It’s only fitting that the largest academic program at UW-Green Bay also received the largest academic gift in school history.
In 2009, Dr. David Cofrin gave $5.5 million to UW-Green Bay in honor of his father Austin E. Cofrin, the late founder of the Fort Howard Paper Co.
Austin Cofrin’s commitment to innovation and efficiency turned what was in 1919 a small mill on the western shore of the Fox River into a world leader in the paper industry.
UW-Green Bay is hoping to use the gift to turn its already successful business program into an even better program under a new name: The Austin E. Cofrin School of Business.
“We were surprised and very, very glad to hear that the Cofrin family had such confidence in us that they were willing to provide this gift to our University to name our school of business,” said Marilyn Sagrillo, chair of business administration and accounting and director of the Austin E. Cofrin School of Business. “That’s one of the things that we’re trying to do is build our program and move it forward so that the Cofrin family will be proud of their named school.”
The program was originally called Managerial Systems.
“We are an integral part of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay,” Sagrillo said. She says business students at UW-Green Bay get a wide range of courses in the humanities and a firm foundation in all areas of business.
“A student who is taking an emphasis in marketing doesn’t just get marketing courses. They get courses in marketing, management, finance, accounting, but then they get a second course in each of those areas and then they get the depth in their particular emphasis area so I think our students are really well-prepared for the world and for their professions,” Sagrillo said.
1979 graduate Steve Taylor agrees.
“I’m proud to say I’m a graduate of the business program at UW-Green Bay,” Taylor said.
Taylor is a financial representative with Northwestern Mutual. He says along with its location, in a city known for business and industry, UW-Green Bay has another advantage over other business schools.
“The advantage I felt is that we had smaller classes at the time. It was important that you interact with the professors. I think that was the main thing I really enjoyed about the business program,” Taylor said.
That same advantage holds true today.
“My professors were awesome. They all had real world experience and were very relatable, knew me pretty much on a first name basis and helped me land some internships which helped me land a job,” said Mary Frank, a 2008 graduate.
During her last semester, Frank interned with Wisconsin Public Service. That led to a full-time job with the company after graduation. Frank credits the business program with preparing her for the real world.
“We were treated like adults. We weren’t treated like students. We were treated like employees in some of my classes and that was great because it showed us how to be more professional,” Frank said.
Frank and Taylor are not alone. In fact, of the 27,500 UW-Green Bay graduates, business students account for 5,400. The overwhelming majority of them, 4,400, stay in Wisconsin.
“When I go to CPA firms and I see our graduates are partners in CPA firms or I go to an event at a CPA firm and I look around the room and I realize that 90% of the people in the room are my former students. It’s just a feeling of pride to know that they’re contributing so much to this community,” Sagrillo said.
Current business students also give the program and the faculty high marks.
“Because it’s a small school a lot of the professors are working one on one with the students and you’re not going through a TA as you would be in a larger school so that is exciting, to actually talk with someone with a lot of experience and knowledge is really helpful,” said UW-Green Bay senior Kayla Tetschlag.
“The professors are just really helpful, like if you’re stuck or if you need help or letters of recommendation they’re more than willing to assist you in any way that they can,” said UW-Green Bay senior Heather Schabel.
The Cofrin gift will provide funds for a fully endowed chair of the business program and a permanent endowment for academic enhancements across campus.
Current and former students say the program’s future couldn’t be brighter.
“I think it will take the University to a whole new level of prestige as far as a business school,” Taylor said.
“This program has been wonderful in past year’s but I think that Cofrin name, just that it’s associated with the business school is going to bring a lot more opportunities for students,” Tetschlag said.