‘More than a school’

Dairyland Power leaders credit UWL for success, connections

UWL alums working at Dairyland Power Cooperative in La Crosse include, from left, Beth Mirasola, ’87; Katie Thomson, ’95; Jennifer Shilling, ’93; and Jenny Kuderer Radcliffe, ’03.

Posted 8:40 a.m. Thursday, July 22, 2021

Deb Mirasola, Katie Thomson, Jenny Kuderer Radcliffe and Jennifer Shilling all hold key leadership roles with Dairyland Power Cooperative in La Crosse. And, all credit the same source for launching successful careers.

“I think we all value the experience we had as students at UWL, the lifelong friendships we made, and the opportunity to pay it forward and continue supporting the university,” says Shilling, ’93, the former Wisconsin Senate minority leader and now Dairyland’s government relations manager.

“For me, UWL is a great way to connect with people and share stories,” she says. “UWL is a lot more than bricks and mortar. It’s the people and professors and experiences that really tie you to the university.”

Mirasola (director of communications and marketing), Thomson (manager of strategic communications), Kuderer Radcliffe (economic development representative) and Shilling are not the only UWL alums at Dairyland — a La Crosse-based wholesale energy cooperative serving western Wisconsin and parts of Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois.

But they are among the most prominent examples of Dairyland leaders who embrace their UWL roots, and serve as an inspiration for young people, especially young women, aspiring to similar leadership.

While their stories are unique, all four say their UWL experience helped shape them, teaching them lessons they utilize today.

Mirasola, ’87, remembers founding a student chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators and asking local business leaders to speak on campus.

“That really taught me how important it was for businesses to be involved with the university,” she says, noting Dairyland’s strong support of UWL. “A couple years later, I joined Dairyland just down the road and kept those lessons about community engagement with me.”

UWL is also where they developed skills to be strong, confident leaders.

Thomson, ’95, worked at the Racquet as a reporter and later assistant editor — useful experience for her career as a manager and communicator.

Kuderer Radcliffe, ’03, interned under Jan Gallagher, former director of the UWL Small Business Development Center.

And Shilling, at the urging of professor emeritus Joe Heim, won a seat on the La Crosse County Board at age 20.

“Having come up in a male-dominated field like economic development … I’ve had to prove myself among people with much more experience,” Kuderer Radcliffe explains. “The most important thing is to do your homework, be firm but professional, and don’t apologize for bringing forward your ideas and expertise.”

Adds Thomson: “Another simple piece of advice is to read and listen to what other women are saying. Listen to TED Talks, check out your LinkedIn feed, find a mentor and make connections and grow from that. You can learn a lot from just being willing to listen.”

In many cases, these leadership skills have been a benefit not just to Dairyland, but to UWL and the broader community.

Kuderer Radcliffe, for example, chairs the UWL Foundation board and has recently advocacated for phase two of the Prairie Springs Science Center.

Mirasola serves on the Alumni Association Board and has long been involved with the L-Club, a group that supports UWL athletics.

UWL is much more than brick and mortar to these alums — it’s family. Among the Dairyland Power Cooperative family of UWL are, from left, Jenny Kuderer Radcliffe, ’03; Katie Thomson, ’95; Beth Mirasola, ’87; and Jennifer Shilling, ’93.

For this quartet, UWL is more than a place they spent four or so years of their life. It’s where they grew into adulthood, met friends and husbands, learned lifelong skills, and had memorable moments in and out of the classroom.

And it didn’t end there.

“My husband and both of our sons are graduates of UWL. So are both of my sisters and one of my daughters-in-law,” Mirasola says. “They loved the campus like I did and built those connections, too. It’s more than a school to us. It’s part of our family.”