Call them the unsung heroes who make our region a great place to live and work — the winners of the annual 7 Rivers Alliance and River Valley Media Group Rising Stars Under.

The 7 Rivers Alliance – a regional economic development group – sought nominations from throughout the region from young men and women who are making a difference. This year we have selected 23 recipients from three states.

“The stories of these exceptional people are inspiring and show how fortunate we are to have them living and working in our communities,” said Chris Hardie, CEO of the 7 Rivers Alliance. “They are true leaders in their workplaces and communities.”

The winners were recognized in a virtual reception held Oct. 27.

“Selecting winners from all of the outstanding nominations is not an easy task – everyone nominated clearly makes a difference in their community,” Hardie said. “These are men and women in our region whose endeavors enrich our lives and raise the bar for all of us.”

Kelsey Bolton, La Crescent

Kelsey came to Gundersen Health System in 2018 with the challenge of developing a new program for the Continuing Medical Education department. As her nominator said, she was poised, well-spoken and truly engaged with the mission of Gundersen Health System.

Kelsey is someone who connects with people and her community.  She sees the areas that need change and act on them for example, Kelsey co-lead a meal program at the Houser YMCA for children left unsupervised each summer and was the co-founder, Employee Wellness program at the La Crosse YMCA.   In addition to her work with the YMCA, she is also on the Board of Trustees for La Crescent Public Library. She knows the importance of literacy in our community and uses this role to ensure the longevity of the library for the community of La Crescent. 

Ask Kelsey what drivers her and she says: “Since childhood, I have had what my mom calls “an overwhelming sense of justice.” I have a need to find what’s wrong and learn how to fix it, but learned in my youth I’m incapable of doing so on my own. Positive and impactful change happens only through relationships, empathy, and learning from each other, so getting involved in my community was a natural step. Leadership and service are interchangeable.”

Dr. June Chae, Onalaska

It is a career of commitment when one chooses to become a medical doctor, but Dr. June Chae of Mayo Clinic La Crosse is one of the rare physicians who is board certified in four different specialties — Internal Medicine, Emergency, Pulmonary, and Critical Care Medicine.

She has been providing and coordinating care in the Intensive Care Unit during this exceptionally challenging COVID-19 pandemic.  Her hard work, outstanding professional skills, and integrity have resulted in her being designated as the Chair for the Department of Critical Care Medicine earlier this year. 

June says: “My mentors and colleagues inspire me, and we work as a team to think of innovative ways to deliver the best care for our patients. Finally, I cannot do what I do without the support of my family and friends – their time, help and understanding has been paramount – it takes a village to help nourish leaders.”

Part of her advice to younger leaders?

“Surround yourself with good people and with people who excel at what they do. By doing so, you will only escalate yourself and achieve greater success.”

Dr. Neil Cox, Black River Falls

Dr. Neil Cox is an accomplished physician at the Ho-Chunk Health Care Center who has made huge strides to understand the Ho-Chunk People, going as far as learning the native language.

Says his nominator: “In many ways, his approach has been refreshing because it has always been one of respectful curiosity and a willingness to learn, which is very much appreciated in indigenous communities.  There’s often some mistrust of outsiders, but he has done a great job earning people’s trust, which is important as a physician.  He values our way of life.”

Along with learning the Ho-Chunk language, Neil has also participated in some Ho-Chunk traditional ceremonies. He says working at a clinic where the first consideration is the needs of the patients has allowed him to spearhead the development of a protocol to provide addiction-fighting drugs to people who have difficulty getting transportation to the Ho-Chunk nation’s clinics. He said the Ho-Chunk nation’s focus on community was also a source of inspiration when the Nation worked to dispense Covid-19 vaccines beyond just the Nation and its employees earlier this year.

His advice to younger leaders? “Don’t commit most of your waking hours to money or prestige and then working on a passion project in your free time. When your daily life is in agreement with your passions and dreams, you are inspired to do things that in turn inspire others.”

Jeremy Haun, Tomah

As a Certified Financial Planner with Edward Jones, Jeremy offers professional  financial services that are steeped with a deep care for his clients, their families and the community.

As his nominator says, “The relationships that grow will always be one of the greatest rewards of his career.”

Jeremy is passionate about helping those in need which drives his community involvement with Families First of Monroe County, Handishop Industries, The Tomah Rotary, Tomah Area Chamber of Commerce and his local church. It allows Jeremy, as he says, to “give back to the community through service, using my expertise, and to help others along the way.”

