Blackhawk Technical College Holds May 2023 Commencement

May 21, 2023


It was a packed house of more than 1,000 people Saturday at the Dream Center Auditorium in Beloit as more than 225 students graduated from Blackhawk Technical College.

“You’ve made some pretty good decisions to get yourself here today,” Dr. Tracy Pierner, President of Blackhawk, said. “As you move forward, continue to develop and your career will blossom…As an alumnus, I wish you much luck as you move forward.”

The 2023 May Commencement ceremony featured four speakers, including Hope Hopper, who served as president of the Student Government Association for two years and was voted Student of the Year at this year's Student Awards Ceremony.

“We all have our stories, and we all have our unique challenges that we have overcome,” Hopper said. “We are all here to today because we pushed through. After all of our hard work and dedication, we did it.”

The event also included five Rock University High School students who earned their associate’s degree through Blackhawk’s dual enrollment program. Trayvon Crain, Andrew Hegle, Devyn Klingaman, James Mathesius and Natalie Spicer will graduate from RUHS on June 3.

Two other high school students earned a welding technical diploma. Alexander Doane is a senior at Janesville Craig High School, and Vanessa Hartwig is a senior at Monroe High School.

“Through Blackhawk’s dual enrollment program, these students are graduating from high school already equipped with either a technical diploma or an associate degree,” said Dr. Karen Schmitt, Vice President of Academic Affairs. “This is truly a momentous occasion.”

About the speakers

Michelle Weirich, Faculty of the Year

Michelle Weirich, Early Childhood Education instructor, was voted Faculty of the Year by students as part of the annual Student Awards Ceremony. This award honors an instructor who contributes in significant ways to their respective program, division/department, or the larger Blackhawk community.

Students chose Michelle for her inspiration and commitment to Blackhawk as well as her ability to make learning fun and engaging.

Since she was a child, Michelle wanted to be a teacher. She worked for more than a decade in a childcare center before joining Blackhawk Technical College. She recently celebrated her 20th anniversary at the college.

She has been a member of the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS) Early Childhood Education State Curriculum Committee since 2005. In addition, she also led the efforts with University of Wisconsin-Whitewater to develop an articulation agreement for Blackhawk students in the Early Childhood Education program

Hope Hopper, Student of the Year

Originally from Phoenix and now a resident of Beloit, Hope enrolled in Blackhawk’s Early Childhood Education program because she loves children and wants to make a difference in their lives. She chose Blackhawk for its small class size, location and affordability.

Hope has been the President of the Student Government Association for the past two years. In this role, she represented the Blackhawk student body at all monthly District Board meetings. She also has been a member of Business Professionals of America and the Blackhawk Improvement Group. She is also has been a student representative for the Early Childhood Education Advisory Committee.

Hope, who was voted Student of the Year at this year's Student Awards Ceremony, was chosen to be a student speaker for her leadership and hard work. After graduation, she plans to pursue her bachelor’s degree.

Stephanie Pautsch, Student Speaker

After graduating from Monroe High School in 2019, Stephanie enrolled in Blackhawk’s Early Childhood Education program with the dream of becoming a teacher. Her decision to attend Blackhawk was not only to earn a degree, but she knew the experience would better prepare her for life.

Throughout her time at Blackhawk, her instructors have become mentors and her classmates have become friends. In part, she credits her success to her dad who always says “Hard work pays off!”

Stephanie has received honors from the National Society of Leadership and Success, Phi Theta Kappa and The Society for Collegiate Leadership and Achievement.

Stephanie was chosen to be a student speaker because of her dedication and perseverance. After graduation, she will begin her teaching journey as a daycare teacher for children ages 1 and 2.

Kris Corwin, Distinguished Alumni of the Year

Kris Corwin, the Trauma Program Coordinator at Mercyhealth Rock County, is the recipient of Blackhawk’s Distinguished Alumni Award, which honors an outstanding Blackhawk graduate who has demonstrated the value of a technical college education through career accomplishments, community service, continued personal and educational growth, and support of the technical college system.

Kris received an Associate’s Degree in Nursing from Blackhawk in 1991. She went on to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Viterbo University in La Crosse in 2004 and a Master of Science in Nursing from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2006. She also holds multiple certifications, including Trauma Certified Registered Nurse, Certified Emergency Nurse and Certified Pediatric Emergency Nurse.

Kris had worked in the pediatric unit and the emergency department before becoming the Trauma Program Coordinator. Her career path as a nurse and her community involvement demonstrates how her Blackhawk education provided a foundation to not only succeed but also make a difference.

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