Celebrating Excellence: 2017 L&S Staff Awards

April 10th 2017
Awards, Staff
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L&S Advising Awards

Persons honored with the L&S Academic Advising award must be exemplary advisors. Recipients must have gone beyond the call of duty and worked across school and college lines to serve the needs of students.


Karen Redfield
Senior Student Services Coordinator, Department of English

It was a busy time in the English department, when Karen Redfield came on board. A curriculum overhaul was quickly followed by a change in the department’s requirements. 

“Not only did Karen have to learn both the new and old classes and requirements, but it also fell on her to inform students and others on campus of those changes,” says department chair Russ Castronovo. “She was magnificent! Our success was largely the product of Karen’s hard work.”

Karen regularly meets with more than 400 students each semester, and gives them outstanding personal attention. Deshawn McKinney, an English major who recently won both the Truman and Marshall scholarships, often speaks of the support and encouragement Karen has given him. 

Karen helped students organize the Madison Undergraduate Society for English, or MUSE, a group that sponsors readings, workshops and an annual conference. She’s also partnered with the department’s Board of Visitors to create new internships and now supervises career development within the department, working with the L&S Career Initiative. Soon, she will direct advising for the new Health and Humanities certificate, which will lead humanities students into successful careers in health care. 

Lisa Aarli
Graduate Advisor, School of Journalism and Mass Communication

From the moment she joined the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Lisa Aarli has been quick to jump in and help whenever and however she is needed. First, it was to revise the Ph.D. handbook to better serve the school’s students. Later, it was to create a professional development program that gives graduate students needed skills and tools. 

All the while, Lisa has served as the sole department resource on all aspects of the graduate program, guiding students through requirements and also supporting them in any issue or decision they face. 

“She has been the major advocate for graduate students,” says department director Hemant Shah. “She knows all the students by name and is a go-to contact for them, both professionally and often personally.”

View past L&S Advising Award winners.

Academic Staff Awards

Recipients of the L&S Academic Staff Early Career Award must have 3-8 years’ experience and demonstrate outstanding performance, promise of future contributions and a high degree of professionalism.


Hilary Shager
Associate Director, La Follette School of Public Affairs

It would be nearly impossible to find a person better prepared to oversee a professional degree program in public affairs than Hilary Shager. She earned her Ph.D. in public policy at UW-Madison, and then went on to work in state government, where she witnessed the connection between policy analysis and practice.

Hilary has put that experience to good use in running the Family Impact Seminar. The event — which is perhaps the university’s most tangible form of outreach to the state — puts academic research into the hands of policymakers.

Hilary is also one of the department’s most popular professors. As director David Moynihan points out, she cares deeply about her students and “this careful attention has directly led to adjustments to the program” to better serve them.

Elizabeth (Libby) Dowdall
University Relations Specialist, Department of Chemistry

Some communicators build bridges. Libby Dowdall is helping erect a new building.

Libby joined the chemistry department in 2012, in a new position created to establish a communications and alumni relations strategy. She quickly defined the role, translating the impact of the department’s research and teaching to broad audiences.

In the spring of 2015, when a $110 million chemistry building project was scrapped from the governor’s biennial state budget proposal, Libby took even bolder action.

“She coordinated news stories, video production, outreach to alumni, outreach to Wisconsin companies and myriad other tasks,” says department chair Robert McMahon. “These efforts helped persuade members of the Joint Finance Committee to include the Chemistry Building Project in the biennial budget,” making it the only state-funded building project to be approved.

Michael Kruse
International Directions Advisor, Language Institute

What impact does studying a language have on life after college? Plenty! And Michal Kruse is showcasing many compelling ways through the Language Institute and on the Languages at UW-Madison website.

Kruse offers advising for students with language interests and is a master at connecting language study to the greater context of a liberal arts education. He’s also developed a network of alumni who studied languages at UW-Madison and are using those languages in their careers. He shares their stories — as well as faculty research, student achievements and more on the value of language study — on the website, and has been an outstanding partner in helping students transfer their skills and knowledge into successful careers through the College of Letters & Science Career Initiative.

Says assistant director Wendy Johnson, “His vision is one in which every student is able to articulate the value of a liberal arts education in ways that make sense to employers.”