“Leading is taking the time to help others think differently about a problem or situation so that they can grow and learn as well,” Jeremy says.

Whitney Hegseth, La Crosse

As the marketing director for Castle Realty, Whitney has transformed the Castle brand, helping it to gain recognition as the best real estate company in La Crosse County two times in the last three years.

But her involvement goes beyond her job. Her involvement in the community includes organizations and events include Kevin’s Legacy Foundation, Steppin’ Out in Pink, Castle Realty’s Pay It Forward events, The La Crosse Area Chamber Ambassador Committee, the Joy of Sharing event, and The League of the Ridiculous. She also spent 6 years as the La Crescent High School Girls Basketball strength training coach where she helped to promote positive body image self confidence within the weight room. She has also been a Chamber Ambassador throughout 2021, which helps to promote a strong business community within the La Crosse Area.

Ask Whitney why she is so involved and her answer is simple — it’s all about helping people – in some way or form, and that is what it’s all about. “It’s about supporting one another in our community to make our community the best around,” she says.

Her advice to younger leaders? “Don’t ever let experience stand in your way – you can lead every single day, but you have to believe in yourself and put in the work. “

Majel Hein, Stoddard

Sometimes we may not know or are able to see the impact we have on other people. As a financial counselor for Marine Credit Union Foundation, Majel sees the positive results, having developed the Finding HOME program that gets people into affordable home ownership.  She has received national counseling awards and was also a recipient of the Governor’s Financial Literacy Legacy Award in 2020.  Majel serves on the board of Western Technical College and the Advisory Committee of Great Rivers 2-1-1.  She also sits on the Governor’s Committee for Financial Inclusion for the State of Wisconsin and the Housing Advocacy Committee in La Crosse.

Ask Majel and she’ll tell you that she never had any intention to lead, but wanted to inspire by moving people forward. “That passion comes from my personal experience of fighting my own battles against substance abuse and the mess that being absent in your own life can bring,” Majel said. “I have been frustrated with systems and have had to get creative to be able to accomplish my goals, but one of my favorite quotes is “You can change your life at any given moment, never forget that.” 

Majel says her proudest moment professionally is when she sees families close on a home.  “It’s honor to be invited to be part of their lives and successes,” she says.

Jessica Himmer, Holmen

Sometimes a turn in our life’s journey results in a dramatic change in our lives. That’s what happened when Jessica decided to come to La Crosse and attend Viterbo University. Jessica calls it the best decision she ever made. “Those four years I was able to grow into the leader I knew I wanted to be,” she says.

Today the realtor for @Properties La Crosse is president of the Viterbo Alumni Association, past president and current member of the Onalaska Hilltopper Rotary where she was named Rotarian of the Year  and board member of the Holmen Community Center and La Crosse Area Realtor Association. She has also been involved with the Holmen Business Association and Chamber Young Professionals.

Jessica said one of her proudest moments was being named club manager at the La Crosse Country Club at the age of 27 — the youngest woman and only the second woman ever hired for that role. “This still makes me smile — it felt like an amazing milestone not just for me but for women everywhere,” she said.

Being a leader is about helping others, Jessica says. “Being a leader gives me opportunities to connect with our community and to do my part to make it a better place for all.:

Steven Kopp, La Crosse

“Playful with a wry sense of humor is a great way to describe Steven W. Kopp.” That’s how Steven’s nomination began.

Steven, an IT officer with Bluff View Bank, is an avid outdoorsman who cares about protecting the environment to  ensure outdoor activities are safe and fun for everyone to enjoy-be it biking, hiking, hunting, or fishing.  He volunteers with Pheasants Forever and Ducks Unlimited.

 Steve is a bicyclist, motorcyclist and a helicopter pilot.  He serves our country and our State as a member of the Wisconsin Army National Guard, where is a Blackhawk Helicopter Pilot.

During the unrest in the summer of 2020 after the death of George Floyd, Steve stepped outside his comfort zone and chose to meet with the mayor and police chief of La Crosse to offer his perspective coming from the viewpoint of a young person of color. Impressed with his suggestions and demeanor, the mayor appointed him to the La Crosse Police and Fire Commission.

” I like being able to know that something I am a part of makes a difference in someone’s life, whether or not they know I was actually involved,” Steven said. “Not only this, but I enjoy learning from other people and taking in their viewpoints and sharing mine, because you never know how the smallest thing can make a huge impact on somebody.”

