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WCTC Foundation president Ellen Phillips to retire after 26 years

1610_Ellen_PhillipsPEWAUKEE, Wis. (Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024) – Since 1997, Ellen Phillips has led the nonprofit WCTC Foundation, which secures charitable resources to help Waukesha County Technical College (WCTC) students achieve their educational goals. Later this spring, and after many years of overseeing the organization, cultivating relationships with donors, and developing and executing fundraising campaigns, she will retire from her role as Foundation president.

“With almost 27 years of leadership and service to the WCTC Foundation, more than $32 million has been raised to support students, programs and capital projects for the College during Ellen’s time at the Foundation. Her work will leave an indelible mark and will forever advance the mission of the College,” said Rich Barnhouse, Ph.D., president of WCTC. “On behalf of WCTC and our board of trustees, I sincerely thank her and wish her the very best in retirement.”

Phillips joined the WCTC Foundation after working in the healthcare industry, serving as the vice president of Development and Community Relations at Aurora Healthcare in Milwaukee. The College was looking at ways to amplify fundraising efforts and become more visible in the community, and Phillips was excited to enter a new industry and take the foundation to a new level.

“I saw great ability for fundraising here, and I felt great support for technical education,” she said. “When I came out of the city, I had heard this message quite a bit: that (WCTC) was an amazing school, and that people would want to support the students who went there.”

A Champion of WCTC

After she started, Phillips worked closely with the WCTC Foundation Board to build awareness about the College. She became a champion of WCTC by developing a stronger presence in the community. She organized gatherings that welcomed the public, encouraging them to meet staff and learn more about the College – all while elevating WCTC’s image and clarifying its purpose.

The initial expansion of the WCTC Foundation’s fundraising focused on growing scholarship support for students.  The Foundation’s commitment to WCTC students resulted in $2.3 million in scholarship contributions being realized in the early years of Phillips’ time at the WCTC Foundation.

Ellen IMC 2 In 2014-15, a capital campaign was initiated for the School of Applied Technologies’ Integrated Manufacturing Center. Phillips worked with Mike Shiels, dean of the School of Applied Technologies, on this exciting campaign.  It was a short, but successful campaign that surpassed its $3 million goal: “You just knew, with that campaign, everything was aligned correctly, and it showed in the outcome.”  Overall, the Foundation has received over $12.5 million for capital projects at WCTC.

Beyond building and renovation projects, raising money for student scholarships and addressing student emergency needs always remained a priority for Phillips. These philanthropic gifts make higher education a reality for many students, removing the stress and worry of how tuition and other financial issues will be paid.

Another area of fundraising close to Phillips’s heart includes memorial gifts that have been received and legacy scholarships that have been established for families in recognition of their loved ones. “WCTC has become a place where people build their legacy, and that’s a sign that this is the community’s college,” she said.

Phillips said she will miss the interaction with the donors and students, as well as the connection to the College faculty and staff.

The Importance of Connection

“The foundation has deep affection for the staff and faculty and how important they are. I always tell our staff that every time we get a gift, it’s really a medal for them because it tells them, ‘I believe enough in what you’re delivering at this college to invest my personal treasure,’” she said.

Sandy McGee, WCTC Foundation Board chair, praised Phillips for her 26-plus years of supporting WCTC students in accessing, continuing and completing their educational journey.

“What a career -- nothing short of amazing! On behalf of the entire Foundation board, we can’t thank Ellen Phillips enough for her hard work, dedication and most of all, her servant leadership. For those of us who served alongside her, we are richer for the journey. For those of us who received a scholarship, our lives are forever changed,” McGee said. “As we look ahead, the future is bright. The foundation board will work tirelessly to find a leader that will continue the mission of the Foundation all while supporting the goals of the College.”

About Waukesha County Technical College

Waukesha County Technical College, the leader in workforce development, prepares learners for success within the region and global economy. The College offers more than 170 areas of study including associate degree, technical diploma, apprenticeship and short-term certificate programs. Customized training for employers is also available. To learn more, visit