Going above and beyond

Kathy Thoen, a dean’s assistant in the College of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities, has won the 2020 University Staff Excellence Award. “I don’t do what I do for recognition,” she says. “I do what I do for the betterment of the students and colleagues I work with.”

Kathy Thoen receives UWL’s University Staff Excellence Award

Kathy Thoen has been many things at UW-La Crosse.

She’s been a student — undergraduate and graduate — and she’s served in many roles in a variety of offices and academic departments: Student Life, Records & Registration, English, Geography & Earth Science and Physical Therapy, among others.

Now, she has a new title to add to her resume: Winner of UWL’s University Staff Excellence Award. “I love my job, and I love working on campus, but I’m not really a person who likes attention,” says Thoen, now a dean’s assistant in the College of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CASSH). “Recognition is a little uncomfortable for me, but it’s super nice to feel appreciated. I don’t do what I do for recognition. I do what I do for the betterment of the students and colleagues I work with.”

For Thoen, there’s no such thing as a typical day.

She has a hand in the college’s academic, business and administrative operations — everything from helping students change their major or minor to organizing CASSH meetings and events.

“Some days, I plan out what I’m going to do,” she says. “And then those plans go by the wayside because of whatever comes through the door.”

Those who work with Thoen describe her as the ultimate utility player — someone who can perform a wide array of tasks and collaborate with a wide array of people.

“There are no words that could describe how deserving Kathy is to be recognized for the work that she does,” says Marie Moeller, associate dean of CASSH.

“Kathy manages to move the office forward with lightness, cheer, ease, and a deep commitment to her job and the institution. The kind of rich and often unseen work Kathy does for the college and the institution is so far above and beyond her job description.”

A university has always been Thoen’s ideal workplace. She started her career at the University of Florida before getting her first opportunity at UWL in 1999.

She worked her way from position to position not because she was a job-hopper by nature, but because supervisors and colleagues kept encouraging her to advance her career.

In the process, Thoen gained valuable insight into almost every corner of campus — insight that continues to prove useful.

“I think being in so many offices has made me a stronger community member on campus,” she explains. “Processes might change since I was there, but it still helps me see the big picture of what’s going on and gives me a place to start when I’m looking for answers. It’s been a great career path for me.”

Thoen brings yet another perspective that is rare among staff and faculty — the perspective of a recent UWL graduate.

She attended community college immediately after high school but stopped short of getting her degree. Life, she says, just got in the way. Thoen eventually gave it another shot, earning her bachelor’s degree in women’s, gender and sexuality studies in 2016. Three years later, she secured her master’s degree in student affairs administration — both degrees from UWL.

“My advice would be to never stop learning,” she says. “It took me years to finish my degree, but there were some different job or professional development opportunities that brought me closer. It may seem like a long road, but you have to keep working at it.”

Thoen isn’t certain what the future holds. Her husband has urged her to go back to school and get her doctorate. But for now, she’s content with her master’s.

And while her background in student affairs administration has positioned her to continue to climb in her career, she’s enjoying her current job too much to look ahead.

“I love what I do, and especially with COVID, I want to wait and see what the future holds for me,” she says. “Right now, I feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be, doing what I’m supposed to be doing.”