Laura Lee, Houston

Laura is a Bangor native and graduate of Viterbo University. She is the senior manager of Digital Product Management at OptumServe, where her team was able to develop a digital solution for COVID-19 testing and vaccination test registration and scheduling that has helped deliver more than 4 million COVID-19 tests  and nearly 1 million COVID-19 vaccines.

But it’s her involvement with La Crosse Rotary and its many missions that Laura says has really shaped her as a person and helped her grow both personally and professionally.

” It’s opened my eyes to the need that lives both in our backyard, and across the globe and it pushes me to give more of myself,” Laura says. “It’s given me opportunities to go out of my comfort zone and build skills that have helped me immensely in my professional career.”

  Laura started an international student exchange program for the Rotary and led a club project to build classrooms for school children in Uganda. But her many accolades for her Rotary work wouldn’t have happened if she hadn’t been inspired by her late mother who died from breast cancer in 2011. “When I got the opportunity to join Rotary in 2012, it really felt like she was with me, nudging me to follow in her footsteps,” Laura said.  “She taught me to put all of myself into whatever I was doing and that didn’t matter if it was work or volunteering. There’s a quote by Mohammed Ali that states “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth” and I try to live each day making sure my rent is paid.”

Josiah Litant, Winona

Josiah is the vice president of student affairs and dean of students at Minnesota State College Southeast, but it was his experience prior to his arrival at the college in 2018 that has shaped his life.

Josiah was the co-founder of an independent middle/high school in Massachusetts called LightHouse Holyoke. He was co-director there for four years, focusing on individualized learning for teens who have been systematically underserved.

“It was some of the most inspiring and life-changing work I have ever done,” Josiah says. “I grew tremendously as a leader, a fundraiser, an educator, and an advocate.”

Josiah has brought that leadership to Winona, where he has led work to exponentially increase the supports for students at the college, particularly around basic needs, and diversity, equity and inclusion. “I care deeply about the transformative power and potential of education to change people’s lives,” he said.

His advice for younger leaders?   “Find people who are doing the work you want to be doing five, 10, 15 years in the future, and ask them for a chance to sit down and talk. Really — they will say yes! Ask them questions, ask them for connections and introductions to other leaders and ask them for advice. I never cease to be amazed at the generosity of leaders across an array of fields to help steward the next generation.”

Regina McGuire, Winona

Regina has a rare drive to empower those around her. She also has a strong track record of improving the world around her.  Saint Mary’s University awarded her the Outstanding Senior award – which is something like a cross between Homecoming Queen, Valedictorian, and Mother Theresa. Unsurprisingly, she was offered her first teaching job before she left the parking lot of the interview.

The Arcadia school district is where she has been awarded an Ashley for the Arts Humanitarian Award for her volunteer work within the Arcadia Community. She is also a Herb Kohl award winning educator and was a candidate for Wisconsin Teacher of the Year. Most recently she went through the grueling process of applying to become a National Board Certified Educator.

She is currently pursuing her Master’s in Bilingual Education and is using her experience and education to design and implement a dual language program within the Arcadia Public School District. She’s a cross country and track and field coach and you’ll see at many school and community events as well.

I teach my students to be kind and use their skills for helping others, and I feel it’s important to model those same values in my own life outside of the school day,” Regina said. “I know that I have been blessed with specific talents and passions, and when I pursue opportunities relating to these, I make a greater impact on the community.”

Her commitment is pretty simple — it’s about the kids.

“These kids deserve the world,” Regina says. ” I feel it’s my duty and responsibility to do everything I can to make sure each and every student I encounter feels loved, empowered, and capable of learning and growing.”

Eileen Moeller, Winona

If there is one word to describe Eileen, it would be advocacy. Her work in the Winona arts community and also serving on the Winona City Council reinforces her voice for the under-represented community.

Eileen, who is the managing director of the Frozen Film Festival,  says one of her proudest professional accomplishments was when she worked for the Great River Shakespeare Festival and successfully advocating for better hours and pay for a variety of creative workers. She says the lessons she learned from working with the thoughtful and creative people at GRSF have carried over into her current position.

Eileen also serves as a co-chair for the Board of Directors for the Advocacy Center of Winona, which started in grassroots feminism but today serves a greater diversity of people in the community.

Eileen ran for city council when she noticed that younger voices were not represented and felt more support was needed to grow the city’s creative economy, bolster small business and recreational tourism. Being the youngest person on the council can sometimes put her in a place that invites criticism, but she has shown time and time again that she is invested in the community.

