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Alumni Award Winners

Distinguished Alumni Award

This prestigious award honors outstanding alumni who have made significant contributions to their community, college, and career.

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Proven Business Partner Award

CVTC is proud to recognize our important business partners within the Chippewa Valley through the Proven Business Partner Award.

2024 Mayo Clinic Health System
2023 Benedict Sales & Service
2022 Silver Spring Foods
2021 WIN Technology
2020 Xcel Energy
2019 Tractor Central and Value Implement
2018 Cardinal FG
2017 Dove Healthcare
2016 PMI, LLC
2015 Bush Brothers & Company
2014 W.S. Darley & Co.
2013 Spectrum Industries, Inc.
2012 Northwestern Bank
2011 Market & Johnson, Inc.
2010 ConAgra Foods, Inc.

Outstanding Recent Alumni Award

​The Alumni Association is honored to present up to two Outstanding Recent Alumni Awards each year to alumni who have made significant contributions to their community, college, and career with the last 10 years of their graduation.

2024 Dustin Goodman
2023 Jennah Volovsek
2022 Kinze Berg
2021 Anthony Nied
2020 Rebecca Merryfield
2019 Erin Greenawald
2018 Cathy Mallett & Melissa Wilson
2017 Andrew James Liedl
2016 Steph Roth
2015 David Balko & Dawn Gregorich

Past Distinguished Alumni Award Winners

The Distinguished Alumni Award is the most prestigious award presented by Chippewa Valley Technical College. The award is presented annually at the Gala.

2024 | Kelly Bakken

Melvin Mast

Kelly Bakken was interested in law enforcement before she graduated from Alma high school. She had family members in emergency services and felt compelled to explore the career, which brought her to CVTC.

The now Altoona Police Chief completed the two-year criminal justice program in 1998 and right after graduation, entered the law enforcement academy.

"Looking back on it, it was a fantastic experience," Bakken said. "The instructors were super friendly. A lot of people helped me build my career, but really looking back on it, it was the foundation that CVTC gave me that helped me build a solid foundation for what has been a long career in law enforcement."

In her nearly 26 years working in the law enforcement field, she has worked in corrections, served as a patrol officer, a detective, captain of patrol and investigations, spent time working in police and sheriff's departments, and she also worked as chief of police for Black River Falls.

"The best part about being chief is getting to mold those new officers to be the best they can be as leaders in our community," she said. "It’s what we do as a team here. It’s a team effort, and I have a great team."

Bakken gives back to CVTC by sitting on the Criminal Justice Advisory Committee and the Foundation Board. She is proud of that work.

"It's really about student success – making sure that the students have the tools to succeed, and that the College has the ability to provide that," Bakken said. "CVTC is providing a service to our community."

2023 | Melvin Mast

Melvin Mast

Melvin, a 2011 Mechatronics Technician alumnus, grew up Amish, stepped out of that culture and took his chances on CVTC.

He began his collegiate career 12 years ago. He had his sights set on industrial mechanics. Melvin attended classes full-time and worked nights to make it work.

He said: For me, it was going through that programming and gaining that confidence by attending classes. I didn’t realize how much confidence I was getting out of it.

Melvin was hired as a mechanic with Nestle Health Science in 2012. He climbed the ladder to mechanical equipment senior specialist working with the Nestle manufacturer based in Italy, although he also appreciates being able to work with local machine shops, too.

He supports CVTC by serving on the mechatronics and automation engineering advisory committees.

2022 | Bruce Trachsel

Bruce Trachsel

Bruce Trachsel never subscribed to the notion that helping new electricians in the field would take work away from him. Instead, he has always been heavily involved in mentoring people interested in electrical work. That’s one of the reasons Trachsel, 62, of Fall Creek, who graduated in 1984 from the CVTC Electrical Apprenticeship program, was chosen as the college’s 2022 Distinguished Alumni.

