The top major at UW-Platteville is mechanical engineering (990 students), followed by business administration (806 students), criminal justice (701 students), biology (440 students) and civil engineering (432 students).
The engineering emphasis skews the campus enrollment decidedly male (65%).
Among the newest majors: microsystems and nanotechnology; and sustainable and renewable energy systems. A new minor in entrepreneurship will be offered starting in January.
The school long ago stopped teaching mining in its engineering college - zinc and lead mining were part of the area's livelihood from the 1820s to the 1920s.
But students still embrace the "M," the official symbol for the old "Miners" of the Wisconsin Institute of Technology, formerly the Wisconsin Mining School that was folded into UW-Platteville.
The giant "M" fashioned from rocks on the side of Platte Mound, four miles northeast of Platteville, is a beloved tri-state icon visible from Iowa and Illinois. It's been dubbed the world's largest "M" - at 241 feet high and 214 feet wide - and was featured in Life magazine in 1949.
Each year, members of the engineering club hike up the steps alongside the "M" to give it a fresh whitewashing.
Luminaries light the "M" during homecoming. And it's a favorite stargazing destination for college sweethearts.
When he arrived on campus as chancellor 2 1/2 years ago, Shields said he saw great potential.
"I've tried to instill a little less Midwestern humility," said the chancellor, who grew up in Iowa.
"We are doing great things here. We can build new residence halls, raise our own money and use our Tri-State Initiative to build academic buildings."
The campus is about to start a major capital campaign, Shields said. The fundraising goal hasn't been announced, but Shields hinted it will be at least four times more than the last capital campaign a decade ago, which raised $8 million.
It will allow the campus to build academic buildings and fund scholarships at a time when the state can't be counted on to provide stable support, Shields said.
"We have to take more charge of our destiny and think in ways that are self-sustaining," he said.
Take the new 620-bed residence hall, Rountree Commons, for example. It opened this fall at the edge of campus. Both the building and the land are owned by a nonprofit real estate foundation formed by the UW-Platteville Foundation.
The residence hall was built with $22.72 million in private money and is run by a student housing company.
Through a management agreement with the UW System Board of Regents, Rountree Commons is exclusively for UW-Platteville students. The residence hall with a first-floor convenience store and a fitness center is managed much like a traditional dorm.
UW-Milwaukee and UW-Green Bay also have constructed residence halls through university foundations with private money. It's a faster, more cost-effective way to build a residence hall because it can be self-supporting with students paying to live there, Shields said.
UW-Platteville is building another new residence hall on campus, called Bridgeway Commons. The $29.28 million cost will be covered by traditional funding - program revenue from tuition, auxiliary services such as food service and with student segregated fees. The 440-bed dorm is scheduled to open next fall.
When Shields arrived in Platteville, half the town's houses had been turned into student rentals, and Platteville residents weren't happy, the chancellor recalled. Only about half of the freshmen and sophomores lived on campus.
"Students were taking over the town," Shields said.
With the addition of Rountree Commons, most freshmen and sophomores now live on campus, the chancellor said.
The campus is increasing its weekend entertainment offerings, hoping to change its suitcase mentality, Shields said. A new fitness center in the field house also helps keep students busy on campus, he said.
Once Bridgeway Commons opens next fall, half of all students - including upperclassmen - will live on campus, according to Shields.
The campus building boom over the past decade has also included a number of building and renovations projects, including a new student center, a new engineering hall and a state-of-the-art dairy center at the university's farm.
Students appreciate the campus's fresh look, said Alex Gooding of Appleton, who graduated in December with a degree in electrical engineering and is starting a new job at Dematic Corp. in New Berlin as a controls engineer.
"I really like the newness," Gooding said. "It makes the campus more attractive to prospective students."
Students this fall voted on a new Pioneer Pete mascot to represent the campus.
Given the chance to change the mascot from a miner to something else, students overwhelmingly supported keeping the iconic miner.
The campus exudes a "hardworking identity," Gooding said. "Agriculture people are hard working; engineers are big hands-on people, and criminal justice has that hands-on, hardworking image. The miner fits."
The campus's mining history also is embraced by sculptural lighted columns that flank the walk and create a portal from campus to the freshly renovated Ullsvik Center, where students begin their journey at the admissions office.
The columns, which blaze blue at night, are based on candles used by early lead miners to light their way in the mines. Candles were worn in hats and stuck into crude lumps of clay, which they called "sticking tommies." The tops of each lighted column maintain a consistent height that can be seen as a "beacon" from the distance, but they also descend into the lower plaza in relationship to the change in elevation.
The symbolism is subtle, but meaningful.
The colonnade is intended to embody the path that students take, transformed from raw clay to knowledge and wisdom. The knowledge and wisdom are symbolized by the sculpted stacks of books that form the base for each lighted column.
Campus building boom
UW-Platteville has benefited from a building boom the past decade. Projects include:
- A new student center in 2002 costing $16.85 million ($4.5 million in state funding; $12.35 million in program revenue).
- Renovations to Ullrich Hall, home of the Department of Computer Science and Software Engineering, finished in 2005 at a cost of $6.95 million (all state funding).
- A new state-of-the-art Dairy Center at the university's farm, with both robotic and standard milking systems, costing $2.78 million ($1.72 million in state funding and $953,920 in program revenue).
- A new residence hall, Southwest Hall, finished in 2006, at a cost of $20 million (all program revenue). It houses 380 upperclassmen in four-person suites.
- A renovation and addition to Ullsvik Hall, which houses admissions, a museum and the chancellor's office, among other things, costing $25.67 million ($10 million in state funding, $15 million in program revenue and $600,000 in gifts and grants). More than half of this building's cost was covered by revenue from the Tri-State Initiative and private funding, Shields noted.
- A new Engineering Hall costing $25.66 million ($9.24 million in state funding, $9.91 million in program revenue and $6.5 million in gifts and grants).
- An addition to Glenview Commons, the dining facility for residence halls, costing $4 million (all program revenue).
- An addition to Williams Fieldhouse costing $5.36 million (all program revenue). A second phase of that project is planned in the next few years.
- Phase One of the Boebel Hall science building renovation, costing $2.2 million ($1.2 million in state funding and $1 million in program revenue). A second phase costing $15 million is planned.
- Renovation of Porter Hall, a residence hall that houses 180 men and 66 women, at a cost of $4.9 million (all program revenue).