For someone as active and busy as Eileen, her advice to young leaders is also learning when to say no. “While it is important to find your voice and practice using it to advocate for the things that are important to you, I also think it is imperative to learn to advocate for yourself,” she says. “Learning to say “no” when a project doesn’t spark excitement within you or when you do not have the bandwidth to take on another thing is incredibly empowering.”

Andrea Northam, Winona

Sometimes we can look at back at some of the most difficult moments of our careers and realize that is when we were at our finest.

That can be said about Andrea, who in March 2020 was serving in a new role as interim vice president of Winona State University’s Advancement Division, when the pandemic hit. She helped to inform and execute an institutional response to COVID-19 while supporting a team of 30 people also navigating the personal, professional and societal challenges brought on by the pandemic.

“Ultimately, I’m proud to have helped lead this university during a time of need, and proud of the team I work with, for the ways in which they came together to support one another and the mission of Winona State,” Andrea said.

Andrea is involved with the Winona Area Chamber of Commerce as a board member and is also a board member of the Winona Family YMCA, where she strongly supports the Y’s message of community wellness and equity and access for all. She also joined the Development Committee for Project FINE and will also be joining the board of the Winona County Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention. She has been involved with many other local organizations and efforts as well.

Her motivation? “I believe in the symbiosis between the community and the university, and I think that investment in our community and investment in positive change is the only way forward. I see the world through the lens of the future — who and how we want to be — and try to get involved with issues and organizations that have similar missions and values.”

Dr. Raj Palraj, Rochester

The pandemic has stretched and challenged all of us in many ways, but it hits you squarely when you are an infectious disease doctor at Mayo Clinic in La Crosse.

Dr. Raj Palraj has worked tirelessly during the pandemic, working with colleagues and hospital staff, supplying consultation in guiding the Infection Prevention and Control team. He provides clinical direction to the Mayo Midwest COVID Care Team, assessing high risk COVID positive patients who may be eligible for Monoclonal Antibody Infusion and/or Remote Patient monitoring at home.

 Regarding his patients, his calm demeanor provides comfort, as he prides himself on providing excellent care with respect, sensitivity, and empathy. His patients describe him as “caring, kind, intelligent, and easy to talk to.” A colleague said, “Dr. Raj is one of the most intelligent, meticulous, and dedicated physicians that they have had the pleasure to work with.”

Raj also volunteers to speak publicly and is regularly interviewed by the media to help the community understand the pandemic, the virus and prevention of illness. His involvement has been instrumental in reducing and mitigating the spread of COVID-19.

“COVID-19 pandemic brought fear and uncertainty to everyone,” he said. ” In an era of social media where it is confusing to identify the correct information, I wanted to help the community to understand the rapidly evolving science. I also learned that people respect honesty when the answer is unknown. “

Patrick Senzig, La Crosse

Being the leader of three care facilities in the middle of a global pandemic is a huge challenge, but Patrick has been up to the task. As his nominator said, “Patrick fearlessly, day in and day out, leads his team and inspires them to provide top notch experiences to their residents. “

Patrick’s health care journey started as an intern with Bethany Lutheran Homes, of which he is now the campus administrator, overseeing Hearten House I, Hearten House II and Riverside Transitional Care. He is also on the board of directors for LeadingAge Wisconsin.

The job may be complicated by Patrick’s philosophy is simple — he enjoys being a leader in an organization where his mission aligns with that of the company. “Being able to go to work every day and serve others, knowing you’re making a difference in the lives of others is rewarding,” he said.

He is an active member of the St. Joseph Ridge Lions Club which aligns with Patrick’s strong desire to serve the community and also helps with a small group of family members that call themselves the Outlaw Swamp, raising funds for a local organization in the community of Lyndon Station.

Patrick’s advice for young leaders? “Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Do something that makes you uncomfortable in the moment but will make you stronger in the end. Surround yourself with good people and find mentors who will challenge you to become a better person and leader.”

Brianne Shane, La Crosse

Dr. Brianne Shane joined Western Technical College in December of 2018  as a Research Analyst and was quickly promoted to Director of Institutional Research. In her role, she has advanced Western’s mission and strategic plan through a framework of driving action through data intelligence.

Through her work, Brianne has helped Western move forward in its efforts to drive action through data intelligence, particularly when it comes to equity and student success. She is a trusted researcher who has moved the organization to a higher level of maturity in using data to make decisions that change the lives of students.

