In 1870, a group of citizens from Pierce and St. Croix counties petitioned the Wisconsin Legislature to locate the next state normal school in River Falls.

Voters from the towns of River Falls, Clifton, Troy and Kinnickinnic requested the authority to vote a tax of $20,000 to make this possible.

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Those citizens believed in the value of public education. They were undoubtedly convinced that such an investment would be important to the future of River Falls (population then was 741).

Thus, the River Falls Normal School was founded in 1874. Today, more than 140 years later, UW-River Falls continues to impact the community in meaningful ways.

In thinking of those citizens in 1870, I feel like we all owe them, and the state of Wisconsin, a debt of gratitude. They understood that locating an entity of public higher education in this community would positively impact individual lives and foster growth, economic development and a better quality of life for all.

In some communities, the "town and gown" relationship is a struggle, as disputes over everything from parking to property ownership arise.

Here in River Falls, I feel fortunate that we enjoy collaborative relationships focused on pursuing opportunities and solving problems.

UW-River Falls enjoys strong partnerships with city administration, the local school districts, the chambers of commerce, and business and nonprofit partners. Among the many ways the university and community work together in River Falls, here are just three of the most recent examples that come to mind:

International students from China who are studying elementary education at UW-River Falls regularly visit the River Falls public elementary classrooms. This partnership has been providing great cultural experiences for River Falls School District children and teachers, as well as for the university's international students.

The St. Croix Valley Business Incubator will be constructed in 2017, a partnership between the city of River Falls, the River Falls EDC, CVTC and UWRF. This will catalyze economic development, while even better connecting our students and faculty with businesses and entrepreneurs.

Volunteerism/service learning. From Big Brothers Big Sisters to Grow to Share community gardens, from St. Croix Valley Restorative Justice to ARC, hundreds of our students not only support our community, but also develop a commitment to volunteerism and service in a way that will shape their actions for years to come.

A public university exists to serve the public good. Most directly, by providing quality, affordable educational opportunities to citizens, but more broadly by engaging, developing talent, and helping prepare productive, ethical citizens who will shape tomorrow's communities and world.

A responsibility of a university like ours is to be responsive and forward thinking as society's needs and expectations change. Based on extensive input from a broad variety of stakeholder groups around Wisconsin, the University of Wisconsin System recently developed its new strategic framework, "2020FWD - Moving Wisconsin and the World Forward," found at

This framework clearly reflects the opportunity that campuses such as UW-River Falls represent for Wisconsin, not only in terms of ensuring access to a quality education for our students, but also as a catalyst for supporting the economic vitality, health and well-being of all residents.

Related, the UW System has put forward a budget request to the state for the next biennium. This request specifically supports the goals and actions of 2020FWD, and approval of this modest new funding request by the Legislature and governor would positively impact UWRF and our community.

As the 2017-2019 state budget is developed, consider communicating to our legislators and elected officials how important UWRF is to you personally or to your business or organization.

It is important for the citizens of this community to speak out, just as those who did in 1870, to remind our legislators of why the UW System is worthy of public investment.

We celebrated the graduation of 470 students in Knowles Center Dec. 17. As a resident of River Falls or the broader St. Croix Valley, you contribute to and share in the success of those graduates, and the memories they will take with them no matter where their journey leads.

I am grateful to the leaders and citizens of this community for continuing to support the university in so many ways.

As we begin the new year, I invite you to continue helping foster a positive relationship between UWRF and our community by welcoming and connecting with our students, and by telling us about your ideas and how we can be an even better partner (feel free to email me directly at

On behalf of our students, faculty and wishes for a wonderful 2017, and for a bright future for the UW System and the State of Wisconsin.

Editor's note: Dean Van Galen is the 18th chancellor at UW-River Falls. He has served in that role since 2009.