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SOMERS — In 1968, college students may have been listening to The Beatles newest hit song “Hey Jude,” or went to the movie theater to see the new blockbuster “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and for some they were attending classes at new University of Wisconsin-Parkside.

On Thursday, students, faculty, staff and alumni gathered to celebrate the 50th anniversary of UW-Parkside.

City Council President Jason Meekma, an alumnus of the university, said it has come a long way since he was walking the halls in the mid-2000s.

“From its humble beginnings to what it’s become, that passion for investment in the student potential has lived throughout its 50-year history,” Meekma said. “From the City of Racine, we appreciate everything that Parkside brings to our community, and all of the wonderful students and wonderful staff who engage in the community, we look forward to continuing that partnership.”

Chancellor Deborah Ford, the sixth chancellor in the university’s history, said the founders of Parkside “worked tirelessly to ensure that an affordable, accessible, quality, public university providing higher education, was established right here in southeastern Wisconsin.”

“Our goal is to keep this going,” Ford said. “We have set a big goal to increase the number of graduates at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside by 50 percent so our collective impact is bigger and better and more broad.”

Ford said the event on Thursday is a celebration of the previous 50 years but now “we’re focused on the next 50 years.”

Ford also thanked the alumni, elected officials and the community “who have positioned the University of Wisconsin-Parkside for continued success at the center of a thriving mega-region.”

Alumni and students speak

Racine resident Alan Karls was part of the inaugural class of students in 1968.

Karls was at the celebration and said he remembers when Racine and Kenosha had their own separate two-year colleges, and “Parkside was formed from the existing students and class offerings from those two campuses and for the first year, Parkside classes were held on the Racine and Kenosha campuses.”

“I drove a car that I bought for $175 and hoped every day that it would make it there and back and the heater would keep working,” Karls said. “I had classes on both campuses that first year. I had to register at both campuses because this was before computers, everything was done on paper and each campus kept track of its own courses.”

Karls said he would eventually finish his college education at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee because Parkside didn’t offer the teaching credential he needed.

“This is the first time in 48 years that I have been inside a building on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Parkside,” Karls said. “It has become an impressive and beautiful place. I am proud to be part of its history.”

Over the years, Parkside has become the most ethnically diverse university in the University of Wisconsin system and they rank among the highest in non-traditional students.

Elisha Cole, 23, a psychology major who is planning to graduate this fall, said the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs has helped her navigate the college world as a first-generation college student.

“There’s people in that office that you can tell they care about you growing as a student and they answer any questions that you have,” Cole said. “It’s like a family.”

Adrienne Stiger, 53, a communications major, said she was a bit self-conscious about going back to school as an older adult, but found that her younger peers were willing to open up to her and the small class sizes to be best for her learning skills.

“I love this school,” Stiger said. “I love the classes, I love how (professors) take their time with you individually; it’s a good support system.”

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Ricardo Torres covers federal, state and Racine County politics along with the Village of Mount Pleasant. He bleeds Wisconsin sports teams.

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