Brianne has been instrumental in helping the College define its measures of student success and the goals within the College’s strategic plan. She has helped the College uncover both the celebrations and the brutal facts – – and she does so gently and compassionately so as to avoid disengagement with data.

“I am so proud of the work that the Institutional Research Department has accomplished to advance data-driven conversations at Western to impact student success and better serve every student, every day,” Brianne says.

Brianne volunteers as a tutor for students in sciences and especially enjoys chemistry. She focuses on exposing girls and women and other underrepresented groups to potential career paths in science.

Her advice — never stop learning. “You must keep learning and produce only the highest quality work,” she says. “When you have mastered one skill or job, look for the next challenge.”

Luke Sims, Winona


As Assistant City Planner for the city of Winona, Luke has been a driving force implementing policies to make Winona better to place to live and work.  To that end, Luke would say his method is simple. “I have always been civically engaged and believe that people in my profession should walk the walk as well as talk the talk. Community development really focuses on being a part of the community and getting to know it better. Being involved in local community organizations has an inherent value and is one of the foundational principles on which American cities have been developed.”

And involved he is.  Luke serves on the Board of Directors for the Advocacy Center of Winona, is the Southeast District Director for the Minnesota Chapter of the American Planning Association, works with the Emerging Leaders Task Force of the Congress for New Urbanism, and helps plan the Pedal for the People rides for Bikeable Winona locally. He’s also been involved with Junior Achievement and served on the City of Winona’s Heritage Preservation Commission.

Luke said he is most proud of the 2017 Complete Streets Policy and Pedestrian and Bicycle Plan for Winona, which was the 2018 Planning in Context Award winner from the Minnesota Chapter of the American Planning Association.  

“Working to better the community I live in is something I breathe day in and day out,” Luke says. ” It’s why I chose to become an urban planner and it is what I enjoy learning about.”

His advice to young leaders? “Go out and meet people. Anybody. All people. Experience what they experience and learn how the community around them functions.”

Tia Sneath, La Crosse

Tia, the special events program coordinator for Gundersen Medical Foundation, came back to La Crosse in 2019 after working in Colorado, which is our gain. Along with being a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals and chair of the Steppin’ Out in Pink Committee — which raises $300,000 annually for breast cancer research — Tia is a member of the Downtown Mainstreet Inc. Promotions Committee, a volunteer at Catholic Charities Warming Shelter, a  member of the Shine-A-Light Lung Cancer committee and an Outdoor Recreation Alliance volunteer.

“Being able to connect with the community, assist other organizations that are doing tremendous work, and have fun- what more could you want?,” Tia says.

 Tia has been inspired by strong female leaders who have shown her what leadership looks like. “From those women, I have adopted the mantra of “Do Good Work”- symbolizing not only doing good within your role but making sure the work you’re doing is work worth doing,” Tia says. “Contributing to something bigger than yourself, whatever that may look like. “

Her advice?  “Don’t let your age deter you from pursuing your passion and accomplishing big things. Continue to view yourself as a work in progress, and with everything you do- lead with gratitude. “

Elizabeth Wallace, La Crosse

Liz started at Western Technical College as a grant writer and was instrumental in helping the college secure sizable state and federal grants. It was during this time that a grant was received to support Western’s Project Proven program, which works to increase enrollment, retention and graduation rates of criminal justice-involved students. To see this project help hundreds of students enroll at Western and see the program continue beyond the grant was a highlight for Liz.

Now serving as Western’s Talent Manager, Liz volunteers for United Way activities such as Annual Red Kettle bell ringer for the Salvation Army, Meals on Wheels and Financial Education fundraising events for the Marine Credit Union Foundation.  Liz has a passion for helping others and serves on the board of directors for the YWCA.” I’m a long time feminist and appreciate being able to support an organization that is working to promote equity within our community,” Liz says.

Her inspiration is to continually connect with others to learn from them.

“It’s this drive to connect with other humans that inspires to me want to do what I can to lift up our community in the best way I can,” Liz says. “I’m especially passionate about helping others grow into their best selves in order to help and support others.”

Tricia Wehrenberg, Winona

Tricia is the youth services librarian at the Winona Public Library, but don’t tell that libraries are just for books. In  her view, librarians are agents of change.

“As a librarian, I’ve always felt that my role in the community is to bring assistance to those who need it, reach those who are underrepresented, and to support my community in any way I can,” Tricia says.

