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Professor Profile: Steven Zwickel

By Brandon Grill

The Wisconsin Engineer Magazine has been in publication for 119 years and throughout its lifespan has been run and written entirely by UW-Madison students. The past 20 years, however, have been especially pivotal in the history of the magazine. The age of mass communication through the Internet has changed the entire field of journalism, and the magazine is no exception. Fortunately, with all the changes in staffing, production and distribution in the last 20 years (with the exception of a 5 year hiatus), we have had a faculty adviser who has kept the magazine in focus. Professor Zwickel is the most dedicated friend of the magazine to date, and without his intervention and continuing support, the Wisconsin Engineer would not enjoy as great success as it does today.

“I’m the collective memory of the magazine.” — Prof. Zwickel

Professor Zwickel has a diverse academic history including a law degree and a degree in social work, but it’s his Graphic Arts and Printing diploma that first got him involved with The Wisconsin Engineer Magazine. He was offered the faculty adviser role back in 1995, and he accepted it as part of his faculty requirements. In his first days as adviser, Zwickel was faced with the task of turning around a $12,000 debt the magazine had accrued. Facing threats of a shutdown of the magazine, which was in its 99th year, Professor Zwickel got together a group of dedicated students and organized an overhaul of the magazine’s publication process. He helped to implement the “story team” structure that the magazine still uses today, which greatly improved the quality and synchronization of writing, photography and layout. Shortly after implementing these changes, The Wisconsin Engineer Magazine won four consecutive awards for overall best magazine from the Engineering Colleges Magazine Associated (ECMA). Over time, the magazine was able to pay off its debt and become solvent. Professor Zwickel’s record of being an asset to the magazine, however, had just begun. As technology changed, Professor Zwickel was never content with being left behind. He became an expert in various skills including Adobe Photoshop, magazine photography and journalistic interviewing. He very much enjoys being useful as an adviser to the magazine.

An additional challenge that Professor Zwickel faced was keeping the magazine focused on its goal of being a non-profit business. While The Wisconsin Engineer Magazine is a student organization, no money is accepted from the College of Engineering; solely ads and subscriptions are used to fund printing. In order to remind students that they’re part of something more than just a student organization, Professor Zwickel has opened up all business-related meetings to all magazine staff members and implemented top-down and bottom-up performance reviews to better the magazine. He believes that the department heads have done a good job keeping things going, but jokingly laments that they can’t hold the threat of employment termination over the heads of staffers.

Professor Zwickel has seen many changes in the magazine over his time, and has grown attached to both the magazine and the people involved. Unfortunately, ECMA and many student-run magazines have encountered problems with their funding and no longer exist. He’s extremely proud to be a part of a magazine that has survived the trend of going online, and hopes to help The Wisconsin Engineer Magazine stay relevant. He often keeps in touch with former staffers and is happy to learn of their lives and how they all attribute certain skills to their tenure on the magazine. Professor Zwickel loves the diversity in the magazine in terms of gender, major, origin and career trajectory, and lauds the magazine’s ability to attract students of all backgrounds. Most importantly, Professor Zwickel describes himself by saying, “I’m the collective memory of the magazine.” While student staffers must graduate and leave the magazine after four years, he makes sure that mistakes aren’t repeated and that the new staffers are always on task. Professor Zwickel is excited to see what the future holds for The Wisconsin Engineer Magazine and proudly claims that, “the magazine’s future is bright and in the hands of very competent people.”

The magazine is always looking for new members to continue the proud tradition of publishing quality articles. We meet every other Wednesday from 7–8 in Tong Auditorium in the Engineering Centers Building. Come meet the fantastic staff and become a part of one of the oldest student organizations on campus!

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