Bruce, who works at B&B Electric, Inc., was a foreman on many large electrical projects including; Oakwood Mall, HTI and Target. Through his dedication to the career and hard work, he was able to become an owner at B&B Electric in 2006. Trachsel praises CVTC for having the most up-to-date technology, offering night classes, hiring stellar instructors, and “putting young people in the right spots” for hands-on learning.

“This has been a very fulfilling career,” Trachsel said. “If I had to pick a career again, I’d do all over. I like to influence the students at CVTC so I can give back what I’ve learned.” Bruce is also involved in the community in a variety of ways- donated time and charitable contributions to the Boys and Girls Club, Animal Shelters, and Chippewa Valley Veterans Park in Altoona.

2021 | Michele Koch

Michele Koch

Michele is the current Chief Operations Officer at Northwestern Bank in Chippewa Falls. After graduating from CVTC, Michele began working at the bank as a receptionist, and has held various roles including safe deposit vault attendant, teller, loan processor, and human resources director before being named the organizations Chief Operations Officer.

Michele is very active in the community. She has served as a volunteer at the Chippewa Falls Moose Lodge, a teacher with Junior Achievement, a member of the finance committee for the Chippewa Falls Oktoberfest, and a volunteer for Agnes’ Table and Feed My People food pantry.

Michele has also remained close to CVTC. She served on the Alumni Association Board of Directors for 8 years as well as the Spring Gala planning committee. She has assisted with fundraising events, volunteered at CVTC graduation ceremonies and has represented Northwestern Bank at CVTC scholarship receptions. In addition, Michele supports various College initiatives monetarily, and is a proud advocate for CVTC in the community.

2020 | Jake Hepfler

Jake Hepfler

A summer job and a CVTC apprenticeship program led Jake Hepfler to become the owner of a successful and growing business. Jake, a 2006 graduate of the Inside Electrical Worker Apprenticeship program, took over ownership of H&R Electric in Chippewa Falls in 2014. His interest in the electrical field led to a summer job at H&R Electric before his senior year in high school. After graduation, Jake started his five-year apprenticeship at the business. When he took over as owner, Jake had one employee. The company now employs about 20, including four currently in the CVTC Electrician Apprenticeship program. Eight of his employees are also CVTC graduates. In 2017, he purchased a building northeast of Chippewa Falls and is adding on to the facility this spring. H&R Electric provides a full range of residential, commercial, and industrial electrical services and recently added a control panel shop. As a member of the Wisconsin Joint Electrician Apprenticeship Committee, overseeing the application process and monitoring the progress of apprentices, Jake continues to work closely with CVTC. In the community, he coaches girls basketball and softball and is a member of the Knights of Columbus. Congratulations to Jake as the 2020 CVTC Distinguished Alumni!

2019 | Terry Giertz

Terry Giertz

Terry Giertz, a 1971 graduate of CVTC’s Marketing program, joined the beer distributorship business his father was giving up in the late 1970s. As the company leader, he grew the business from 70,000 cases a year to millions of cases today. The company built a new distribution center in 2008. Bill’s Distributing has been honored as a top distributor by Anheuser Busch and has over the years added multiple lines, including Coors, New Glarus, Heineken, Corona and others. Along the way, Giertz and Bill’s Distributing have done much for the communities in which they do business. They have supported at least two dozen community celebrations, the Mabel Tainter Center for the Arts, Dunn County Humane Society, Dunn County Historical Society, and several wildlife organizations. Giertz was awarded the prestigious Birch Sturm Fellow as a Member of Lions Club International. He is a past president of the Wisconsin Beer Wholesalers Association. Congratulations to Terri as the 2019 CVTC Distinguished Alumni!

