Annual Fall Awards honor service to the university

More than two dozen UWM faculty and staff members were recognized for their outstanding service to UWM during the annual Fall Awards presentation Oct. 19 at the Zelazo Center. In addition, seven people who have made significant contributions to the growth and development of the university were honored with the Ernest Spaights Plaza Award.

UWM Faculty Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching Award

Sara Benesh, associate professor and chair, Department of Political Science

Sara Benesh teaches courses on American politics, methods and law studies. She has made significant contributions to the department in developing law studies courses on civil liberties, law and society and the Supreme Court. In addition, she has developed special course topics on the separation of church and state, campaign finance and civil liberties since 9/11. Her course on law through popular culture gives students insights into how court actions and decisions are reflected in popular media.

As a nationally known scholar of judicial decision-making and appeals courts, she is able to design course content that takes students beyond the textbooks. For example, in her class on the Supreme Court, she involves them in multiple simulations covering the court’s decision to hear cases, oral arguments and the process of establishing a legal rationale to justify their ruling.

“She was always enthusiastic and energized, which kept me interested, engaged, and curious about the course material. Dr. Benesh is the kind of professor that compels a student to want to do well in class,” wrote one of her students.

Christine Evans, associate professor, Department of History

Christine Evans teaches a wide variety of classes focusing on Imperial Russia and Soviet history, as well as courses on historical methods. Her classes are regularly filled to capacity. She uses her media skills to add audio and video context to classes, and brings in readings that generate discussion beyond the textbook. For example, in a class on Russia in the 1920s, students read Mikhail Bulgakov’s “Heart of a Dog,” discussing how the book reflected life in the revolutionary period of the 1920s. In addition to teaching, she encourages student researchers and helps students plan their careers after college.  school. She has also served as a fellow at the Center for 21st Century Studies and led the Russian and East European Studies Certificate program.

One of her students wrote of the impact of her class:

“Growing up in the 80s and going through school subsequently taught me nearly nothing about the Russian people. Only that the Soviet Union was the enemy. This class taught me how and why it became what it was. This should be taken by everyone of my generation and after.”

Andrew Kincaid, associate professor, Department of English

Andrew Kincaid has taught an impressive array of courses at UWM, including courses in Irish studies, 20th-century British literature, literary and cultural theory, as well as specialized courses in urbanism and modernism, Samuel Beckett and oceanic literature. He focuses on getting students immersed in the topics through Irish music performances or attendance at Beckett theater productions. In his Novel and the Sea course, he took the entire class on the Denis Sullivan schooner for some experiential learning of maritime culture during an afternoon on Lake Michigan. He encourages his students to become good writers, careful thinkers and critical citizens. When a department emergency occurred, he volunteered to serve as coordinator of the department’s large and successful Creative Writing program.

One of his students wrote: “Kincaid is an amazing instructor. He was incredibly knowledgeable about the subject matter, and he encouraged intellectual in-class discussion. He took a subject that I was only sort of interested in and turned it into my favorite class at UWM.”

Jonathan Wipplinger, associate professor of German, Department of Foreign Languages and Literature

Jonathan Wipplinger teaches across the German program curriculum, from first-semester German through upper-division undergraduate seminars on 1920s Germany, popular music, German art movements and more. He innovates in the classroom, bringing in multiple media and approaches. His class on hip-hop in Germany, for example, shows how different cultures navigate German identity through music, culture, rebellion and conformity.

He was instrumental in developing online courses for the first four semesters of German, opening German to a greater number of students.

“Wipplinger is the best professor I have had at UWM,” wrote one student in an evaluation. “He is accommodating and empathetic with his students. I have learned more from him than from any instructor so far.”

UWM Faculty Distinguished Public Service Award

Kim Cosier, professor of art education and co-chair, Department of Art & Design

Kim Cosier integrates her passions for art and social justice. She is co-founder of ArtsECO (Arts Education/Community Ecosystem) with Josie Osborne. The program brings together more than 20 community partners from the Milwaukee area to help teachers and students integrate art with social justice.

She leads the award-winning Milwaukee Visionaries Project (MVP), an after-school program that inspires middle and high school students to tell their stories through video and animation. She s a member of the Art Build Workers and Voces de los Artistas, two collectives that work within communities to make art for social change.

