UWL history — through the lens of Jim Jorstad – UW-La Crosse

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Posted noon Monday, April 4, 2022
UW-La Crosse was the location of the interstate fairgrounds, the college training grounds of an Olympic gold medalist and the campaign stop for presidential candidates. Over its more than 110 years, the campus has attracted talented scholars, gymnasts, football players, musicians and professors with a lot of heart — in one case — actually two hearts.  
The campus has evolved with the times, learning to educate students in new ways. It was a major milestone when technology first allowed education via distances using satellites. Now the pandemic has rapidly evolved how we educate and communicate using the Internet.  
UWL has been a hub for not only making history, but documenting it. For a few decades of the UWL journey, a media expert, retired UWL employee and alum — Jim Jorstad, ’78, — was at the sidelines, backstage or amid a massive crowd waiting to capture the perfect historic moment in video, photography and words. Here are a few of his most memorable moments. 
Jimmy Carter came to campus in April 1976. In 1974, when Carter announced his candidacy for president, he was considered an outsider with little chance of gaining the recognition to become the next president.  
But Carter surprised all when his anonymity gave him an advantage, and his campaign gained momentum. He became the 39th president. 
Jorstad took this photo when he was still a student studying mass communication. It was the beginning of his career in political photojournalism. 
Gerald R. Ford was also visiting La Crosse in 1976 as he spoke to a crowd of thousands at the Mary Sawyer Auditorium in downtown La Crosse. He was campaigning prior to the partisan primary election in his bid to become the Republican nominee for president. Ford won the primary, but lost the presidential race to Jimmy Carter. 

In today’s world of Instagram photos and digital phone cameras, it’s hard to recall the days when photo taking wasn’t an instant process.  
Back in 1975, digital photography was in its infancy. The first known digitally created image was created in Kodak labs at this time. With those first cameras it took 23 seconds to capture a 100 x 100 pixel image. Today’s latest iPhone 13 captures an image instantly that is 4032 x 3024 pixels.  
The Canon F-1 was the flagship camera of the day. This camera used slide film, which produced colors and tones correctly on the film, but still took time to develop. The F-1 was used to take this photo of two UWL students who were identical twins, Pat and Pam Burns, just south of La Crosse overlooking Genoa. Jorstad entered the photo into the Milwaukee Journal Snapshot Awards as a UWL student, and it was selected as one of eight images out of 11,828 to be featured. Jorstad went on to win recognition in the Kodak International Snapshot Awards.  
This historic palace was actually a home-away-from-home for many UWL students. Over several decades, UWL students learned about Scottish history, culture and lifestyle at Dalkeith Palace.  
Built in 1702, the historic palace is in the village of Dalkeith in the southeast region of Scotland. It was leased for several decades to the UW System for study abroad programs, with students spending a semester living in the palace while studying through the Wisconsin in Scotland Program (later to be renamed the Experience Scotland program). While the palace is no longer used for study abroad programming, UWL students are still studying abroad in Scotland through various programs.  
Karolyn Bald, UWL interim director of International Education & Engagement, studied at Dalkeith Palace as a UWL student. She remembers the good friends and the highland cattle in the pasture in front of the palace.  She calls it “the most impactful piece of my college experience.”   
“I went in thinking I was going to learn about another culture, which I did, but I actually learned more about myself than I ever dreamed.” 
As part of this trip, Larry Sleznikow, a UWL non-traditional student, Jorstad and Dave Anderson, a mass communications major, also filmed an international clown camp, organized by UWL faculty member Richard Snowberg. Channel 19 was interested in the clown camp story, so it was sent via satellite from London, to New York, to La Crosse — a feat for the technology of the time.  
This living-room-style set in UWL’s original TV studio in Wing Technology Center c. 1989 was created for a computer science TV series featuring Professor Mike Egle teaching 50-minute computer science lectures.
With so many students studying computer science, the campus cable TV series helped accommodate more students who could tune in from the comfort of their residence hall rooms.