2018 | Mel Jahnke

Mel Jahnke

Mel Jahnke first started at CVTC in 1974 in the Fluid Power Maintenance program (now part of Industrial Mechanic), and worked in that field before returning to CVTC for the Electronics Technology program. He was named the program’s outstanding student with a perfect grade point average when he graduated in 1981. As computers advanced, he would return to CVTC to update his skills and even became an adjunct instructor, teaching Novell Networking at a time when that technology was replacing mainframe computer models. It was also what opened up the possibilities for small businesses to computerize. Jahnke founded Imagineering in 1988, and it became a go-to company for small businesses taking the leap into computerization. Mel sold the company in 2006, but recently returned to the computer consulting business with the founding of R.O.I. Technology Consulting. Mel currently serves on the advisory committee for the CVTC IT-Network Specialist program that he helped develop in the 1990s, and served three terms on the CVTC Foundation Board. He started an Imagineering Scholarship for IT students that is still being offered, and the CVTC Computer Repair Center has been named after him for his generous support of the College. Congratulations to Mel as the 2018 CVTC Distinguished Alumni!

2017 | Kenny Skar

Kenny Skar

Many CVTC Alumni choose to own and operate their own business but few do so in as short of a time span as Kenny Skar. Kenny is a 1996 graduate of New Auburn High School, and a 1999 graduate of the CVTC Machine Tool Technics program. Ken began working at Vincent Tools in 2000. He purchased the company and continues to serve today as the Tooling Manager. Kenny kept the company name, and the tradition of hiring CVTC graduates. Twenty of his twenty-one employees are alumni. Kenny is the co-chair of the Machine Tool program advisory committee, and he annually offers scholarships to high school seniors planning to attend CVTC. Kenny is a passionate and vocal advocate for career and technical education, and a friend of the college. Congratulations to Kenny Skar as the 2017 CVTC Distinguished Alumni.

2016 | Trevor Wuethrich

Trevor Wuethrich

Trevor Wuethrich is the president of the largest independent butter manufacturer in the United States. Trevor is a 1994 Marketing program graduate who, in addition to working his way up in his family’s business, is now part owner of his community’s largest employer. When Trevor is not working, he is actively involved in the Greenwood community supporting the local schools, churches, and Chamber of Commerce. He has served as a junior high and elementary girls’ basketball coach and is a member of the Athletic Booster Club, Memorial Medical Center Board of Directors, and Clark County Economic Development Corporation Board. Trevor and the folks at Grassland have been great partners to CVTC providing opportunities for tours and jobs for CVTC graduates. Trevor also served as the Agriculture Sector Leader on the Energy Education Center Campaign Steering Committee. We are honored to recognize Trevor Wuethrich as the 2016 Distinguished Alumnus.

2015 | Natasha Plank-Ottum

Natasha Plank-Ottum

While her career may have had some interesting twists and turns, Natasha Plank Ottum's education at CVTC was invaluable to her. Natasha, the 2015 CVTC Distinguished Alumni Award recipient, is a second-generation owner of Plank Enterprises in Eau Claire. Using her education in the Nursing Program, this 1998 graduate started an onsite health clinic at the company. "The interpersonal skills and the connections you make when you are in the nursing field are very helpful to you in leadership. You have to be a great listener, accept responsibility for decisions, and you have to use critical thinking skills, which are skills CVTC hones in on." Natasha and Plank Enterprises are both supporters of CVTC and the community. Congratulations, Natasha!

2014 | Paula Kimbllin

Paula Kimbllin

Lead by example. That is one of Paula Kimbllin’s greatest motivators. Paula graduated from CVTC with an accounting degree and spent her 35-year career with Xcel Energy motivating others in their careers and giving back to the community with her ties to Junior Achievement, Relay for Life, Eau Claire Children’s Theatre, and more. Congratulations to Paula for being the recipient of the 2014 Distinguished Alumni Award and thank you for representing CVTC.

2013 | Jeff Urlaub

Jeff Urlaub

According to Jeff Urlaub, CVTC helped inspire a love of lifelong learning while helping him get his start. Jeff, founder and CEO of MEP Associates, is the 2013 Distinguished Alumnus. He graduated from CVTC in 1989 and 1993. He spends many hours volunteering for a wide variety of activities in the community, including staying connected to CVTC. Congratulations, Jeff, and thank you for all you do for the community.