Equity is at the center of everything Tricia does at the library. When she selects new books for the collection, she builds the collection to reflect each and every child who comes to the library. Tricia brings library programming to a variety of locations around Winona, so kids who can’t get to the library can still participate. She has also hosted Spanish language programming. During the pandemic in 2020, Tricia and her staff did outdoor outreach programming on the east and west ends of Winona and delivered books on the lunch bus. More than 1,500 free books were distributed to students during one of the most isolating times of the pandemic.

Tricia is also president of the nonprofit in Winona called Ready Set School, which ensures Winona County students start the school year feeling prepared by distributing vouchers that help cover the cost of school supplies and clothing for K-12 students.

It’s all part of what Tricia believes is the unique opportunity to be an advocate for caregivers and children. She says: “Keeping this in the forefront of my work has always helped me to stay focused on creating incremental positive change in my community. “

Casey Weiss, La Crosse

Casey has been an entrepreneur since the year after he graduated college, earning a business degree with an emphasis on commercial real estate and entrepreneurship in 2006 from St. Thomas University. After starting his own real estate firm in the Twin Cities, Casey and his family moved back to La Crosse in 2014. Casey and his sister have started Access Commercial Real Estate (ACRE) which specializes in commercial real estate brokerage, development and investment.

Casey says it hasn’t been easy, but he’s grateful for the independence and the time he gets to spend with his family. Identifying and improving properties has not only been good for his business, but also good for the community, he said. “Being a part of that win/win is fulfilling,” Casey said.

Casey is past President of Tri Quest Charities and leads the annual fund raising campaign for the Gateway Area Boy Scouts of America. He serves on the board of the Children’s Museum, is an Elder at First Presbyterian Church & is an incoming board member of Coulee Bank’s board of Directors.

Casey thanks for his parents for being role models and his advice is to always give your full and best effort.  “You never know when you might learn a valuable lesson and you never know who will notice and appreciate your work,” he said. “In addition to that, simply being afforded the opportunity to do your best is one that not everyone has and should therefore never be taken for granted.”

Melissa Wray, Caledonia

One of the challenges we face is when our talented young people leave our region on their career journeys. That was Melissa’s story as she left Houston County for the Twin Cities, where she worked for 13 years.

But there was a calling that brought her back in 2019 and Melissa helped form the nonprofit arts and culture center called Mainspring in Caledonia. An vacant church building on Main Street became the focal point for a place that celebrated community and the arts, a location for important interesting community conversations.

As the founding director of Mainspring, Melissa leads an all-volunteer run organization that hosts community events and builds partnerships and creativity. “This is the organization I wish Houston County had had when I was growing up here and it fills me with a lot of gratitude and purpose to be a part of building that now,” Melissa said.

Melissa is also the Program Director at Lanesboro Arts, which offers a wide variety of programming including youth arts education opportunities, public art like murals and mosaics, unique events including music and dance, and support the work of more than 90 regional artists. She is also a member of the Caledonia Chamber of Commerce.

Her advice for young leaders? “Find people who have a similar vision as you to help build collectively towards something. Resources can be tight and doing the work alone can exhaust the spirit. Find your team of folks who can carry the vision and do the work alongside you — and who you can turn to for inspiration when you need it most!”

Garrett Zimmerman, La Crosse

Garrett is making his mark as principal of the Polytechnic School in the La Crosse School District, but he gives credit for what made him a leader.

“The  people in this area have inspired me to be a leader” Garrett said. “I have had the privilege to work with so many fantastic students, teachers, colleagues, and community members in the La Crosse area. I wanted to move into a position where I can impact more students to find their educational fit, while creating a supportive workplace.”

Garrett’s work with the charter schools in the School District of La Crosse resulted in the move of the  La Crosse Polytechnic into downtown La Crosse and the development of a job shadow/internship curriculum. The school is focused on servant leadership and getting students working with groups like Downtown Mainstreet, the Cameron Farmers Market and Toys for Tots.

Garrett’s next focus is turning Coulee Region Virtual Academy into a standalone school. But it’s a team effort, Garrett would be quick to say.

“Both of these schools have terrific teachers who make me better every single day,” he said.

His advice to younger leaders? Get into the trenches with your colleagues and understand their challenges.

“Do not ask your people to do something you have not tried yourself. Jump in and teach that lesson, make that call, run a line, or help that customer. That gives you insight into how your systems work while listening to your people.”

Garrett Zimmerman, La Crosse