La Follette School student Colin Rohm is being remembered for his academic achievement, musical prowess, commitment to his student advisees, and his dedication to helping those around him.
Rohm, 26, died November 21 at UW Hospital in Madison. The cause was bacterial pneumonia and complications of Type 1 diabetes, according to his family.
“Colin had a smile that radiated from his heart,” said Mo O’Connor, the La Follette School’s admissions and advising coordinator. “He knew how to connect with people and had a gentle humor that helped him do so. He went out of his way for others.”
Rohm cared about understanding how the world works and how to make it better, La Follette School Director and Professor Don Moynihan said.
“For those of us who shared a classroom with him, we will remember Colin as curious, bright, cheerful, and kind,” Moynihan said. “He had a polymath’s love of learning, reflected by his wide array of interests, ranging from music, public policy, history, and math. His enthusiasm was infectious. He will be sorely missed.”
Rohm’s campus reach was extensive. At the time of his death, he was working full-time as an academic advisor with UW Cross-College Advising Service (CCAS) while pursuing master’s degrees in public affairs and in educational policy studies. He also taught two freshmen seminars.
“The ripple of his impact on others – as a classmate, teacher, advisor, and colleague – will remain for years to come,” said O’Connor. “Many, many people across campus already are carrying his legacy forward.”
Campus colleagues remembered him as a scholar of uncommon talent and wide-ranging passions who nurtured the intellectual curiosity of thousands of his fellow students as a gifted advisor. As advising colleagues, O’Connor and Rohm had interacted about undergraduates before O’Connor joined the La Follette School staff in June.
“Colin was the first person to congratulate me,” she recalled. “He was excited for me and that helped with my transition to advising graduate students.”
Born and raised in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, Rohm arrived on campus as an undergraduate on a four-year music clinic scholarship, playing double-bass in the UW Symphony. He had been a music standout at Stevens Point Area High School, graduating in 2009 as a valedictorian and National Merit Scholar.
“Colin was a pleasure to have in class,” said La Follette School Professor Dave Weimer. “He always was fully engaged in the topic being discussed and often had interesting questions or insights to share after class.”
La Follette School Associate Director Hilary Shager recently met with Rohm for her Professional Development Workshop he was taking.
“Colin told the story of how he had used regression analysis to identify characteristics of students who were struggling academically and who were not seeking advising services,” Shager said. “This analysis helped CCAS identify potential outreach strategies to bring in these students and help them succeed.
“He let go one of his infectious and humble laughs when I told him he was a beautiful unicorn in the world of advising — someone with such useful advanced technical skills and such thoughtful and welcoming people skills. I appreciate that I had the chance to learn from Colin and be inspired by him.”
La Follette School student Eric Hepler remembered Rohm’s wealth of knowledge about a wide variety of topics and his sense of humor.
“In our discussion sections, Colin could always help explain a topic that was confusing or he could make a class activity lively and fun,” said Hepler. “He once said that whenever he read something for class, he would think about how he would teach it, how he could turn heady topics or jargon into something that anyone could quickly grasp.”
Rohm’s broad interests – including a well-known love of dinosaurs – were evident at a memorial service November 30 in Stevens Point, O’Connor said. One speaker held a stuffed dinosaur while recounting stories about Rohm during his youth, and his family encouraged attendees to take toy dinosaurs in all shapes and sizes at the end of the service to keep his playful spirit present.
“Colin’s T-Rex drawings included his characteristic ‘RAWR!’ in a cartoon bubble,” she said, adding that friends and colleagues learned from him that RAWR means ‘I love you’ in dinosaur.