2012 | Mark Franson

Mark Franson

Congratulations to Mark Franson, our 2012 Distinguished Alumnus. Mark, Vice President of Bartingale Mechanical, has been instrumental in the continued growth of CVTC and our communities. “I’m happy to help out however I can,” Mark states. “CVTC has played a big role in my personal and professional life.” Shortly after graduating in 1986, Mark joined the team at Bartingale Mechanical and today is the Vice President in charge of operations. “It’s kind of cool being selected this year, the College’s 100-year anniversary.”

2011 | Wendy Stelter

Wendy Stelter

We are honored to recognize Wendy Stelter, Chippewa Falls Police Chief, as the 2011 Distinguished Alumnus. Wendy has used her training from CVTC and UW-Stout to reach her high career goals. She is someone who is always willing to help people in the community and at CVTC, from volunteering at functions such as the Law Enforcement Special Olympics program to serving on boards of the domestic abuse shelter and teen runaway center to speaking to CVTC students in the criminal justice program. "I love what I do and I want to do anything I can to help get the right people into this career."

2010 | Jon Hehli

Jon Hehli

"CVTC sets its students up for success from day one." This is from CVTC 2010 Distinguished Alumnus Jon Hehli. He graduated from CVTC's Accounting program in 1974 and is clearly dedicated to the Chippewa Valley both personally and professionally. He serves as Chief Financial Officer for RCU. He is an accomplished and respected baseball and basketball coach as well as a mentor to many. Jon has dedicated countless hours to volunteering within the valley in numerous roles. His dedication to community is admirable.

2009 | Mike Strand

Mike Strand

Technoentrepreneur Mike Strand is CVTC's 2009 Distinguished Alumnus.  Strand acquired degrees at CVTC in both electronics and data processing and went on to found and operate Strandware, a company that eventually reached over $20 million in sales of bar code, printing, and tracking software. He founded the company in 1988 and sold it after 13 years of operation. Currently, he is CEO of StrandVision, a digital signage company.

2008 | Tom Day

Tom Day

Tom Day, manager of the Ken Vance body shop in Eau Claire, with a staff of nine, is responsible for the auto body enterprise at the Vance dealership. A manager since 1989, he recalls fondly his education in the auto body program at CVTC. Bob (Jacobson) and Monte (Pedersen) taught the technology and much more, Day says. "They taught work ethic, that you had to show up for work on time and ready to make a good impression with customers," Day said. The Ken Vance manager found a way to give back as well. Fourteen years ago he started a career exploration night for prospective students and parents. The model was successful at CVTC - enrollments have been strong since - and is now copied by more than a dozen dealerships and technical colleges around the state.

2007 | Frank Bucheger

Frank Bucheger

Frank Bucheger began his 30 year career at W.S. Darley (manufacturer and dealer of firefighting equipment in Chippewa Falls) as a machinist. He rose to assistant plant manager and then to vice president of manufacturing. Frank is currently employed at OEM of Woodville, Wisconsin, as the company’s continuous improvement manager. He has served on the CVTC Board of Trustees since 1995, including terms as chair, secretary, and liaison to the Foundation Board. He also served on the CVTC Machine Tool Advisory Committee for 19 years.

2006 | Judy King Gehler

Judy King Gehler

Judy King Gehler transitioned from a single parent working for minimum wage to a professional in the human resources field. She took evening classes for 10 years while working full-time, before achieving the first of her three associate degrees. Realizing firsthand the difficulties of balancing a career and raising children, Judy established scholarships for students in the Child Care Services and Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse programs. She has earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees at UW-Stout.

2005 | Tina Sundly

Tina Sundly

After her 1987 graduation from the Administrative Assistant program, Tina Sundly spent several years working for health care organizations, ultimately promoted to patients accounts manager at Luther Midelfort. She earned a bachelor’s degree in management from Cardinal Stritch University, and in 2002 she assumed a position in charge of business development for the Eau Claire CPA and business consulting firm, Wipfli LLP. When honored in 2005, Sundly was employed as strategic alignment manager with Wipfli.

