helping support the department and the university. Her experience at River Falls is unique, as is her career as an artist. She shows great passion for her artwork along with her faith and her service to the community, and she is very open about sharing these values to others.

Koch’s first experience at River Falls was when she was two years old, when her uncle ran the barn on campus which later became the location for the Agricultural Science building. Having grown up on a farm in central Wisconsin, she thought it was bizarre that there was a barn in the middle of the town.

Although Koch’s sister attended UWRF, she decided to attend UW-Stout instead, not wanting to attend school with her sibling. While she had a positive experience at Stout, she left college after two years and got married shortly after.

After taking a break from school, she decided to attend UWRF for personal enrichment. Initially not intending on getting a degree, she wanted to expand her artistic knowledge on weaving and photography. While she never took any courses regarding either of those topics, she would eventually make the dean’s list every semester and graduate with honors in 1980, majoring in art education.

Koch’s time as an undergraduate student occurred during difficult circumstances, as she was going through a divorce. To her, school was a coping mechanism.

“The school was stability, and it was a place where I did really well,” she said.

What Koch said she finds unique about UWRF is the Kinnickinnic River which runs through the town, the agricultural significance of the school and the unique people that have come and gone over the years. During her time as a student, one person she found unique in her own aspects was Professor Mary Berrett.

“She was very generous, and if you worked hard, she was very generous,” Koch explained.

Koch’s opportunity to work with Berrett introduced her to the craft of printmaking, which she fell in love with. She said she remembers spending her time creating book covers in the back of what is now South Hall, and eventually explored her skills in printmaking in her graduate studies at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.

Her skills as a printmaker have paid off significantly, having shown her work at private displays and art competitions, and working with well-known organizations such as Coffee House Press, Park Nicollet, Graywolf Press, The University of Wisconsin Press, the Minnesota Historical Society and many other organizations. She has done book cover designs both as a freelance and a full time illustrator. Her last position before taking on her current position at UWRF was coordinating the Arts and Illustrations program at Como Park Zoo and Conservatory in Saint Paul, developing a zoological art program at the park.

In addition to being passionate about her artwork, another topic that is dear to her heart is her faith in God. A devout Catholic, Koch found comfort in her religious beliefs during the strenuous time of her divorce. It all started when an older gentleman began to talk to her outside the art gallery one day.

“It was pivotal,” she recalled. “He just started talking to me about Jesus, and that was the end of that.”

She didn’t take much from that experience, having the impression that the man was a “Jesus freak,” but she later changed that mindset when she had a conversation with a friend about faith.

“He asked me, ‘What about Jesus?’” Koch recalled. “And I couldn’t answer him.”

Today, she says that the biggest impact that was given to her as a student was her faith, and she continues her expression by volunteering as a Catholic Worker. While she doesn’t feel the need to push her faith to others, she said she feels it’s an expression of herself that defines who she is.

One of the biggest pieces of advice that she gives to students is to focus on being who they are. She said that the most important reason students should attend school is to learn to think for themselves and to find out what they value.

“Don’t try to impress people; find out who you are and be that with all your heart.”