By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
UW-Richland awards its first bachelors degree to Hillsboro High graduate
eric cairns
Eric Cairns - photo by Contributed/Shawna Connor

On Thursday, Dec. 17, University of Wisconsin-Richland student Eric Cairns took the last final exam of his career – and also made history at the campus.

Cairns is the first UW-Richland senior graduating from the four-year Bachelor of Applied Arts and Science (BAAS) degree program and the first student ever to receive a four-year degree from the campus. On Friday, May 6, Cairns will walk the red carpet at UW-Richland’s Graduation and Awards Ceremony in the Coppertop Theater.

Originally from Racine, the Cairns family moved into the area in 1999 with Eric Cairns graduating from Hillsboro High School. Cairns realized during his freshman year in high school that video production was of great interest to him and took a class that year utilizing his high school’s Mac lab. It was during this year that his mutual interests in football and video production began a tug-of-war for his attention.

Cairns played football as a lineman on both the offensive and defensive line during his high school career, earning major letters and first team All-Conference nods in consecutive seasons. Playing more football in college made sense at the time, and in his junior year of high school, Cairns started applying to area universities expressing interest in their teams. He ultimately decided upon University of Wisconsin-Platteville and headed off to college.

Very early on, Cairns realized that playing football in college allowed little time for development of his video production skills and made the difficult choice to regroup after one semester.

In the spring of 2012, Cairns attended his first class at UW-Richland – with his sights set on an associate’s degree –having little idea of the wealth of opportunities that lie ahead.

There were many immediate benefits to Cairns as a result of this decision. He saw this redirection as a way to earn the associate’s degree and buy some time until he ultimately transferred to another UW institution to complete his bachelor’s degree. In addition, he was saving thousands of dollars by living at home and working locally in Richland Center to cover tuition.

“The costs are lower, you get to stay close to family, you are already in the system which offers a smooth segue into the four-year program, you get practical experience through service learning as part of the program, not far from home but getting that real world experience,” Cairns explains.

It was during his final semester in the associate’s program that Cairns noticed the BAAS program flyer – a pilot program at the time - at Miller Memorial Library. Soon after, he applied and was accepted as one of the first BAAS students on the UW-Richland campus.

The BAAS program requires six credits in professional experience to include an internship and one or more service-learning experiences as well as a capstone project – earning another six credits.

Cairns earned his BAAS service-learning credits through working with Neighborhood Housing Services of SW Wisconsin (NHS) – assisting in planning of Ocoochapalooza and filming the event for Nova Video Productions of Richland Center.

Cairns later interned with Ben Koelsch and Nova Video Productions of Richland Center for three full semesters, gaining business management, videography and video editing skills while also networking within the local business community.

For his Senior Capstone project Cairns focused on team building with different personality types and developed his “Building Your Dream Team” documentary around the concept.

Cairns had his own team of sorts rallying around him for support: BAAS Coordinator Joanna Muller was assigned as Cairns’ advisor; UW-Barron Professor Christa James-Byrnes served as instructor and as member of the BAAS certification board; UW-Richland Associate Professor Clif Cavanaugh and UW-Richland Professor Marnie Dresser reviewed Cairns’ progress and attended his final capstone presentation to determine completion of the requirements of the course; mentor and UW-Baraboo/Sauk County Associate Lecturer Sheryl Skibba assisted in applying the testing method to the group, and more.

“It was a pleasure to serve as Eric’s advisor,” remarks Muller. “Eric is an excellent example of the individuals served by the Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences program. I truly wish Eric all the best in his future endeavors. I look forward to guiding many more students to UW-Richland bachelor’s degrees in years to come.”
Many of Cairns’ video projects completed during his time at UW-Richland can be found on his YouTube channel at ericthekid92. His accomplishments include:

• Nova Video Productions documentary;

• “Building Your Dream Team” documentary;

• “The Football Effect” documentary;

• NHS Kickstarter for Ocoochapalooza;

• An orientation video for Courtesy Corporation McDonald’s; and

• Custom projects for Nova Video customers/clients.

The University of Wisconsin Colleges’ Bachelor of Applied Arts & Sciences (BAAS) is a 60-credit degree completion program. Students with an associate degree from UW Colleges, a Wisconsin technical college, or another institution, are eligible for admission into the BAAS degree program. All UW Colleges comprising the Southwest Region (UW-Baraboo/Sauk County, UW-Richland and UW-Rock County) offer the BAAS program.

Contact BAAS Coordinator Joanna Muller for more information at or 608-647-6186 x228 or visit bachelors/baas.