“It was like an early version of Canvas (UWL’s current learning management system),” says Jorstad. “It was pretty innovative at the time.”
Jorstad was the campus TV producer back then, working on cable TV programs that would be broadcast on the campus cable TV system, including programming for residence life, gameshows, concerts, classroom teaching, political interviews and more.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, UWL’s Media Services was transformed into the Educational Technologies Department, which developed distance education at UWL, the idea of beaming courses around the state using the latest technologies of the time. The satellite dish was eventually removed from the roof of Wing Technology Center as all classroom technologies evolved. Courses are now being shared over distances via the internet.  
The Screaming Eagles Marching Band has had many performances for Packer games at Lambeau Field. Jorstad recalls catching some of the Packer greats on camera, including alum Bill Schroeder. Terry Wirkus, retired distance learning tech coordinator, was the voice at halftime.  
Wing Technology Center was rededicated Sept. 13, 2001, after a state-of-the-art information technology equipment update to the 1950s-era facility. The Wing update was marked with brief ceremony despite the terrorist attacks two days earlier. “The ceremony was not only a celebration of the renovation, but also an effort to return to normalcy,” according to the Winter 2001 Alumnus magazine.  
Andrew Rock, ’04, is UWL’s only Olympic gold medal athlete. He ran the men’s 4x400m relay at the 2004 Summer Games in Athens. This image of him running in the preliminary time trials almost didn’t happen, recalls Jorstad. As the race began, he knew Andrew would finish the race in about 45 seconds. “The gun went off and I tried the first shot and there was an error in the camera. I quickly took the lens off, cleaned the contact, popped it back on, and began shooting images. I quickly uploaded the images from Sacramento, California, to the La Crosse Tribune. This was a remarkable image, which is now in the hallway in Graff Main Hall.” 
According to the 2004-05 Alumnus magazine, Rock finished sixth in the 400-meter dash final at the Olympic Trials with a time of 44.05. He then ran with the U.S. 4×400 meter relay team that won the North American Central American and Caribbean Track & Field Championships in Canada. After runs in Munich, Germany, with Team USA, he was officially named to the 4×400 meter relay pool for the 2004 Olympic games, becoming the first UWL student athlete to be selected to a U.S. Olympic team.  
“Before the Olympics, I knew I was proud to be from UWL, but being over there for five weeks and having time to think and talk to other people, I realized that I have never been more proud to be from UWL than right now,” Rock said in the 2004-05 Alumnus. 
UWL celebrated its first 100 years in 2009 with more than 600 guests and 200 live performers.  
Former Music Professor Gary Walth wrote an original song to be performed for the celebration, “The Promised Land,” which aimed to celebrate the beauty of the La Crosse region. It was digitally recorded by Brett Huus.
One video highlighted during the celebration, “For Love of the Game,” by Jorstad, traces memories from teammates of the 1959 football team.      
This photo of Tommy Thompson on campus was taken in 2012 during his bid for U.S. Senate versus Tammy Baldwin. 
Jorstad also photographed him when we came to campus for Freedom Fest.  
Thompson has long been a supporter of the UW System and showed that support when he filled in to become the interim president of the UW System in July 2020 as COVID-19 challenges continued to emerge. Thompson came to campus for his final visit as interim president on Feb. 28, which was called Tommy Thompson Day at UW-La Crosse.  
He said in an op-ed shared widely that “It’s time we stop apologizing for the UW and start bragging about it. The UW System is Wisconsin’s greatest asset other than its people. We need to let everybody know what a great value for students we have here, perhaps with a robust marketing campaign, because the returns to our state when our UW succeeds are tremendous.” 
“I want our state’s young people and their parents to hear how vitally important a university education is to their individual growth, to our Wisconsin communities, and to our state’s economic health. To become the engineers, doctors, teachers, writers, data scientists and conservationists of tomorrow, you need a university degree. And our universities are the key to providing critical thinking skills that help develop citizens in an information-rich society. A college degree is more important than ever.” 
