A winter tradition has brought UW-La Crosse police officers and international students closer together.
The two groups recently met for a day of ice fishing at Pettibone Park in La Crosse, an opportunity to build mutual trust and understanding and for international students to experience a staple of Midwestern culture.
“The ice fishing program is a great way to introduce international students to a very popular Wisconsin activity,” says Miranda Panzer, international student and academic advisor for UWL International Education & Engagement. “It’s also a great opportunity to break down the stereotypes of what international students might assume campus police are based on the movies and TV shows they watch before attending UWL. We like to help build bridges between international students and the La Crosse community.”
Campus police had a lot of help introducing students to the art of ice fishing. Members of the UWL Fishing Club were on hand to teach students the basics, while senior executive chef Robb Hanson of the university’s food service prepared a classic Wisconsin fish fry for attendees.
Rene Faun, a biomedical science major from Malaysia, says she has never experienced anything like ice fishing. He described it as “10/10”.
“As soon as I got to La Crosse, ice fishing was at the top of my bucket list. So I was thrilled to be able to have this opportunity with the UWL campus police,” Faun notes. “Other than learning how to use the fishing gear, my favorite part of it all was obviously the fishing itself. The joy of catching a fish at Pettibone Park was contagious and relatively easy.”
This was the second year in a row that UWL police and international students came together to ice fish at Pettibone Park.
In 2022, organizers had little time to organize and promote the event, and only two students attended.
But those students had so much fun, says Officer Dave Pehl, that it was clear they were on to something.
“Those two had a lot of fun,” he recalls. “We caught a lot of fish and in the end we had to physically take the fishing rods out of their hands and tell them we were done fishing for the day.”
Several international students attended this year’s event, along with four police officers, five members of the fishing club and a handful of friends and family.
Pehl, who had dreamed of starting such an event for years, says it can only be described as a success.
“What I loved was how everyone came together to enjoy our time on the ice,” he explains. “Even though we didn’t catch many fish, it didn’t matter. What mattered was that people were having fun, talking to each other, fishing, laughing and just enjoying the experience.
“I wanted to show them that they have nothing to fear and that they can rely on us to help them whenever they need it. It was about building friendships, and I think we did that.”