I’ve come to know fall is approaching when the sounds of the practicing Blugold Marching Band drift across the Chippewa River and through my open window in mid-August. It is like the air itself is vibrating with possibility — a song of energy and renewal.

This past Wednesday marked the start of UW-Eau Claire’s fall semester. Once again, our campus is bursting with the energy and excitement that accompany the return of nearly 11,000 students and more than 1,300 faculty and staff to Wisconsin’s most beautiful campus.

Fall at UW-Eau Claire signifies the next generation of leaders and learners have begun the hard work of expanding their capabilities to prepare them for a future they will help create. It’s a time for new beginnings, exploration and fostering students’ critical thinking skills by exposing them to complex ideas and subject matter that challenges their perspectives. Gaining a sense of history, biology and psychology, and economics, music and the arts, and culture — a sense of not only what it takes to make a living, but what makes life so remarkable.

That is the purpose of a college campus. We exist to expose students to a host of viewpoints so they develop the knowledge and understanding they need to be prepared for the continual adaptation and exploration that success in the 21st century requires.

Our students are guided on this journey by our faculty and staff, who have also returned to campus after a summer spent researching, studying or teaching abroad, and updating their courses to engage students with effective, challenging content.

Of course, our employees’ impact is not limited to the classroom. All year, our faculty enrich this community by participating in some of the Chippewa Valley’s most distinctive and impactful organizations. They are neighbors, volunteers and community leaders. People who bring expertise, cultural knowledge and energy for meeting the future head-on. They are role models, thought leaders and people who love, appreciate and participate in our community’s cultural renaissance.

In short, the exceptional dedication of our faculty and staff help make UW-Eau Claire and the Chippewa Valley the place it is while also extending our reach well beyond the region and state we serve.

We see it when our kinesiology students earn national headlines for developing an innovative solution to improve police officers’ health by replacing police duty belts with load-bearing vests, or when our criminal justice students travel to Taiwan to share research on American policing and learn about a foreign culture.

We see it when the National Science Foundation provides hundreds of thousands of dollars for UW-Eau Claire faculty and students to continue researching ozone levels in the atmosphere.

We see it when the UW System Board of Regents allows UW-Eau Claire to expand on our areas of strength by approving new programs in biomedical engineering and public health.

We see it when Mayo Clinic Health System enters into a universal collaborative research agreement with us so Mayo researchers and UW-Eau Claire faculty can work together to develop new knowledge.

The achievements of our students, faculty and staff beyond our campus demonstrate our university is in the community to be of and for the community. This imperative is central to our mission. We require that students engage in community-based service learning, and we prioritize internships with area businesses to show students the opportunities that await them in Eau Claire after graduation.

And it is working. In fact, in the past decade, we’ve seen a nearly 20% increase in the average portion of Blugold graduating classes that choose to remain in the Chippewa Valley after commencement. What a tremendous impact these talented teachers, nurses, artists, entrepreneurs, musicians, innovators and professionals have on our communities!

The fourth day of September 2019 marked the start of a new semester, and the beginning of an exciting autumn. Just as important, it continues our century-long commitment to this community and our future together.

That tradition is excellence. And that’s why we’re here.

Schmidt is chancellor at UW-Eau Claire.