…offering a world-class education right in his own backyard.
If anyone is the walking embodiment of “Eco U,” it may very well be Green Bay native and award-winning Professor John Katers. One may assume that a distinguished university faculty member would come from a scholastic pedigree, but Katers’ transformation story has humble beginnings.
“I have to admit that as a first generation college student, there was not a lot of thought put into college,” John explains. “And being from Green Bay, UWGB seemed like the easiest choice. However, UWGB really was transformative and has always been there for me when I needed it most: not the building or the campus, but the people.”
For Katers, UWGB offered the personal and academic support he needed, yet also an interdisciplinary approach to learning that has perfectly prepared him for the modern world.
“The close connection with faculty and staff [at UWGB] makes for a great learning environment. As a student who was not entirely sure which direction to go, it was not a problem for Professors Jack Day and Mike Troyer to assist me in creating a program that essentially included a major in Business Administration and Environmental Science — an odd combination in 1991, but perfect for the world we live in today.”
In keeping with Katers’ assertion regarding UWGB’s tightly knit learning community, he has dozens of UWGB faculty, staff, and friends to thank.
“There were numerous faculty and staff who contributed to my success as a student at UWGB, and later as a faculty member. At the top of that list would be Bob Wenger, Jack Day, Chuck Rhyner, Dave Jowett, John Stoll, Greg Davis, Bud Harris, Lee Schwartz, Jim Wiersma, and Mike Troyer. All were tremendous teachers, and I learned a lot from each and every one of them. I also had the great fortune of working with many of them as colleagues on a regular basis, which was an honor for me. Each and every one of them provided the foundation for my long-term success of UWGB.”
After receiving his bachelor’s degree in 1991 and his master’s degree in 1993 from UWGB, Katers continued his education at Marquette University, earning his Ph.D. in Civil and Environmental Engineering. Katers was thrilled to return to UWGB, and to work alongside his mentors.
“Mary Kohrell worked for the UW Extension Solid and Hazardous Waste Education Center (SHWEC) and was housed at UWGB,” Johns explains. “Mary literally changed my direction in life several times. The first time was when I was an undergraduate student and stopped in her office — located at the top of the stairwell closest to the elevator in the Laboratory Sciences building — to learn more about what she was doing. At some point during the discussion, I asked whether she needed any help doing research or working on projects. Mary responded that she had been waiting for somebody like me to come to her office.”
“I worked for Mary during my last year as an undergraduate student, developed some interesting research ideas, and ultimately continued to work for Mary as I completed my thesis project for my graduate degree in Environmental Science and Policy. Normally, that might be the end, as I then went to Marquette for my Ph.D. However, two years later, Mary tracked me down in Milwaukee to let me know that there were two full-time job openings with SHWEC at UWGB and that I would be a good candidate. I interviewed for the position, received my first full-time professional job, and had the opportunity to continue learning from Mary for the next four years.
“I then accepted a faculty position in Natural and Applied Sciences at UWGB,” says Katers, “and the rest is history.” And what a history it has been.
In addition to serving as Chair of the Natural and Applied Sciences and Environmental Science departments, Katers has been honored with a Founder’s Award for Community Outreach and the UWGB Student Nominated Teaching Award. However for Katers, it has always been about his students.
“As a faculty member, the best memories are when students graduate and get their ‘dream job,’ which means that we have done our jobs as faculty. The longer I am at UWGB, the more I get to see students progress through their careers, which is rewarding,” he said.
But he’d never be able to make such an impact on his own students if he hadn’t received a transformative UWGB education, right in his own backward.
“Through my time at UWGB as student, I was really able to hone in my interests and take advantage of my skills. The faculty and staff allowed me to continue to grow by presenting new challenges and assisting me in meeting those challenges,” John insists.
“I am fully convinced that without UWGB, I would be in much different situation than I am today.”
Major: Environmental Science, ‘91
Minor: Business Administration
Master’s Degree: Environmental Science and Policy, ‘93
We’ve asked alumni to either share stories of how their lives were transformed by the UWGB experience or how they are making the world a better place with transformational work in their careers, homes, or volunteer experiences. As UWGB celebrates its 50th Anniversary, meet an alum each week who has experienced a “UW-Green Bay Transformation.” Stories were self-submitted and then edited by Zachary Taylor, a 2010 English Education graduate currently serving as Interim Associate Director of the Phuture Phoenix program.