'Forward Under 40' honors young alumni

March 1st 2017 | L&S News
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The Wisconsin Alumni Association recognizes eight alumni under the age of 40 who are leveraging the benefits of their UW education to better their cities, states, nation and the world. Six of these outstanding citizens are L&S alumni.

Matthew Aliota ’05, PHD’10

UW Majors: History, Zoology and Comparative Biomedical Science
Age: 35 | Madison
Research Scientist, UW-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine 

He’s an expert on tropical mosquito-borne diseases, but Matthew Aliota also runs grand experiments in communication.

In 2015, the pathobiologist was one of the first scientists to discover the presence of the Zika virus in Colombia. By the next year, an epidemic of the virus — believed to cause damage to the developing human brain — had spread to at least 50 countries.

“Zika virus caught the world off guard, but it should not have,” Aliota says.

His expertise dates back to his work as a UW undergraduate researcher, when he began studying how mosquitoes and microscopic parasites can affect people in underdeveloped countries. He went on to research mosquito- and tick-borne diseases for several years as a fellow in a New York state public-health lab. “I was fascinated by the complexity of the biology I was learning and simultaneously heartbroken by the global impact of these diseases,” he says.

Aliota’s recent Zika research includes developing a mouse Matthew Aliota is on the front lines of fighting the Zika virus, and he’s also an expert at communicating his findings with the public. model to study how the virus affects the brain, as well as confirming that a particular type of benign bacterium can prevent transmission of the virus in mosquitoes. He’s also bringing his virology expertise to the UW’s Zika Experimental Science Team, known as ZEST. The collaborative group includes researchers in primate research, infectious disease, pregnancy, and neurology — and it’s one of the first such teams to share its findings in real time.

Aliota wants to share discoveries like these not just quickly, but far and wide. It’s when research findings are made public and more people can share in knowledge, he says, that science can more quickly lead to virus-blocking strategies and improved public health. To that end, Aliota makes it a point to collaborate with many bright minds. He is part of a research team that includes fellow faculty, undergraduate researchers, graduate students, and scientists who visit from regions affected by mosquito-carried disease. And, he’s a generous research ambassador, investing his time in outreach to students in K–12 classrooms, elected officials, news media, and fellow alumni. “I believe scientific communication is an important responsibility,” he says.

Read more about Aliota at the Wisconsin Alumni Association.

Shana Hazan ’02

UW Major: Political Science
Age: 36 | San Diego, California
Chief Development Officer, Jewish Family Service of San Diego

I credit my experience at Wisconsin for giving me permission to be an idealist,” says Shana Hazan.

The former Chicago public-school teacher is now in California, using her Wisconsin mindset to forge public-private partnerships that strengthen social services and lift people of all generations.

As the chief development officer for the Jewish Family Service of San Diego, Hazan leads multi-million-dollar fundraising, government relations, and public-policy efforts. She’s also designed and launched a range of youth empowerment programs such as kindergarten readiness, service learning for girls, and teen leadership development.

Hazan, who earned her master’s in education and social policy from Northwestern University, thrives on innovation. When she formed the Hunger Advocacy Network in 2011, she helped more than 20 organizations to combine their lobbying power to address root causes of food insecurity and improve the lives of local residents struggling to make ends meet.

As a commissioner for California Children and Families, she plays a key role in providing a statewide system that promotes early learning and quality childcare. Hazan also has the ear of the mayor and the city council as a member of San Diego’s Human Relations Commission. And, as a founding board member of the Friends of Franklin Foundation, she helps to secure critical supplemental funding to support STEM learning at her urban neighborhood elementary school.

Hazan says her UW courses in statistics and public opinion taught her critical thinking, and an influential service learning class inspired her to creatively address inequalities in society. She values her student internships with former Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold ’75 and at ABC News in New York and London for giving her unparalleled real-world experience.

