Supporting the academic journey

Ryan Poehling

Ryan Poehling

Poehling’s giving nature continues with annual gift

UW-La Crosse Alumnus Ryan Poehling is carrying on in death what he did in life: a philosophy of giving.

“‘Me’ and ‘I’ were not part of his vocabulary,” says his father Hank Poehling. “That is the basis for why we set up a scholarship — to continue his philosophy of helping other people.”

Though Ryan died at age 27 of a rare form of cancer, he continues to give to others and support a passion for geography through a scholarship with the UW-L Foundation. Each year a UW-L junior or senior geography major is awarded a $2,000 scholarship with Ryan’s name attached to it.

The Ryan M. Poehling Memorial Scholarship is one of many scholarships awarded to students through the UW-L Foundation. About 400 scholarships totaling about $450,000 will be awarded to UW-L students during the Student Scholarship and Award program at 4:30 p.m. Monday, April 29, in Valhalla, Cartwright Center-Gunning Addition.

Ryan’s giving nature was evident even at age 7 when his parents asked him what he wanted for Christmas. The boy gave a somewhat atypical answer for his age.

“He said, ‘Ya know, mom and dad, I know we don’t have a lot of money. So why don’t you just skip me this year so you can buy each of my brothers a nicer present,’” recalls Hank.

Ryan went on to earn a bachelor of science degree in geography at UW-L in 1995 and a master’s degree from the University of Florida. Within two weeks of completing all the work for a doctoral degree in economic geography, he died in December 17, 2000.

“I know Ryan would be thrilled with what he is still accomplishing in death,” says Hank. “We are thrilled that we are helping students possibly achieve the goals that cancer cheated Ryan from achieving.”

Cody Mertens pictured at La Crosse River Marsh.

Cody Mertens is the 2012 Ryan M. Poehling Memorial Scholarship recipient.

UW-L’s 2012 scholarship recipient Cody Mertens is an active member of the geography department, working with two professors on soil contamination studies in the La Crosse River Marsh. He recently presented his findings, including a 3D map of locations where the contamination is the highest, at the American Association of Geographers conference in April in Los Angeles.

“I like to think I’ve done a lot, but when I read about what Ryan has done, it’s pretty amazing,” says Mertens.

The $2,000 helped pay for Mertens’ schooling spring semester. It was a time when he was busy in the classroom and in the field collecting data on the river marsh. Then he worked with professors to prepare the river marsh data for computer analysis. “We were working on problems they (my professors) don’t already know the answer to,” explains Mertens.

The scholarship shows Mertens that just as he supports the geography department and community by collaborating on research and understanding, the people in this community also support him.

Mertens would like to continue his education and earn a graduate degree in modeling and human and wildlife interactions or fluvial geomorphology. One day he would like to become a hydrologist or physical scientist.

Hank says each year he has the pleasure of meeting the recipients.

“I’ve been impressed with their enthusiasm, dedication and long-range goals,” says Hank. “They all seem very goal oriented — just like Ryan was.”

The scoop on scholarships:

UW-L launched a $15 million scholarship campaign in January to support student scholarships. A total of $1 million was raised in the first few months of the campaign. To contribute to the campaign contact Greg Reichert, assistant chancellor for university advancement, at 608.785.8672 or

Scholarships through the UW-L Foundation range from $200 to $8,000; however, the majority are awards of about $1,000. Scholarships are offered to students with a variety of academic majors, colleges and backgrounds.

Ryan Poehling

Ryan Michael Poehling was born March 21, 1973, to Henry (Hank) and Sandra (Sandy) Poehling of La Crosse. In 1995, Ryan earned a bachelor’s in geography, graduating with honors, from UW-L. He earned a master’s degree from the University of Florida 1997. In December 1999 he completed all the work for his doctoral degree in economic geography.

Ryan was first diagnosed with Epithelial Sarcoma, a rare form of cancer, at age 16. He recovered, but the cancer returned just after completing his doctoral studies. He died Dec. 17, 2000. In May 2001 he was awarded a doctoral degree posthumously from the University of Florida.

Today the Ryan Michael Poehling Charitable Foundation Inc. generously provides UW-L geography students the chance to further enhance their education with the Ryan M. Poehling Memorial Scholarship and the Ryan M. Poehling Memorial Fellowship to University of Florida graduate students.