Gary A. Thibodeau, a South Dakota native, received master's degrees in zoology and in pharmacology and his doctorate in animal science-physiology, all from South Dakota State University. After receiving his doctorate he served as a member of the graduate faculty at SDSU.
He also was recognized as a fellow of the National Heart Institute at Baylor University. Prior to his arrival in River Falls, he served as vice president of administration at South Dakota State University from 1980-85. From 1976 to 1980 he was assistant to the vice president for academic affairs at SDSU.
Chancellor Thibodeau was a prolific textbook writer. His “Anatomy and Physiology” is considered the national standard in introductory courses for undergraduate students of human anatomy and physiology. In 1994 it was selected by the Text and Academic Authors' Association for its William Holmes McGuffey Award for Textbook Excellence & Longevity.
During his time as chancellor, Thibodeau headed the campus into new areas of fulfilling the Wisconsin Idea of undergraduate education, research, and community service. His efforts included faculty development through a renewed emphasis on continuing research and scholarly pursuits, record student enrollments, and physical plant improvements of more than $50 million.
When Chancellor Thibodeau accepted the administrative baton from Chancellor Field in 1985, a new era of physical expansion and academic endeavors began. As advances in science and information technology reigned in the late 1980s, the campus was making big strides as well. A new biotechnology major was established, and the chemistry and physics departments were renowned when the UW System designated them as a center of excellence.
In 1987, a health and human performance laboratory was added to the Karges Center and the spacious Robert P. Knowles Physical Education and Recreation Center offered recreation, weight training, workout equipment and other wellness opportunities for the campus and community.
Alumnus Daniel C. Brandenstein brought national and international attention to UW-River Falls when he piloted the space shuttle Challenger in 1983 as well as later launches of the shuttles Discovery, Columbia and Endeavour. By the 1980s, the UW-River Falls Foundation was providing hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual scholarships, funding faculty research grants and awards, and assisting with many of the university’s “bricks and mortar” projects.
In 1991, River Falls welcomed the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs to the University. The 1990s brought a flurry of activity to the University’s curriculum development and physical plant with the establishment of the Reach for the Future strategic plan. Through this effort, the College of Agriculture became the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences and the College of Education and Graduate Studies was formed with the transfer of the graduate school.
Construction crews, orange safety fences, and heavy equipment were a common site on campus during the 1990s. Hagestad Student Center was remodeled in 1990-91 and fast food establishments were introduced on campus along with new food service facilities. The long-awaited completion of a major remodeling of South Hall, the university’s oldest building, was celebrated by the campus, community and alumni. In 1990, the university’s Rural (now Regional) Development Institute opened as a community resource, small business incubator and regional issues center. The Chalmer Davee Library remodel in 1994 added a stunning atrium entrance and study area along with extensive computer labs and classrooms. The robust economy of the 1990s called attention to the need to enhance the university’s business offerings.
An interdisciplinary marketing communication major attracted new students, and the School of Business and Economics was formed to meet the needs of the increasing number of students who wanted to pursue careers in the global business economy.
Art and other students in the College of Arts and Sciences celebrated the remodeling of studios, classrooms and labs in the Kleinpell Fine Arts Building, completed in 1999. Future educators are getting their training in the new Walker D. Wyman Education Building, which opened fall 1999 with state-of-the-art technology-enhanced classrooms and a new regional outreach center serving clients with clinical needs in communication, counseling, reading and more.
Possibly the most dramatic change in student life over the last 15 years has been the revolution in information technology. Computer use on campus is now pervasive—almost everyone has one. Where there were about 60 personal computers on campus in 1983, by the year 2000 that number had increased to 2,000. From completing assignments to receiving instruction to communicating with each other, students now find their lives more and more governed by the click of a mouse and the speed of their internet connection.
In 1991 the SOAR system was created, allowing students on-line access to their academic records. That was followed in 1992 by DARS, a popular application that produces degree audits, allowing students and their advisers to more effectively coordinate and schedule courses. In 1998 another milestone was achieved by implementing registration via the Web.
In 1988 the university celebrated a national championship in men’s hockey. Women, too, donned their skates and in 1999 began their first season as a varsity sport. To allign itself with the rest of the higher education community, in 1990 River Falls switched from quarters to a semester-based academic calendar. And students attending the university in 1996 witnessed another first—bad weather cancelled classes, the only time it has ever happened in the history of the school.