speakersNearly half of Winona State University students are first generation college students, meaning neither parent has a four-year bachelor’s degree. These students face many unique challenges on their path to a degree.

For WSU alumni Allen L. Dittrich ‘77 and James J. Zuehlke ’76, being first generation students meant a steep learning curve and a lack of support in navigating the higher education world.

“I had no mentor or trailblazer to show me the way, like a parent or sibling. I had to learn it all on my own through the hard knocks,” Zuehlke said.

Dittrich echoed Zuehlke’s concern. “It was challenging not to have a role model to bounce things off of,” he said.

On Oct. 20, Dittrich and Zuehlke returned to their alma mater to serve as mentors and role models, speaking to current WSU students about their experiences, their careers and what employers are looking for from today’s college graduates.

Speaking as part of the College of Business’s “Create Your More” initiative, Dittrich and Zuehlke focused on opportunities for success after graduating from WSU. Their presentation, “Preparing for the Job Market: What I know now, that I wish I had known then,” offered students firsthand insight in Dittrich’s 38 years of experience in the direct marketing and retail industries, and Zuehlke’s experience in the technology, medical, financial and executive search industries.

Dittrich holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and Marketing from WSU. He currently serves as the Senior Vice President of Omnichannel Customer Experience and Operations at Duluth Trading Company. Prior to this, Dittrich served as Senior Vice President of Retail at Allen-Edmonds Shoe Corporation; Chief Executive Officer of Retail Associates Ltd.; Executive Vice President, Chief Operating Officer and Chief Merchandising and Marketing Officer at Gander Mountain; and as a senior executive in various positions with the department store division at Dayton Hudson.

Zuehlke holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with a Marketing concentration and Computer Science minor from WSU. Zuehlke started Cardinal Board Services, a private staffing and board recruiting company and has conducted hundreds of searches for technology industry leaders like Cisco Systems, Check Point Software and more. Before establishing Cardinal Board Services, he was the Vice President for Brad Martin & Associates in Minneapolis.

For more information, contact the WSU Communications Office at 507-457- 5024.

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Brian Waldbillig

Brian is a Public Relations major and Communication Studies minor from Farmington, MN. His hobbies include photography, hiking and going to concerts.