School of Engineering to be named after Phillips Plastics founder

The new School of Engineering at University of Wisconsin-Stout will be named after the founder of Phillips Plastics, Robert F. Cervenka.
October 5, 2017
Students working in engineering lab.
UW-Stout Robert F. Cervenka School of Engineering logo / UW-Stout

The new School of Engineering at University of Wisconsin-Stout will be named after the founder of Phillips Plastics, Robert F. Cervenka, who held UW-Stout in high regard, Chancellor Bob Meyer announced Thursday, Oct. 5, in Menomonie during a meeting of the UW System Board of Regents.

Meyer said the Robert F. Cervenka School of Engineering will be in Fryklund Hall and will be part of the College of Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Management. The school will be named for the plastics pioneer, Meyer said, “to honor a lifetime of passion and philanthropy to UW-Stout, in addition to a remarkably generous and transformational memorial gift of $2.5 million from the family of the late Robert F. Cervenka.”

The donation, Meyer added, “will take our engineering programs to the next level.”

Robert F. CervenkaThe chancellor’s announcement came at the conclusion of an address to the Board of Regents, the policymaking body for the UW System, which met in the Great Hall of the Memorial Student Center. That meeting will continue Friday, Oct. 6.

A formal naming ceremony, which will include Cervenka’s widow, Debbie, will be held on campus Friday, Oct. 27.

Cervenka died Sept. 19, 2015, at the age of 79 in Duluth, Minn. Debbie Cervenka and others who knew Robert Cervenka appeared in a video supporting the new engineering school that was shown to the Regents.

Cervenka began his plastics company in 1964 in his hometown of Phillips. The company has grown to 15 facilities in Wisconsin and one in California, with annual sales of $300 million and 1,600 employees. The company was sold in 2010.

Meyer used part of his address to recap the growth of engineering programs at UW-Stout, beginning with the Bachelor of Science degree in industrial technology in 1956. Meyer, a former engineering faculty member at UW-Stout, said he helped write the curriculum for the first accredited engineering program on campus, manufacturing engineering, and served as its second program director.

UW-Stout then added computer engineering, plastics engineering and mechanical engineering, all of which will be in the Robert F. Cervenka School of Engineering.

Meyer also noted that UW-Stout has joined with UW-River Falls and UW-Eau Claire to form the Northwest Wisconsin Engineering Consortium because “employers in northwestern Wisconsin kept telling us that they needed more engineers.”

At present, Meyer said, there are 1,053 students in engineering or engineering technology at UW-Stout.

Career-ready graduates

Meyer devoted a large part of his presentation to the theme of UW-Stout’s history of producing graduates who have immediate success in the workplace.

The employment rate for UW-Stout graduates is 97.4 percent within six months of leaving campus, Meyer said, and the rate has gone up every year since he became chancellor in 2014. Some 85 percent of UW-Stout’s 2015-16 graduates were employed in their field of study, Meyer said, and they had starting salaries totaling $60.2 million.

Meyer’s presentation featured stories of successful graduates, including Brady Voss, who works for Facebook as a senior designer. Voss, from St. Croix Falls, graduated from UW-Stout with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and multimedia design concentration. He worked for Microsoft before joining Facebook.

In a video, Voss attributed his career accomplishments to the faculty he encountered at UW-Stout and the way the subject matter was taught.

“I love that the faculty pushed me to think about, literally the basics, all the way through the advanced skills, which then you applied to everything that you learn in the future,” Voss said during an interview conducted at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. “Whether it be photography, animation, charcoal drawing … I look back and I appreciate having to learn those skills.”

Voss added: “I'm a huge advocate for hands-on learning. I mean, there's no better tool.”



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Bottom: Robert F. Cervenka

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