Transfer student finds home at Eau Claire

After transferring from Viterbo, senior Aaron White becomes a highly involved Blugold


Photo by Anna Mateffy

Aaron White, senior public relations major and global studies minor, transferred to UW-Eau Claire in spring 2013. He has since been crowned homecoming king and completed a public relations internship in New York.

Story by Kristina Bornholtz, Managing Editor

The week of homecoming, the faces of homecoming royalty hopefuls line the campus mall, with the candidates handing out treats and connecting with students in hope of earning their vote.

This was the favorite part of homecoming week for Aaron White, senior. In spring semester 2013, White transferred from Viterbo University to UW-Eau Claire. By this September, the university crowned him homecoming king.

“I couldn’t have imagined a better college experience, as cheesy as that sounds,” White said of his move. “I just have had so many opportunities in Eau Claire than I ever could have imagined, even when I was getting ready to transfer.”

The opportunities have led White to try his hand at a variety of extracurriculars at the university. Throughout two and a half years at Eau Claire, he has involved himself in a growing list of campus activities. From the Singing Statesmen, Peer Haven, a post as RA in Towers South and a role in last spring’s musical, White has done it all.

Finding Home

Starting as a musical theater and marketing double major, White chose Viterbo for its acclaimed arts program. As a lifelong resident of La Crescent, Minn., just ten minutes from Viterbo, White said he felt he had an amazing program right in his own backyard.

But as election season came around in 2012, White’s sophomore year, he realized he was enjoying the political focus his marketing classes took. While his passion for musical theater remained, he realized he wanted to pursue a career with global involvement.

“I just noticed where I was concentrating all my time and I needed to explore other options,” he said.

Another option presented itself by way of a family legacy at Eau Claire. White’s father is an alum of the university, and his sister graduated just a few years prior – an Eau Claire homecoming queen in her time.

White said he saw his sister go through the public relations program and participate in choir, and this template gave him the confidence to make a change. In fact, it was in the music program where White first found himself feeling at home in Eau Claire.

“The first day of class was on Tuesday, the day after Martin Luther King Day,” White said. “I had (Singing) Statesmen, and that was my first class. I just automatically felt like I was a part of a community. I had the support of these seventy strangers and I knew they were there for me already.”

White is not alone in his decision to transfer to Eau Claire. Andy Nelson, director of the Office of Institutional Research, said that just this fall, 546 students transferred to the university.

“One in four students at UW-Eau Claire is a transfer student,” Nelson said. “And we enroll about 1,000 new transfer students every year.”

Casie Kamph, a member of Campus Ambassadors, said people are often surprised at how many transfer students call Eau Claire home.

“Whenever I tell people the statistic, they are always shocked,” she said.

The majority of transfer students coming into the university are from the Wisconsin Technical College System, according to a report done by Transfer Source. Last year, only 12 students transferred in from private Wisconsin universities like Viterbo.

A Brand of Bravery

In her experience guiding tours, Kamph has seen countless transfer students take a look at what Eau Claire has to offer them.

Kamph, also a transfer student, said she sees many students come to Eau Claire from larger universities after realizing they need more personalized attention in the classroom. From personal experience, she said she knows how hard it can be.

“If you’re unhappy somewhere, you have to have the strength to move,” she said. “I think that goes to say for any transfer student at any university.”

From her encounters with White, she said she believes transfer students can look to him for inspiration on how to make the most of their college experience.

“The greatest thing you can do when you transfer is get involved, and that’s what Aaron did,” she said. “He’s well-liked, and it’s because he put himself out there. He’s worked really hard to be that friendly face that everybody likes. I’ve never seen or heard of him having a negative interaction with somebody.”

Those positive interactions are not limited to random encounters on campus. White said that any time he hears of someone who wants to transfer, he congratulates them on their strength.

“People transfer in and out of Eau Claire all the time,” he said. “They know that’s the best step for them. You need to be comfortable and know yourself well enough to know exactly what you need.”

White said knowing what he needed and making the decision to transfer was the best thing he did throughout his college experience. He said he learned a lot about himself, his ability to adapt to different settings and the possibility of being able to move to a different, bigger city post graduation.

Not only has transferring made White feel stronger, it has also left him with a stronger support system.

“I was really fortunate to have a great support system of friends and family at Viterbo,” he said. “And now I have two really beautiful, huge networks of people out there who support me.”

Those support systems have pushed White to chase dreams outside the Wisconsin borders. Last summer, White interned with O&M Co., a public relations company based in New York City that represents Broadway and Off-Broadway productions. Now, he is searching for jobs across the country, from New York, to Washington D.C., to San Francisco.

With the majority of his college career behind him, White said he now must take what he learned from transferring and apply it to an even bigger city. Despite being a face of the university as homecoming king, White said he still is figuring out what happens next.

“I’m still trying to figure it all out,” he said. “That’s the part I’m dealing with right now.”