No matter what type of communication, if it is an emotional story, people tend to listen. Jorstad remembers meeting Biology Professor Tom Volk on campus. He commented, in passing, on his wide variety of hair colors. “I asked him why he colored his hair. He simply told me, ‘I color my hair to show that just because I look different, doesn’t mean I’m not a good person.’ Those words stuck with me, and from there we started a friendship,” says Jorstad. 
Jorstad later documented Volk’s story, including his many health scares leading up to his students driving him to Mayo Clinic where he received a heart transplant. The video, “The Professor with Two Hearts,” became a CNN iReport feature, and it was played for a UW System Board of Regent’s presentation. 
UWL’s gymnastics team has earned plenty of national championship titles, but on Feb. 29, 2012, they put their skills to use in a new way, helping to mark Leap Year, which was featured on CNN iReports. 
Barb Gibson was head coach at the time. CNN created a timeline of how the Leap Year Day migrated through the world time zones, and La Crosse was featured. 
President Joe Biden came to campus when he was vice president in 2012 to campaign for Barack Obama.  
Cowley Hall science building was constructed in the 1960s. This video shows how the deteriorating and outdated facility has affected teaching, learning and research on campus. With phase one of the Prairie Springs Science Center completed in 2018, many research and teaching labs were able to move out of Cowley Hall and into the new facility. However, phase two is still needed to move out of Cowley Hall completely and provide student-centered, technology-enhanced classrooms that are designed to maximize collaboration and meet UWL’s strong enrollment and leadership in the sciences.   
The video shows how failing infrastructure and inefficient spaces impact the ability of faculty to teach and students to learn. The video was created in August 2012.    
Jorstad began producing films in high school in the early 1970s before bringing his skills to UW-La Crosse. He had natural skills for documenting life as it unfolds, much like his dad, who documented WWII while in the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers throughout Europe. 
Jorstad highlighted many of his social media moments in his TEDxUW-La Crosse presentation, “Digital Storytelling,” in Nov. 14, 2013. He used this same image of his father and himself more than 61 years later, still documenting life.
Jorstad spoke at UWL’s First TEDxUWLaCrosse event, where UWL campus and community members shared short stories about “turning points” in society or their personal lives. UWL has continued to hold TEDxUWLaCrosse events over the years. Associate Professor of Psychology Tesia Marshik’s 2015 talk on Learning Styles and the importance of critical self reflection now has well over 1 million views.  
UWL’s next TEDx event will be on April 19 with the theme of Renewal.  
Carl Wimberly has become a household name at UWL. Wimberly, who died in 2016, was recognized by renaming North Hall in his honor in June 2000.  He joined UWL as an instructor of political science in 1953 and went on to serve UWL for 40 years as a professor, dean and vice chancellor. He served as acting chancellor following Kenneth Lindner’s resignation in 1978 until Noel Richards’ appointment in 1979. Wimberly retired as vice chancellor in 1992. Here he is pictured as Jorstad films his history on campus and his WWII stories. 
A year later, Jim was recognized as one of the Top 30 Technology Transformers in the U.S.
Former President Barack Obama came to La Crosse in 2008 while running for president. As president, he visited UWL in 2015, marking the first time in university history that a sitting president visited campus.  
Jorstad also captured Obama when he spoke to a packed 2nd Street in La Crosse while campaigning for president in 2008. He became the 44th president and the first African American to hold the office. 
Jorstad also covered Obama when he went to UW-Madison in 2012. “It was the day after he had a bad effort in the presidential debates, and I really wasn’t sure I wanted to cover it. I am glad I did. When I was working to find a news slug, I came up with the title, “Obama Finds His Groove.” The one title was picked up by the news agencies and became a trending name on Google,” he says. 
The way people work changed as the pandemic lingered. Read a UWL management professor’s take on the changing times in an article “Will work from home become the norm?”  
Jorstad retired in February 2022 as UWL’s interim chief information officer. His many media works that move UWL forward will not be forgotten.
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