Four L&S staff members honored with 2018 Academic Staff Excellence Awards

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Nine University of Wisconsin-Madison professionals — four of them from the College of Letters & Science — have been selected as recipients of the2018 Academic Staff Excellence Awards. The awards recognize achievements in leadership, public service, research, teaching and overall excellence.

“Academic staff are gifted teachers, award-winning researchers and dedicated administrators,” says Chancellor Rebecca Blank. “We depend upon them to have a vision that extends well beyond their own departments and, indeed, often well beyond campus.  They are critical thinkers and creative problem solvers who see limitless opportunities for collaboration, innovation and advancement of the university’s mission.”

L&S recipients

Photo by Bryce Richter, UW-Madison

Araceli Alonso
Senior Lecturer, Department of Gender and Women’s Studies
Chancellor’s Hilldale Award for Excellence in Teaching

Araceli Alonso wears several impressive hats: anthropologist, nurse, global health advocate. Many UW–Madison students would add another: favorite teacher.

For many years, Alonso taught the course Women and Their Bodies in Health and Disease, imbuing the flagship offering in the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies with great rigor and great heart. Each year, 700 or more students enroll; hundreds more are on a waiting list. This semester, she is teaching Global Women’s Health and Human Rights, as well as two courses at the School of Medicine and Public Health. Many students have been inspired to forge careers in global health after taking her classes. “She is that teacher who changes everything for a student. The one they never forget,” says Lori DiPrete Brown, distinguished faculty associate and director of Women & Wellbeing in Wisconsin & the World

Alonso’s humanitarianism led her to create “Health by Motorbike,” a much-heralded program that has improved the health of thousands of impoverished Kenyans and changed the lives of the UW–Madison students who travel there to aid the effort. Other students accompany Alonso to Spain and Morocco to study human trafficking. Most recently, she spearheaded the effort to create the UNESCO Chair in Gender, Wellbeing and a Culture of Peace, which she co-directs within the department.

Photo by Bryce Richter, UW-Madison

John G. Heim
Senior Information Processing Consultant, Department of Mathematics
Martha Casey Award for Dedicated Service to the University

John Heim doesn’t seek the limelight, leading one nominator to call him “an unsung hero who works behind the scenes so that others can shine.”

Heim helps run the extensive infrastructure of the Department of Math, one of the largest study areas on campus. He’s the department’s “server administrator, chief coder, institutional memory and all-around indispensable person,” says Sara Nagreen, the department’s information technology coordinator. Heim has solved so many thorny problems for the department that his custom-designed software applications are known simply as “John apps.” One app compares time periods available for math classes against schedules for chemistry and physics, two departments with large numbers of students needing math prerequisites. The app reduces scheduling conflicts, cutting down on time to graduation. Other apps help identify students who would benefit from more advanced coursework or who, conversely, need additional help. His work doesn’t end there. He manages network services, provides technical support and installs and configures operating systems.

Heim was the impetus behind the International Association of Visually Impaired Technologists and serves as its president. Diagnosed as a teenager with a degenerative eye disease, Heim is blind and works at Van Vleck Hall with his guide dog, McGee.

Photo by Jeff Miller, UW-Madison

James H. Maynard
Senior Instructional Specialist, Lecture Demonstrator, Department of Chemistry
Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Service to the University

It’s not uncommon for students to give Jim Maynard standing ovations. He’s just that good.

Since 2001, Maynard has been wowing students with the illuminating demonstrations he develops for use in chemistry lecture classes. He performs many of the most difficult experiments live himself. His work touches every chemistry class period every day — hundreds of experiments every semester that enhance the education of thousands of students.

Praised for his creative genius and can-do attitude, Maynard goes far beyond his job description in his educational and outreach activities. He’s been a main force in the department’s efforts to transition from traditional class lectures to a blended-learning approach that incorporates the latest technology. His expertise in video has led to the filming and archiving of hundreds of lectures, and his networking with colleagues across the country has made him a respected national expert on lecture demonstrations. He also informally trains instructors on campus on how to perform lecture demonstrations.

“Jim is the most resourceful and most relied upon staff member I have ever encountered,” says Professor Thomas Brunold, chairman of the General Chemistry Division. “He is literally the heartbeat of our educational efforts, keeping us energized and working smoothly each and every day.”

Photo by Jeff Miller, UW-Madison

Michael R. Shortreed
Senior Scientist, Department of Chemistry
Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Research: Independent Investigator

Many staff scientists view their research-related responsibilities as executing the ideas of the principal investigators in their labs. Michael Shortreed rises far above this role, conceiving and pursuing new research directions and initiatives.

His work with proteoforms, a term used to designate the different molecular forms of a protein product arising from a single gene, has gained traction internationally and led to a new direction for the campus research group where Shortreed works, according to Lloyd Smith, who leads the group as the W. L. Hubbell and Hall-Fischer Professor of Chemistry and director of the Genome Center of Wisconsin. “Michael is the heart of our lab’s new initiatives in this area,” Smith says. “His work has broken ground conceptually on the world stage and could lead to new discoveries in the areas of disease progression and diagnosis.”

Students describe Shortreed as an exceptional mentor who creates a collegial and supportive lab environment. He helps them cultivate mental resilience so they can negotiate the inevitable ups and downs of research. He offers kind advice — and a “walk-the-talk” example — of how to manage a fulfilling work-life balance. Embodying the entrepreneurial brilliance on campus, Shortreed helped create, in 2005, the spinoff company Isomark to advance a technology that promises a much earlier, hands-off detection of infection, based solely on measuring isotopes in the breath.

Story courtesy of University Communications. Read about all of the recipients here.