RIVER FALLS – In May, UW-River Falls announced its selection of the university’s new chancellor, Maria Gallo. Prior to being selected as UWRF’s 20th chancellor, Gallo was president of …
RIVER FALLS – In May, UW-River Falls announced its selection of the university’s new chancellor, Maria Gallo. Prior to being selected as UWRF’s 20th chancellor, Gallo was president of Delaware Valley University in Doylestown, Penn., where she served for five years.
Gallo earned her Bachelor of Science degree from Cornell University with a focus in agronomy and continued in higher education to earn both her Masters and Ph.D. in genetics at North Carolina State University.
Gallo shared what piqued her interest in applying for the job as UWRF’s new Chancellor.
“My background and what I had been doing, and my expertise fit nicely with UWRF in terms of its strengths in agriculture, in particular, but being a regional university as well. When I read about all the exciting things that were happening here, and the potential for growth and improvement now, it was perfect,” Gallo said.
During her interview with the University Hiring Committee, Gallo said her essential goals are to raise the profile, resources and spirit of the university.
“I'm going to be using these phrases, and it's a Falcon focus; the Falcon focus on student success, academic excellence and innovation. Telling our story, financial stewardship, and fundraising, and also diversity, equity, and inclusion. So all these coming together to really move the university forward,” Gallo said.
Gallo is familiar with the area as she had her first faculty position as a plant molecular biologist at the University of Minnesota St. Paul campus and served as the president of the American Society of Agronomy in Madison. She has many friends and former colleagues in the region, with whom she has been able to visit since coming to River Falls. Gallo also previously taught at the University of Florida.
Currently, UW-River Falls will have an indoor mask mandate for all people on campus as well as two pop-up vaccination clinics available for students during the Week of Welcome. Gallo believes these COVID-19 precautions will help keep the outbreak of more cases in Pierce County at bay; however, she is realistic that students returning to campus can cause an increase in cases.
“We were hoping that with the vaccines coming out that we could not worry about COVID as much as we worried about it last year. And I think that's the case but we still have to have a lot of precautions in place. We've always had testing available for not only students, but the community as well and we're going to extend that,” said Gallo.
Not only does Gallo plan to continue to make COVID-19 testing at UWRF available to anyone in the community, she also looks to immerse the University more into the greater western Wisconsin community.
“Partnering with the community is essential,” Gallo said. “We are an important part of the community. Not only as a generator of the workforce for the area, but also being a resource for the community as well. I want the community to see that, that we're partners, we're in this together to solve problems. So if we can be a gathering place for info, you know, to gather other people together to talk about topics that are important to everybody, provide the expertise where we can in certain areas, and then find solutions together, write grants together to get things done.”
A major project that Gallo has inherited is the beginning of construction for the newly planned Science and Technology Innovation Center on campus that will stand where Hagestad Hall is currently located. The Joint Finance Committee approved the project as part of the 2021-23 state budget; it will cost around $100 million and will increase STEM opportunities for future students.
“That was one of the things that drew me to this position as well, and to the university, was the idea that we're expanding the STEM opportunities,” said Gallo. “We need those state-of-theart facilities and what that does for undergraduate research and training and workforce development. Also, the portion of it that deals with maker kind of space and industry partnerships and industry collaboration. It's a top priority and I'm very excited about it. The thing I want to do is really increase the awareness of what a facility like that can bring to the region, with the economic growth that we have in the region, and to raise the funds needed to provide scholarships for students to work in STEM fields.”
Even with a major leadership role, Gallo plans to immerse herself in community outreach both with and without the Chancellor title in her public service life.
“I love community outreach. I love participating personally in different organizations. I've done that in the past. So being on the boards of local organizations, volunteering, getting involved with projects. I'm a foodie, I love to eat and support the local community through that mechanism as well. And just being out there enjoying and being part of the community as a person and not always as the chancellor is your job, right? And one can never forget that and I never do. But as a community member being involved, also in being interested in the development of River Falls, and how it grows to serve the students as well as all the other community members. So it's about how I can help in doing that,” shared Gallo.
With students beginning their return to campus this week, Gallo is excited about their return to campus and opening up more opportunities this fall than students had last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I'm really, really looking forward to when we open and the students come back,” Gallo said. “I mean, that energizes me. That's why we're here. And I just can't wait. We’re getting ready to get psyched up about the year. I'm looking forward to athletics. I'm looking forward to having students here and all the different engagement activities that we do. That is a sort of the doorway to the institution for a lot of people who are in the community that come in and see us through athletics, right, and maybe not through any of the other mechanisms. So it's a wonderful way to showcase our student athletes, and it's fun too, and I'm super psyched about hockey!”
Photo by Theodore Tollefson