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COVID-19 Drives UW-Stout Commencement Online

university plans virtual graduation ceremony May 9

Pam Powers | UW-Stout

UW-Stout's spring commencement will be an all-virtual affair this year. (Photo illustration by Volume One staff)
UW-Stout's spring commencement will be an all-virtual affair this year. (Photo illustration by Volume One staff)

When she graduates from UW-Stout in May, Morgan Schalow knows a traditional graduation with caps and gowns won’t be possible because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, she believes the university’s decision to have a virtual graduation is a great idea.

“It shows UW-Stout cares,” said Schalow, who will graduate Saturday, May 9, with a master’s degree in training and human resource development. “The university is showing it is a big deal even if we can’t all be there face-to-face. It shows the dedication that UW-Stout has to students putting this together.”

Schalow plans to take part and will try to have some food and even a cake to go along with the celebration with her immediate family.

“The university is showing it is a big deal even if we can’t all be there face-to-face. It shows the dedication that UW-Stout has to students putting this together.” 
–Morgan Schalow, who will receive her master’s degree from UW-Stout on May 9

The plan is to have prerecorded speeches from Chancellor Katherine P. Frank, the college deans, and student speakers. The students’ names will be read, and photos submitted by the students will be shown.

The recorded video will be linked to the commencement website at 10am on May 9 to be viewed by students and families. While students are watching, they and other members of the UW-Stout community will be able to submit comments and photos using a social media hashtag, said Britta Miller, commencement coordinator.

The video will remain on the website for families and students to watch again or to view when they have the time. Photos and comments can be posted before and during commencement time.

“It is important to us as a campus to recognize our students’ outstanding achievements both academically and for their personal growth,” Miller said. “College is such a transformative time for many of our students, and we want to be sure we recognize all of their successes at the culmination of their time with us.”

Additionally, spring 2020 graduates will have the option to walk in either an on-campus commencement ceremony tentatively scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 8, or in a December 2020 ceremony.

Miller encourages students and families to take part in the virtual commencement. “Although we are offering students two alternative options to walk in person, that may not work for everyone,” she noted. “In this time of uncertainty, I think we all are looking for the bright spots, an opportunity to raise one another up and celebrate together. The virtual ceremony will provide an outlet for families, students, and friends to celebrate together safely.”

A total of 1,191 students have applied to graduate in May, Miller said.

UW-Stout switched to alternative education methods in March because of COVID-19.
Schalow, of Wausau, was taking her degree online. However, her full-time job as an instructional designer with Sentry Insurance in Stevens Point, like many jobs, is now home-based. Her husband, Jake, a physical education teacher at Merrill High School, also started teaching from home as well. The couple has a 2-year-old son, Tysen, who is home because his daycare has closed.

It’s been difficult, she noted trying to balance work, school, and her family. “It’s been a lot of odd hours of the day working,” Schalow said. “We figure out each other’s schedule, especially meetings and conference calls, and we work around it. The most important thing is to keep a schedule.”

However, Schalow tries to look at the positive of having the extra time with her family. “We’ll never get time like this again as a family,” she noted. “We enjoy having breakfast, lunch, and dinner together every day of the week.”

As an online student, Schalow did not have to adjust her classes. However, she has been grateful for the professors from UW-Stout who have reached out by email to check and make sure students are doing OK with the world changes.

Schalow, who has an undergraduate degree in marketing communication from Bemidji State University, Bemidji, Minn., chose UW-Stout for her master’s program because it was online and she knew it would help build her resume. Her mother-in-law, Dawn Schalow, is a 2007 UW-Stout graduate with a master’s degree in training and organizational development.

Schalow plans to continue working for Sentry Insurance, which recognizes employees’ continuing education accomplishments.