Brian Esselman
Assistant director of Organic Chemistry Laboratories, Chemistry

When Brian Esselman studied computational molecular modeling as a Ph.D. student, this technique used to predict chemical reactivity was the domain of highly trained experts, not undergraduates. That all changed when he helped develop a new curriculum for organic chemistry lab students.

Now, the technique known as CMM is part of all organic chemistry lab courses.

“I am confident that his expertise, commitment and sheer zest for the project has helped to provide UW-Madison undergraduates with one of the (if not the) most rigorous and authentic introductions to CMM in the nation,” says lab director Nicholas Hill.

Brian also brings innovation to the organic chemistry courses he teaches, pioneering new technologies to enhance and improve student learning. 

View past recipients of the Early Career Award.

Recipients of the L&S Academic Staff Mid-Career Award must have 7 or more years’ experience as outstanding leaders with substantial professional competency and the promise of continuing contributions.


Nina Valeo Cooke
Director of Undergraduate and Curricular Services, Department of Gender and Women’s Studies

Since joining the department in 2006, Nina Valeo Cooke has consistently supported students and worked to connect them with alumni and career opportunities. Each fall, she organizes an internship fair, and follows up in the spring semester with a six-credit internship course. Students are assigned readings on the theory and practice of feminist and report on what they’re learning and experiencing in their internships.

Nina also regularly brings alumni in to meet with students and participate in workshops that illuminate how they used their gender and women’s studies degree.

Department chair Judith Houck sums up Nina’s impact best: “I say without exaggeration that Nina is the single most valuable member of our Gender and Women’s Studies department. I cannot imagine our department without her vision, energy and commitment.”

Mark Wendt
Faculty Associate, Department of Chemistry

Physical Chemistry labs used to be quiet spaces, where students carefully followed instructions on their own. Today, the labs are buzzing with energy, as students work together to shape and execute experiments.

These lab courses have long been capstone experiences for chemistry majors, but they were hardly students’ favorites — until Mark Wendt transformed them utilizing collaboration, experimentation and technology.

Mark has created online pre-lab quizzes and videos, and in the lab, he encourages students to explore and make their own decisions. They not only learn more, but also gain skills as independent researchers.

“Mark turned the classes upside down, placing the students at the forefront of their own education,” says chemistry professor Gil Nathanson. “He has turned our most feared lab class into a place where curiosity and questions are encouraged and nurtured.”

Arrietta Clauss
Student Services Coordinator, Department of Chemistry

Sometimes a person’s impact is felt more than seen, and that has certainly been the case with Arrietta Clauss. Since joining the chemistry department, she’s created electronic-based systems for the admissions process, graduate student records, recruiting and communications.

She has also transformed Chem 901, a valuable introduction course for new graduate students. She’s also worked to improve the diversity among graduate students, recruits faculty to talk to them about their work and life experiences and is proactive in bringing representatives from companies to campus to meet chemistry graduate students in person.

Since Arrietta has come on board, the department has noticed a steady increase in students coming in to talk about resumes, interviews and post-graduation plans. As professors Thomas Brunold and Daniel Fredrickson attest, “Arrietta has become the go-to person in our department for career advice.” 

View past recipients of the Mid-Career Award.

The Judith Craig Distinguished Service Award honors an L&S academic staff member with 15 or more years of outstanding service, and is named in honor of former L&S Associate Dean Judith Craig.


Anthony (Tony) Jacob
Director, Chemistry Learning Center

If students are stumped by chemistry, the won’t be after meeting with Tony Jacob. As director of the Chemistry Learning Center since 2011, and the associate director for sixteen years before that, Tony has used incredible teaching skills and a profound passion for supporting students to help them excel in chemistry.

Tony leads a team that tutors and mentors chemistry students, with a focus on closing equity and opportunity gaps and encouraging students from historically underrepresented groups to pursue majors in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. He has also launched peer mentoring tutor programs in physics and biochemistry and shared his expertise with committees across campus. And in 2015, he established the CLC Encouragement Awards Fund to honor students who have overcome adversity while taking chemistry.

Students Mamawa Konuwa and Andrew Rose have experienced Tony’s support. “When Tony wasn’t enthusiastically discussing unit conversion and the molecular orbital theory, you could find him advising students about their schedules, or simply being an open ear for anyone in need,” they wrote. “He truly goes above and beyond for all of his students, past and present. So importantly, Tony continues to inspired confidence and instill hope that we can succeed in the STEM field as people of color.”

