Rising Stars Wagner

Western Technical College Associate Dean of Business Tonya Wagner for Rising Stars.

Erik Daily, La Crosse Tribune

For Tonya Wagner, associate dean of the business division at Western Technical College, storytelling is another form of empowerment.

“Something I’m really excited about is empowering teams,” Wagner, who has 40 full-time employees under her management, as well as a host of part-timers. “Sometimes it’s like herding cats.”

It’s her openness, not only in sharing her own story but in listening to others, that helps everyone who comes in contact with Wagner collaborate on a common goal; it’s part of a culture aimed at cultivating success through transparency and engagement.

She said she’s passionate about bringing something specific to the table: How to be your best self.

“These people are already exceptional,” she said of her team and their students, “so how do I help them be their best selves?”

Stories, to a large degree, help everyone see their common intersections.

“As the associate dean of business, I have the great opportunity to work at the intersection of our business community, college leadership, faculty and students to help ensure that we are serving our community with quality programs and exceptional graduates,” Wagner said.

It’s also incredibly personal for Wagner and her family, which has everything to do with another passion she’s offered to the world.

“I am personally involved with helping spread the word of the struggle of caregivers,” she said. “In order to give voice, over the past year, I have written a blog about my personal experience caring for my husband with advanced, early onset Parkinson’s Disease.”

Her blog can be found at https://personwithparkinson.wordpress.com/. Wagner admitted she doesn’t love talking about challenging subjects, but she realized a couple of things when she embarked on her blog journey: People had no idea what she was going through, and her blog work is also related intrinsically to her work at Western and the community as a whole.

“Storytellers are those who can tell them,” she said. If she can construct a narrative, especially one that offers help, she feels it’s her obligation to do so. “It’s our own responsibility to find our own healing and joy, no matter what our circumstances are.”

Creating a shared space where leaders are allowed to be vulnerable might offer comfort and advocacy to the many people who find themselves as caregivers.

“Tonya is a lifelong learner,” said Gary Brown, who nominated her for Rising Stars Under 40. “She is currently enrolled in the doctorate in educational leadership program at UW-Stout. Tonya has also been selected to represent Western in Wisconsin Leadership Development Institute, a statewide leadership program sponsored by the Wisconsin Technical College System. In addition, Tonya has brought her expertise to the classroom as an adjunct instructor.”

While her work in the community includes dozens of advisory committees every year, eliciting feedback and insights from local business leaders, as well as helping to build the entrepreneurship and small business community in the La Crosse region (including the creation of a fully online, one-year technical diploma in entrepreneurship), not to mention her participation in the development of Launch La Crosse and economic development visioning, and grant development, with the SBDC, Brown recognized how much Wagner brings to Western.

“During her time at Western,” Brown said, “Tonya has shown great leadership as a change agent, as we work to expand our course and program offerings. Tonya’s work ethic is superb and her energy is amazing.”

For Wagner, it’s all about a path to a better future.

“When I can see a path forward, I am motivated by inspiring others to move toward the shared vision,” she said.

Quote “It’s our own responsibility to find our own healing and joy, no matter what our circumstances are.” Tonya Wagner
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