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Knox celebrated at Learning Center ribbon cutting
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Among those in attendance for a ribbon cutting ceremony last week at the Karen R. Knox Learning Center at Southwest Tech were, front row from left: Denise Deaton-Tolzman, Heather Fifrick, Doug Knox, Dr. Karen Knox, Amy Knox, Lisa Sterrett and Linda Parrish; back row: Charles Stenner, Lori Barry, Karla Witzig, Chris Prange, Jim Kohlenberg and Dr. Duane Ford. - photo by Robert Callahan photo

Southwest Wisconsin Technical College celebrated the Dr. Karen R. Knox Learning Center on the Fennimore campus with a ribbon cutting ceremony Thursday morning, May 7.

Knox served as the President of Southwest Tech from 1999-2011. Prior to her presidency, she held positions as a Business Machines instructor and then Division Chair of Business at Southwest Tech, as well as Vice President of Instructional Services at Blackhawk Technical College, Janesville.

“I am just totally amazed when I stand here and I look at this Karen R. Knox Learning Center,” Knox said prior to Thursday’s ribbon cutting. “Just to see my name on it, it is just amazing to do that. I see many faces here. I started at this college in 1970. I came here three times. I worked here three times.”

Dean of Students and Director of Student Services Laura Nyberg-Comins was first to share her thoughts prior to last week’s ribbon cutting.

“A Learning Center is one of the most important service areas on a college campus because it supports our students and helps them succeed in obtaining an education that ultimately leads to a career,” she said. “Today, we can be proud and celebrate the Knox Learning Center, not only because it provides essential services to our students but also because it will sustain the learning needs of our staff, retirees and our community.”

The Karen R. Knox Learning Center  includes a library; Academic Success Center, which provides tutoring and mentoring services; Support Services Center, which assists students with disabilities; a Help Desk to offer technical assistance to students for use of computers and other digital equipment; and the Media Center, which provides a variety of audio and visual services to the campus community.

“Overall, the Knox Learning Center will provide a relatively quiet place for students to study – and we know we all need that in  today’s busy world,” Nyberg-Comins said. “It has four study rooms for small group collaboration. It also offers a place to access the Internet, print homework assignments, or just get a little extra TLC that we all need from time to time.

“I am very proud to say that recent work on this project has been realized. It demonstrates the commitment the Board, the staff and the community has to help all of our students succeed, now and for many years to come.”
Melissa Gile, Southwest Tech Student Senate President, addressed the crowd following Nyberg-Comins.

“As student senate president, I am glad that myself and the rest of the student body is able to make decisions to better help and assist our learning,” she said. “The Learning Center is a great place for students to get materials or help that they need.”

The Karen R. Knox Learning Center was dedicated during a ceremony last September. It opened when the College’s 2014-2015 second semester began in January.

“The Karen R. Knox Learning Center has already made an amazing impact on Southwest Tech,” said 2015 Southwest Tech State Ambassador April Brandt. “It provides an environment for students to come and get the academic resources that they need to succeed. This environment is not only welcoming to the new generation but also to the older generation, who are returning to follow their dream of a higher education and who may need a little help of getting back in the swing of college life.

“From academic services to the library services, support services and even the emergency food pantry, the Karen R. Knox Learning Service Center is the center for student’s lives here at Southwest Tech.”

Fennimore Promotions Coordinator Linda Parrish was once a non-traditional student at Southwest Tech. She spoke at last week’s ribbon cutting as well.

“As a non-traditional student coming back, I spent a lot of time in the former library and asked for assistance and it was a wonderful experience,” she said. “It really helped and I know that is going to be the same thing for all the students for years to come, whether they are right out of high school or if they are coming back after their children have already started their own careers.”

Parrish looks forward to the positive impact the Karen R. Knox Learning Center on business recruitment and retention.

“This learning center will also be a resource for those people. For the entrepreneurs that come walking in the door or working with Gary Smith,” she said. “This is a wonderful resource that we can help them due their research and due diligence as they are thinking about starting a business.

“Ultimately, that is what is what helps create and grow our economic development efforts in our area and that is what is going to keep southwest Wisconsin strong and Southwest Tech through the next decade.”

Only a brief walk from the Fennimore campus’ cafeteria, Knox recalled a popular fountain was once located where her namesake now sits.

“I know that when we removed that fountain, I thought you guys were going to vote me out of being president of the college,” she told the crowd gathered. “You were so upset. But now today we look at this can we can see through to the beautiful outside and we have all the light in the hallway, I think this is a great change for this area.”

Southwest Tech grew and prospered under Knox’s leadership. Though a number of accomplishments could be highlighted, she is particularly proud of four.

In 2002, the College received its first U.S. Department of Education Title III grant. That grant allowed Southwest Tech to build the College Connection wherein the primary services used by students could be physically consolidated and connected.

In 2008, following much preliminary work and many presentations across the length and breadth of the District, voters approved the College’s first and only referendum for capital improvements. In doing so, they provided $31.9 million dollars for much needed facility improvements.

Knox was instrumental in convincing the Wisconsin Technical College System State Board of Directors to reduce out-of-state tuition to a more appropriate and affordable level.

Finally, she has been a career-long advocate for the development and advancement of women. In 2004, she was appointed by the Office of Women in Higher Education of the American Council on Education to be the Wisconsin Women in Higher Education Leadership (WWHEL) Presidential Sponsor. Four years later, she was one of three regional women administrators featured on a panel to discuss breaking through the glass ceiling. Knox currently serves as the Chair for the Badgerland Council Board of the Girl Scouts of Wisconsin and is the only woman on the Wisconsin Bank and Trust Board.

“I am very pleased. I am very honored,” Knox said. “I am glad this can be a great service to all of our students. It is really important that we have this area for our students and for the future of our College.”

Southwest Tech Marketing and Public Relations Assistant Jessica Helms contributed to this report.