Spring 2015

[Alumni News]

Cathy Sandeen

New Leader of Wisconsin Colleges


ASKING A NON-SCIENTIST to explain science can lead to a subtle, but impactful revelation. For Cathy Sandeen, it was that type of experience that forecast her career.

“I remember early in my time as a student at Humboldt, I was taking a natural resources class to fulfill a science requirement,” said Sandeen (’76, Speech Pathology). “One of our first assignments was to sit in the forest by yourself for 10 minutes and write down your observations.”

Sandeen recalls that after reading the students’ papers, Professor Rudolph Becking said he could tell that a lot of the students were scientists. But the paper he selected to read to the class—Sandeen’s—was uniquely non-scientific.

“I’m a liberal artsy kind of person,” Sandeen says. “In my paper, I talked about a zillion shades of green, listening to the wind, and how the forest sounded like it was breathing. The professor used it as an example of how scientists need to remember to keep in touch. That’s when I realized it’s okay to take a chance, to be yourself, and to take a risk on an assignment.”

Finding a different way in and challenging the norm is what Sandeen has encouraged throughout most of her career. In December, she assumed the top leadership role as chancellor of University of Wisconsin Colleges and University of Wisconsin-Extension, a system geared toward attracting and accommodating students that might not otherwise find success in postsecondary education.

Following a nationwide search, a 27-member committee representing the state’s Board of Regents selected Sandeen to the chancellor position. She is responsible for a variety of divisions, including Wisconsin’s 13 liberal arts two-year transfer colleges, its extension learning system, and the Wisconsin Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Television broadcasting networks.

As a student coming to Arcata from the Bay Area, Sandeen felt comfortable amidst the redwoods. Despite the abrupt change from city to rural environment, she found a sense of belonging.

“A lot of the students at Humboldt State were like me, and the faculty were very inspired to teach students like us,” Sandeen said. “It was a friendly atmosphere. I would have felt lost at a larger institution.”