View past recipients of the Judith Craig Distinguished Service Award.

University Staff Awards

L&S University Staff Awards honor staff members for their excellence in four areas: effectiveness; innovation, creativity and originality; leadership; and the promotion of the Wisconsin Idea.


Patrick Brenzel
Faculty Services, Department of Sociology

When Patrick Brenzel feared the Wisconsin Idea was at risk, he responded with bold, innovative action. A mainstay in the Sociology department for years in Faculty Services, he asked, “Why not address the issues fearlessly” and “open the conversation to everyone?”

With a lot of forward thought and careful planning, Brenzel launched “Forward? The Wisconsin Idea, Past and Present” in fall 2016. The course engages students in a conversation with faculty, staff and citizens about how the knowledge produced at the University of Wisconsin has benefitted the public in the past and can continue to do so today. It’s proven to be both successful and inspirational. 

“Patrick’s leadership is what created this course,” says academic department manager Tina Hunter, “and what continues to serve as its backbone.”

Robin Snell
Pay and Benefits Specialist Advanced, Institute for Research on Poverty

While Robin Snell’s job is rooted in payroll and benefits, she serves crucial roles throughout IRP. She’s a careful proofreader, a savvy navigator of complex policies and a diplomatic reminder of deadlines. 

Recently, Snell stepped in to handle the duties of the institute’s contracts and grants manager and administrator while the search began for a replacement. Without her efforts, IRP would not have been able to fulfill its mission, and she continues to help wherever work is needed. 

Says Sylvia Swift, the new university contracts and grants specialist, “She went above and beyond to keep us financially on track during a very difficult time, and she goes above and beyond now to make sure that we treat all employees fairly and live up to our stakeholders’ high expectations.”

Karen Stephens
Coordinator for Organic Chemistry Division, Department of Chemistry

More than 1,000 undergraduates take an organic chemistry course each semester, and recruiting strong graduate students plays a big role in the UW-Madison Chemistry Department continuously ranking among the top ten chemistry departments in the country. 

“There is just one classified staff member whose primary job is to serve the Organic Division, and thank goodness that person is Karen Stephens!” says professor Samuel Gellman. “She is one of the most dedicated, intelligent, proactive and thoughtful staff members I have encountered in my nearly 30 years at UW-Madison.” 

Each year, Stephens coordinates recruitment of Organic Path graduate students, overseeing the travel and on-campus experiences of more than 50 prospective students from around the country (and world). And she helps guide the students who pursue studies here, becoming an essential source of both information and encouragement along the way.

Kerry O’Neill
Shipping and Mail Associate, School of Music

It’s hard to know which of Kerry O’Neill’s talents are most appreciated in the School of Music. Maybe it’s his technical expertise, the way he can fix anything across the school’s eclectic workspaces, or the way he’s constantly on the lookout for programs, processes and procedures that can improve the school. 

Or perhaps it’s his conscientiousness and kindness, exemplified in his friendliness to colleagues and visitors alike and his insistence on hand-delivering mail instead of simply leaving letters and packages in staff mailboxes. 

It’s probably fair to say that all these things make O’Neill an incredible asset to the School of Music. 

“On any given day, Kerry will be moving someone’s furniture, dismantling a display case in the lobby, tightening the screws on someone’s wobbly bookshelf, you name it,” says graduate coordinator James Doing. “Kerry is so willing to help out that we have to be careful not to take advantage of him!”

Tammi Simpson
Department Manager, Department of Spanish and Portuguese

If the Department of Spanish and Portuguese is humming along like never before, it’s in large part due to Tammi Simpson. She’s made it her mission to improve the function and feel of the department and her efforts are paying off.

She’s proven to be a fantastic financial steward and strategic planner, and she’s filled in for positions ranging from financial specialist to IT support. She’s streamlined systems, fostered a positive environment and consistently proven her respect for her colleagues by listening to their concerns and identifying smart solutions. 

Says graduate coordinator Kate Fanis, “Tammi never misses an opportunity to improve a process to make it more efficient and more suited to what we need it to actually do.”

View past University Staff Award recipients

Want to nominate an outstanding L&S staff member?

Visit the L&S Staff Awards page to find calls for nominations and more.