This is the 10th part in a series profiling members of the Board of Regents, the governing board for the University of Wisconsin System.
Throughout her professional career, Board of Regents member Eileen Connolly-Keesler has successfully worked to expand and improve several non-profit organizations and is now looking to do the same with the University of Wisconsin System.
From her experience with non-profit organizations, Connolly-Keesler is used to working with tight budgets, an experience she said has been especially valuable given the current state of UW's financial situation.
"My contribution right now is to do the best with what we've got," she said. "That's why I've been, so far, parked on the finance committee."
Connolly-Keesler said she brings an understanding of budgets and financing to the board, but with the current budget the regents face, she said it is tough to envision new and exciting programs. She said she would like to use the resources available to provide accessibility of the UW System for students in Wisconsin.
"Every resident should have that opportunity for an education," she said. "I am hopeful we can maintain the tuition increases at some reasonable rate to allow everyone [that opportunity]."
Since her appointment to the board in 2003, Connolly-Keesler said she has faced a number of difficult issues including "severe" budget cuts and reexamining of certain policies. Despite these challenges, she said she is happy to be a part of the UW System and believes the system to be an important part of Wisconsin.
"For years and years, if you carried a degree from the UW System, I think in other states you [would be] sought after," Connolly-Keesler said. "People have seen it as one of the best systems in the nation."
She also said the university system is important for economic growth in the state and that the state needs an educated workforce.
In order to improve the effectiveness of the Board of Regents, Connolly-Keesler said she has been working to restructure the board's monthly meetings to make them more efficient given the small amount of time they have together. Specifically, she said, she wants to try to keep the focus of these meetings on specific issues.
"There is so much good the UW System does, and it is great to be [educated about] all those great programs going on," she said. "[We are] really trying to keep presentations that are relevant to policy issues that face the Board of Regents."
Student Regent Christopher Semenas said he has noticed the affect Connolly-Keesler has had on the meetings, especially in regards to financial aid issues and ensuring students have the opportunity to attend a UW System school.
"Eileen has been providing a lot of insight and perspective on these issues," he said.
Along with improving the effectiveness of these meetings, Connolly-Keesler said she is also working with UW System audits, acting as a liaison for the board.
"Coming from that non-profit world, you kind of get an understanding of those," she said.
Semenas said Connolly-Keesler has also helped him understand some of the financial issues that have been introduced to the board.
"I have been very grateful to her for all the help she has personally given me," Semenas said. "She has been a great [help] in understanding some of the issues coming up before the Business and Finance Committee."
Connolly-Keesler is also hopeful that a new regent-legislator buddy system will help improve the relations between the two governing bodies. This new concept pairs each regent member with two to four legislators in an effort to increase communication and cooperation.
"We just have to get that relationship built where we can call them or e-mail them about specific [issues]," she said. "It is a great opportunity, and I think we have to put everything we can into developing those relationships."