Four L&S staff members receive Academic Staff Excellence Awards

May 10th 2016
Awards, Staff
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Nine members of the University of Wisconsin—Madison’s academic staff have been selected as recipients of the 2016 Academic Staff Excellence Awards. Four of this year's recipients are from the College of Letters & Science.

Chancellor Rebecca Blank presented the awards at a reception on the evening of Tuesday, April 26 at the Fluno Center.

The Letters & Science recipients are:

Photo by Bryce Richter, UW-Madison Photo by Bryce Richter, UW-Madison

Tracy Drier, senior instrumentation specialist in the Department of Chemistry, is the recipient of the 2016 Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Research: Critical Support.

A master glassblower, he collaborates with researchers to design and develop sophisticated prototypes for use in specific research applications. Beautiful and perfectly to spec, his work has been crucial to keeping specialized instruments running, particularly in the field. Colleagues describe Drier as insatiably curious about everything having to do with the art and science of glass. He teaches scientific glassblowing to students so that they can create and repair their own pieces as well as improve the design of glass artifacts they need in their research. He also offers assistance to others across campus whose research involves glass-based work. Off campus, Drier has presented at the Corning Museum of Glass and other prominent venues. He enjoys teaching K-12 students and others, hoping to convince them to consider scientific glassblowing as a career.

Photo by Jeff Miller, UW-Madison Photo by Jeff Miller, UW-Madison

Ron Harris, instructional coordinator in the Department of English, is the recipient of the 2016 Martha Casey Award for Dedication to Excellence.

His unique background in both accounting and academia helps him manage the needs of more than 1,000 enrolled students each semester. With more than 20 years of college-level teaching, his multilayered perspective on curricular needs helped inform a full review and implementation of new requirements for the major. This process, reimagining content and discerning the impact of each decision on cross-listing, enrollment, appointments and more, had not been undertaken since the 1960s. At the same time, Harris' management experience has helped him juggle TA staffing, career development and instructional budgets with aplomb. He is both a walking record keeper and a personal resource with an open door. According to his colleagues, “Inventing the position (of instructional coordinator) was a great idea, but hiring Ron Harris to fill that position was a stroke of genius.”

Photo by Jeff Miller, UW-Madison Photo by Jeff Miller, UW-Madison

Wendy Johnson, assistant director of the Language Institute (wearing hat), is the recipient of the 2016 Robert and Carroll Heideman Award for Excellence in Public Service and Outreach.

The programs she coordinates help expand the worldviews of Wisconsin K-12 students, particularly in smaller school districts, who face increasingly limited opportunities to learn foreign languages in their home high schools. Johnson’s creativity helps teachers get the most out of these programs. Implementing videoconferencing technology, for example, promotes one-on-one interaction despite issues of distance and scheduling. Through the High School Tutoring Program in Less Commonly Taught Languages, students across the state get support for their study of languages such as Arabic and Japanese, which are critical to an increasingly global society. In the process, Johnson has also encouraged UW-Madison student participants, going beyond conversational practice to “leadership, mentoring, inspiration and positive influence,” according to one local teacher. These programs have become national models for other universities, further solidifying UW-Madison's reputation as a leader in foreign language education and research.

Photo by Bryce Richter, UW-Madison Photo by Bryce Richter, UW-Madison

Sharon Thoma, faculty associate in the Department of Zoology, is the recipient of the Chancellor’s Hilldale Award for Excellence in Teaching.

Under her leadership, overall course evaluations in the massive Introductory Animal Biology course have improved significantly – even while the course content has increased in rigor. A gifted lecturer, Thoma advocates for the course by selecting the best instructors for the task and sharing targeted feedback. A passionate mentor and role model for the next generation of educators, she often provides personal support for teaching assistants well beyond their terms. Thoma takes time to stop and reformulate the course material for clarity, using techniques and resources that help students connect concepts to their lives. Her warmth and positivity add to her impact. In a poll of students living in residence halls, Thoma has been voted “Honored Instructor” each semester since Fall 2006.


View all of the campus award winners here: Academic Staff Excellence Awards honor nine campus professionals