“My idealism exists not because Wisconsin gave me a Pollyanna, rose-colored view of the world — quite the opposite, in fact,” Hazan says. “At the University of Wisconsin, I learned how to dream big, lead with conviction and compassion, and do the work to create a more just and equitable world.”

Read more about Shana Hazan at the Wisconsin Alumni Association.

Neha Lugo ’06

UW Majors: Political Science, French and International Studies with Certificates in European Studies and Global Cultures
Age: 33 | Washington, D.C.
Attorney Adviser for the Office of the Legal Adviser, U.S. Department of State

Neha Sheth Lugo decided early on that a UW degree would take her places.

Lugo, a Madison native, created her own world-class ticket with a major in international studies and a wealth of globetrotting as part of her UW degree. Today, she’s touched down as an attorney in the U.S. Department of State, where she provides legal advice regarding policies that affect people and places all across the planet. “All I knew was that my career would have some global perspective through which I could experience the world,” Lugo says.

As an undergraduate researcher, she wrote an award-winning thesis on French foreign policy during the Rwandan civil war and genocide. She earned L&S honors and packed her UW studies with international experiences — courses in French, Spanish and Hindi; study abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France; and Oaxaca, Mexico; and an internship in the United Kingdom’s Parliament.

She went on to earn her law degree at Harvard Law School, completing field work in Nepal and serving as editor-in-chief of the Harvard Human Rights Journal. She is an adjunct professor at Washington, D.C.’s Georgetown University Law Center.

Lugo says she’s found her “dream job in public service” at the U.S. State Department, where she has been since 2010. In her second position there, with the Office of Human Rights and Refugees, she provided legal advice regarding women’s rights and refugee admissions, and served as a U.S. representative to the UN General Assembly and the UN Commission on the Status of Women.

Today, Lugo is an attorney for the Legal Adviser’s Office of Oceans, International Environmental and Scientific Affairs. She works on U.S. conservation efforts, including multilateral treaties that protect the marine environment, prevent wildlife trafficking and promote biological diversity and global food security.

“I love my job, which allows me every day to take part in decisions that advance U.S. foreign policy and, I believe, the common good,” Lugo says.

Story courtesy of the Wisconsin Alumni Association.

Steven Olikara ’12

UW Majors: Political Science and Environmental Studies with Certificate in Global Health
Age: 26 | Washington, D.C.
Founder And President, Millennial Action Project

If abandoning old partisan fault lines is the code to cracking America’s government gridlock, Steven Olikara says millennials have the key.

Olikara is a founder and chief executive of the Millennial Action Project, which organizes bipartisan caucuses of elected officials under the age of 40. Founded in 2013, the nonprofit is fostering cooperation among representatives of city councils, legislatures in 15 states, and the U.S. Congress.

Today he’s based in Washington, D.C., but Olikara says he got his real political education at the UW. He was senior class president in 2011-12, an election year marked by a divisive recall campaign aimed at Governor Scott Walker. It was also a time when his fellow millennials — born from the early 1980s to about 2000 — showed that, while less likely to identify with political parties, they were highly engaged in public service.

“I remember opening for the president of the United States [Barack Obama] on Library Mall in front of 26,500 people. From then on, I knew I could trust my voice, no matter the size of the audience,” Olikara says.

Now his voice is often sought by media and think tanks seeking insights about issues important to millennials, including education, employment, health care, immigration, technology and volunteerism. He also takes his expertise outside the political sphere; he’s advised the private foundations of music artists Usher and Akon.

Olikara’s brand of social entrepreneurship is reflected in several projects at UW-Madison. The former Truman and Udall scholar helped start the Office of Sustainability, launch service learning for the Department of International Studies and create the Wisconsin Idea Scholarship, the UW’s first student-endowed fund honoring public service.

He also joined his fellow senior class officers to place a plaque honoring the Wisconsin Idea atop Bascom Hill, and he currently serves on the external advisory board for the university’s International Division.

“My path into public service was unconventional, and the UW left a permanent mark,” Olikara says. “The university helped me discover my own life calling in public service and sharpened my skills to be a successful political entrepreneur.”

