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Colfax man finds education, career at CVTC

EAU CLAIRE, WI – For more than a century, students have been enrolling in Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC), then starting a new career. Brad Walley of Colfax took care of both at once, graduating from CVTC’s Landscape, Plant and Turf Management (Horticulture) program on Tuesday, Dec. 15, then continuing in a new career he started – at CVTC.

Walley, a 2007 Colfax High School graduate, is the groundskeeper at CVTC’s Eau Claire campuses, a position he worked into from an internship through the Horticulture program. Finishing his degree was one of the terms of the promotion.

“I’m truly blessed with what I’ve fallen into at CVTC, but I worked hard to get here,” Walley said.

So did so many others who finished their degrees and certificates through CVTC during the fall semester. Walley was one of 350 graduates honored at the fall commencement ceremony held at UW-Eau Claire’s Zorn Arena. Walley was the only graduate in his program. The most popular program was Nursing-Associate Degree, with 63 graduates, followed by Practical Nursing with 29 and Business Management with 24.

On Monday, Dec. 14, CVTC held its commencement ceremony for the River Falls campus, where 27 graduates, 22 of them in Nursing-Associate Degree, were honored.

“After high school, I kind of bounced around in construction and different fields, figuring out what I really wanted to do,” Walley said. “Then I ran across a brochure for the Horticulture program.”

Working for a nursery and landscaping business was one of the jobs Walley tried, so he already had some background. He enrolled in 2012, and met with success.

“Initially, I had a real strong interest in fruits and vegetables production, especially aquaponics,” Walley said. “I was able to build an aquaponics system as part of my internship at CVTC.”

That internship started out as a work-study position, and ended up leading to a part-time job with the Facilities Department. “It’s primarily groundskeeping – everything from landscaping, design, irrigation and turf management,” Walley said. “I love it. I honestly do love my job.”

In October 2014 Walley was offered the position of groundskeeper, after Darren Gilgen was promoted to facilities manager. Walley just had to keep going to school and finish, which he had every intention of doing. He was president of the Horticulture Club. Walley says Gilgen and Horticulture Instructor Susan Frame were instrumental with his success at CVTC.

Now Walley has his degree and a strong career that will enable him to support his family. He and his fiancée Kimberly Barstad, also from Colfax and a CVTC Criminal Justice student, and their two children still live in Colfax.

“I’m going to try to continue to better myself in my position here,” Walley said. “The sky’s the limit.”

Walley’s story may be out of the ordinary because he started with CVTC while still a student, but stories of success and promotion are common among CVTC graduates. The commencement guest speaker, Joe Breid, plant manager at the Bush Brothers and Company plant in Augusta, related such a story in his remarks.

Lois, a CVTC Industrial Mechanics graduate was hired as a line operator in 2005, but she also helped keep the machines operating, leading to a promotion as a maintenance technician. Two years ago, she was given the responsibility of operation and maintenance of a new $45 million piece of equipment. From that position, she found a way for the equipment to process a smaller can size, eliminating the Augusta plant’s need to rely on a Tennessee plant for that work.

“Having Lois and other well trained employees provided by CVTC, and utilizing them in our team based empowered culture, creates a strong future for Bush Brothers,” Breid said.

Chippewa Valley Technical College delivers superior, progressive technical education which improves the lives of students, meets the workforce needs of the region, and strengthens the larger community. Campuses are located in Chippewa Falls, Eau Claire, Menomonie, Neillsville and River Falls. CVTC serves an 11-county area in west central Wisconsin. CVTC is part of the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS) and is one of 16 WTCS colleges located throughout the state.