Improving the community

UW-Eau Claire faculty member and program receive state recognition



Story by Danielle Pahl, Multimedia Editor

Wisconsin Campus Compact presented a UW-Eau Claire faculty member and service-learning program awards in recognition of their contributions to civic engagement.

English professor Ruth Cronje was awarded the Sister Joel Read Civic Engagement Practitioners Award for her contributions, which include a combination of presentations, service, research and teaching focused on civic engagement.

“It’s really very touching and moving to have my colleagues recognizing me in that way,” Cronje said. “For them to find (my work) worthy of an award is very gratifying because their opinion means a lot to me.”

Cronje’s work focuses on incorporating opportunities for students to become involved in bettering their communities into her courses,  which she collaborates with other university faculty on. Cronje said her inspiration ignited from a book written by Harry Boyte titled “The Citizen Solution.” According to Cronje, Boyte asks that all citizens, not just political figures, commit to improving their communities.

“It was a really cool idea and I was really excited about it, and so I thought ‘OK, can we build a class around something like this?’” Cronje said. “So we started trying it and one of the early prototypes was this Pedal Paddle Pollution class. That was really the initial spark.”

Since that time, Cronje and her students have directed their focus on other community needs such as educating the public about the importance of pollinators and how to support their habitat and survival. Students involved with this project created videos, booklets, posters and other educational materials. With the collaboration of community members and organizations, students also built a pollinator habitat in the Forest Street community garden.

During the 2013 spring and fall semesters, Cronje’s courses have dedicated their attention toward community health issues.  Cronje said many low income residents do not have the knowledge of or access to healthcare resources in Eau Claire. Cronje and her students collaborated with Eau Claire nursing students, the Community Table, Marshfield Clinic and Chippewa Valley Free Clinic to combat this issue.

“We organized two mini clinics at the Community Table,” Cronje said. “We got the nursing students to cooperate with us and they took blood pressure, visual acuity and body mass index measures. We distributed health information and we collected some data from Community Table guests regarding what healthcare services they know about and what barriers they have to access those healthcare resources.”

Although the class is an honors course, Cronje said all students are welcome to enroll. She said her next course, which will be offered this fall, will continue to focus on community health issues. She also said she is looking to build a stronger support system with a local clinic to ensure the needs of the community are being met.

“We are in the process of pulling an even stronger effort together in cooperation with one of our local clinic systems to continue this in a much more systematic way at that clinic,” Cronje said. “We are partnering with these community organizations to address public issues that our community has. The students and these community members are working together to get these needs met.”

Due to the success of the course and positive affect they had on the community, Cronje said she is looking for ways to implement civic engagement into all the courses she teaches.

“I could not have done this without the collaboration of my colleagues, the hard work and co-creation of my students, these community organizations who have cooperated with us and administration of this institution, who’s finding ways of making this possible for us to deliver a curriculum like this,” Cronje said.


Eau Claire’s Early Childhood Literacy Intervention Program, Services and Evaluation program, also known as ECLIPSE, was recognized for its contributions to civic engagement and was awarded the Esther Letven Campus-Community Partnership Award.

Donna Lehmkuhl, the director of ECLIPSE, said the program, which is in its 13th year, establishes a one-on-one relationship between Eau Claire students and children preparing to enter school with what Lehmkuhl called skills necessary for “lifelong learning.”

Lehmkuhl said a few changes were made to this year’s program. In past years, she said reading and social interaction were major focuses. This year, they incorporated math and increased the number of children the students are paired with.

“We are trying a new way of approaching it,” Lehmkuhl said. “When the students are working with the children, they are working with a child one-on-one, but now they are paired with either one or two children. One day they work with this child, another day they work with a different child.”

Kinzey Stoll, a freshman geology and engineering double major and member of ECLIPSE, said it is rewarding to see positive changes in the children the program helps.

“I really like seeing how the kids have grown, not only the child I work with, but the other children as well,” Stoll said. “To see them improve is really cool and to see how much of an impact as a group we are able to make on this small community.”