2004 | Connie Holden Peterson

Connie Holden Peterson

After graduation from CVTC’s Accounting Program, Connie Holden Peterson began her career at Ayres Associates in 1977. At the time that she was honored as the 2004 Distinguished Alumnus, she had been employed at Ayres for 27 years, holding the position of Vice President of Human Resources. Under Connie’s leadership, Ayres Associates sponsors an annual scholarship for CVTC students, provides job-shadowing opportunities to students, and encourages staff to serve on program advisory committees. She is very much involved with civic and professional organizations.

2003 | Steve Schlough

Steve Schlough

As a Ph.D., department chair, and associate professor in the Communications Education and Training Department at UW-Stout, Steve Schlough credited his earlier education at CVTC (known then as District One) as sparking his love for learning. He has returned to CVTC for training several times, even after earning his Ph.D. In summer 2002 he taught a course entitled “Coordination and Supervision of Career and Technical Education.” Steve said at the time of his award, “I believe this is coming full-circle.”

2002 | Roger Leque

Roger Leque

River Falls Police Chief Roger Leque values the training he received at CVTC. “It was wonderful, practical education,” he said. “The faculty really cared about the quality of our training.” Leque’s resume now includes a bachelor’s degree, and he is also a graduate of the FBI National Academy. At the time of his award, he led a department of 22 full-time sworn officers and seven civilian employees. Roger gives back to CVTC in numerous ways: he has spoken at graduations and he serves on the Alumni Association Board.

2001 | Richard (Pete) Peterson

Pete Peterson

Richard “Pete” Peterson points to his 1967 accounting degree as the foundation of his banking career. After graduation from District One followed by four years in the Air Force, he was hired as a management trainee at First Wisconsin National Bank in Eau Claire. He rose up the bank ladder of success. At the time of his award, Pete was president of Firstar Bank, which had more than $200 million in assets. “The accounting degree got me in the door,” said Peterson. He has served on advisory committees and the Alumni Board, established scholarships, and delivered commencement speeches at CVTC.

2000 | Mark Anderson

Mark Anderson

Mark D. Anderson came to CVTC as a UW – Eau Claire biology graduate. He received his Associate Degree in Nursing in 1984. After three years as a staff nurse at Sacred Heart Hospital, he was promoted to director of Medical/Telemetry, overseeing the largest inpatient department at the hospital for 12 years. By the time of his 2000 award, Anderson was serving as director of Sacred Heart Hospital’s Institution Improvement Department, overseeing processes pertaining to quality and the institution’s accreditation efforts.

1999 | Cheryl Keegan

Cheryl Keegan

Cheryl Keegan graduated in 1983 with an Accounting degree. She then received her Bachelor’s degree from Cardinal Stritch College in 1996. Cheryl’s long career with Blue Cross Blue Shield began in 1989. In addition to superb work experience and advancement, Cheryl distinguished herself through volunteer efforts, contributing to a variety of clubs and organizations in the area.

1998 | Jeff West

Jeff West

Jeff West, a 1981 Industrial Electronics graduate, was named the 1998 Distinguished Alumnus. In 1980, after reading a copy of Scientific American devoted to micro-processors, West knew his career path. He began a career in semi-conductors. In October 1996, with five other partners, he began Silicon Logic Engineering. Jeff was recognized with the second Distinguished Alumni award.

1997 | Mark Senti

Mark Senti

CVTC’s first Distinguished Alumni Award was awarded to Mark Senti, 1988 graduate of the Electromechanical program. At the time of this award, Mark was Vice-President of Advanced Magnet Lab in Florida. His firm had been awarded major contracts to design and build the magnets of a superconducting collider to be built for scientists at Brookhaven national Laboratory. Mark wrote to thank the college, “I am very proud to serve as your first award recipient. CVTC is one of the finest technical institutions of its kind….I am always proud of my educational experience at CVTC."

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