Story courtesy of the Wisconsin Alumni Association.

Peter Tempelis ’01, MPA’06, JD’06

UW Majors: Political Science, Public Affairs and Law with Certificate in Integrated Liberal Studies
Age: 38 | Pewaukee, Wisconsin
Assistant Attorney General, Wisconsin Department of Justice

When crime strikes, Peter Tempelis fights back with Wisconsin superpowers: a lawyer’s mind and a Badger’s heart. In his decade of public service, Tempelis has prosecuted some of Wisconsin’s toughest cases. He seeks justice through what he calls a “dual focus on both law and policy” — and it’s paid off.

In 2015, Tempelis’s peers named him Wisconsin Assistant District Attorney (ADA) of the Year for bringing about two milestones in justice. At the time, he was leading the Milwaukee County Domestic Violence Unit, for which his team achieved a remarkable 80 percent conviction rate at trial.

He’d also enacted a program that helps to identify victims at the greatest risk of serious injury or death due to domestic violence. Tempelis used the assessments to prioritize cases and partnered with social-service agencies to quickly provide support for victims and families.

“In addition to enforcing state laws, we aspired to serve the public by applying social science to solve a problem,” he says.

Tempelis was also credited with making sure that experienced lawyers are ready to serve Wisconsinites in need. When he saw a rise in prosecutors leaving state service after only a few years, he commissioned a 2011 UW study, which found out why: ADAs were moving on due to low salaries. Since his inquiry, the state has invested in keeping district attorneys and public defenders on the job with pay that matches their years of service.

As a member of the UW Marching Band, the second-generation Badger grad marched at back-to-back Rose Bowl games alongside his brother and sister, and he continues to carry his UW pride with him through every step of his life and career. His latest big move?

Tempelis is now serving all of Wisconsin by prosecuting cases of Medicaid fraud and elder abuse.

“A society’s value is judged by the protection it provides the public and the most vulnerable,” Tempelis has written. And, he says, “As a proud UW alumnus, I strive to fulfill the Wisconsin Idea as my father did before me.”

Read more about Peter Tempelis at the Wisconsin Alumni Association.

Yee Lee Vue ’10, Ma’12

UW Majors: Retailing, Library and Information Studies
Age: 30 | Appleton, Wisconsin
Adult Services and Engagement Librarian, Appleton Public Library

When college seemed out of reach for Yee Lee Vue, her community had a different idea — and now she’s full of ideas that give back.

Vue’s family arrived in the Fox Valley as refugees from Thailand when she was three years old. Poor and unable to read or write in English, they were dependent on relatives for housing throughout her childhood.

“Without an education, my mother was determined to work hard in order to live the ‘American Dream,’” Vue says.

“By working in my mother’s business, I became inspired to build my own dream.”

Vue toured UW-Madison as a high school student, and a scholarship from the Wisconsin Alumni Association: Fox Valley Chapter sealed her future as a Badger.

“The first day I attended UW-Madison, I had a vision that one day I would be able to contribute my knowledge and experiences to my community,” she says. “I wanted to give the world more than what I had growing up.”

Two degrees later, Vue took her UW experience back home when she was named the Appleton Public Library’s first Hmong outreach specialist. She launched a program to provide more than 100 local Hmong families with free books and early-literacy activities, preparing young children for school.

Vue has since been promoted to adult services and engagement librarian, now sharing her love of learning with even more of the community. But she knew she could use her UW education and entrepreneurial spirit to do even more.

In 2015, Vue and her husband founded City Café, an Asian-inspired restaurant in downtown Appleton. Last year, Vue hosted City Café Cares Week, inviting local residents experiencing homelessness to enjoy free meals at the café. She also cofounded a multicultural publishing company, Skill Stacker, that offers school-readiness resources for children, and she is the author of a Hmong children’s board book, Kaum Tus Me Nyuam Ntses.

Story courtesy of the Wisconsin Alumni Association.