Visit from benefactor highlights Weidner Center dedication

By University Communications
September 25, 2015
Dean Weidner stands outside the Weidner Center in Heritage Hall.

Photo: Dean Weidner stands outside the Weidner Center in Heritage Hall.

The Weidner Center for Residential Property Management has been up and running at University of Wisconsin-Stout for more than a year.

The facility, room 419 Heritage Hall, didn’t seem complete, however, until Sept. 9. That’s when its namesake, Dean Weidner, officially helped christen it with a ribbon-cutting, sign unveiling and dedication program.

“Thank you for this great facility. We’re very pleased to be involved with it,” Weidner told UW-Stout students and administrators, including Chancellor Bob Meyer.

The Weidner Center is the result of a $1 million gift in 2012 from Weidner, who founded and owns Weidner Apartment Homes of Kirkland, Wash. He also visited UW-Stout in 2013 before the center was created.

The center provides a one-of-a-kind UW-Stout interactive learning environment. It features seven round tables, each set up like a business board room. Each table is connected to its own smart board to provide a realistic, cutting-edge business setting.

“We tried to create a great learning environment. We wanted a place where we could do more case studies, have opportunities to work together and develop students’ critical thinking skills,” said Fred Prassas, who is director of the real estate property management undergraduate program, for which the center is intended.

Collaboration with the interior design undergraduate program and Learning Information Technology at UW-Stout helped make the facility possible, Prassas said. It serves as a “showpiece” for the School of Hospitality Leadership and has become a favorite place to teach for professors, he added.

Several real estate property management students also attended the dedication and spoke. “To have a professional in the field who believes in us and what we’re doing is huge,” said Abigail Ellingson, of Stillwater, Minn., co-president of the student chapter of the Institute of Real Estate Management.

Along with the Weidner Center, Weidner's donation provides scholarships totaling up to $20,000 a year. “Dean Weidner cared and made an investment in students,” Prassas said.

UW-Stout is one of three universities in the U.S. where Weidner has made major donations for property management programs, the others being Ball State in Indiana and the University of Alaska-Anchorage.

With 57 students, UW-Stout’s program is the largest of its kind in the U.S., said School of Hospitality Leadership officials.

The employment rate for recent graduates from the School of Hospitality Leadership is 99 percent, slightly higher than UW-Stout’s 97.1 employment rate for all recent graduates.

“Our mission is to develop hospitality world leaders. With a room like this, we can bring that mission statement to truth. We can really engage with students and prepare them to be leaders in the industry,” said Kristal Gerdes, director of the School of Hospitality Leadership.

Weidner Apartment Homes has hired 47 UW-Stout graduates in recent years as managers in training and has temporarily employed another 67 through the university’s Cooperative Education program.

“They’ve really made a difference in our company,” Weidner said. “The work ethic in the Midwest is strong. That shows through in your students. Success doesn’t come without commitment.”

Weidner Apartment Homes has more than 1,300 employees who help manage its 43,000, and growing, apartment units, mostly in the western U.S. as well as in Minnesota.

Weidner explained how he first became aware of UW-Stout through his cousin and cousin’s wife, Larry and Lucy Weidner, of Menomonie. Larry is a UW-Stout alumnus, and he told Dean Weidner good things about the university.

Patrick Guilfoile, provost and vice chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs, said the real estate program is symbolic of UW-Stout’s strong business and industry connections. “I hope this is a model we can emulate across campus in other programs,” he said.

Mark Parsons, vice chancellor for University Advancement and Marketing and Stout University Foundation executive director, said the Weidner Center “is a wonderful story about the power of philanthropy. We believe it will help widen the circle of philanthropy at UW-Stout. Dean Weidner has truly left a legacy.”

To read more about UW-Stout’s real estate property management program, go to here >>.