“Kim defines community engagement,” wrote a colleague. “She is an exceptional communicator, and her ability to build long-term relationships with the community is at the heart of her practice. She is the type of person who makes everyone around her feel welcome and valued. Her work, especially with LGBTQ+ high school students, is the type of practice that simply changes the lives of young people.”

Office of Research Outstanding Creative Research Award

Sheila J. Feay-Shaw, associate professor of music education and area head, music education, Department of Music

Sheila Feay-Shaw has a background in ethnomusicology and cross-cultural music education. In recent years, her research has expanded to focus on the role of music in language learning and retention as well as cultural transmission in multiple contexts (China, Ghana and Native American).

She has been working collaboratively with the Electa Quinney Institute for American Indian Education to provide musical transcriptions of traditional songs for the public resource

This effort is supported through a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to Feay-Shaw and Professor Margaret Noodin of the English Department.

The work is challenging even for a sophisticated musician because working with non-Latinate language requires a sensitivity to cadence and rhythm, inflection and intrinsic musical qualities of the language itself.

“In order to undertake this work, Prof. Feay-Shaw has undertaken language study and significant engagement with the Native American community in the region,” Gillian Rodger, chair of the Music Department, wrote in her nomination letter.

Jessica Meuninck-Ganger, associate professor and co-chair, area head print & narrative forms, Department of Art & Design

Jessica Meuninck-Ganger is involved in both traditional, exhibition-based work and community-based research. She is presenting two solo exhibitions in the next year — “Commute” at the Alice Wilds Gallery in October and “Willow and Ware” at Ripon College in February 2023.

Her community-engaged research provides students, artists, and community members opportunities to engage in meaningful artistic research. She is currently working to develop a community-based creative research center to link research, innovation and education in art.

Meuninck-Ganger is part of a team that secured research funding including a 2021 National Science Foundation grant for $2.8 million in support of “WaterMarks: An Art/Science Framework for Community Engaged Learning and Environmental Stewardship.” Programming includes workshops, community engagement and exhibitions focused on themes of water, biodiversity, health, public art and community.

Research Foundation Senior Faculty Awards

David Frick, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry

The primary focus of David Frick’s work is the study of the biochemistry of viral proteins to discover new antiviral drugs. His research has looked at the hepatitis C virus, dengue virus, West Nile virus and SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

“His research is internationally recognized for its contributions to improving our fundamental understanding of the biochemistry of viruses,” wrote Joseph Aldstadt, chair of the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department, in nominating him.

Frick has published 76 peer-reviewed articles in top journals such as Biochemistry and ACS Chemical Biology.

He also takes time to work with graduate and undergraduate students as well as with colleagues across other departments.

Associate professor Madhusudan Dey recalled in a letter of support that Frick was of great help when he was a new faculty member preparing his first grant proposal.

“Professor Frick extended his helping hand, appreciated my science, reviewed my grant, and provided me his constructive criticisms. I was overwhelmed to see how Dr. Frick analyzed my proposal. He speaks and understands science, not only his own but also other research fields.”

Krista Lisdahl, professor and director of the Brain Imaging and Neuropsychology (BraIN) Laboratory, Department of Psychology

Krista Lisdahl’s research focuses on adolescent brain development, particularly the impact of addiction and potential mitigating factors.

She is the local principal investigator and a central national collaborator on the Adolescent Brain and Cognitive Development (ABCD) project. This project is the largest longitudinal multisite pediatric neuroimaging study of its kind, involving more than 11,800 young people at 21 research sites across the country. Lisdahl contributed to the study’s design and is now chair of its Substance Use Workgroup.

Lisdahl has published 93 research papers, with another nine under revision or review.  She received the prestigious Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers in 2012.  In addition, she mentors undergraduate and graduate students.

She is able to translate her research findings for the general public and policymakers. With rapidly changing laws relating to cannabis use, e-cigarettes and the opioid epidemic, this type of public health research is particularly timely.

This study will be the “basis for much of our scientific discovery of adolescent development, psychopathology and addiction over the next 20 or more years,” wrote Professor Hobart Davies, Psychology Department chair, in nominating her.

Office of Research UWM Foundation Awards

Rachel Bloom-Pojar, associate professor, Department of English 

Rachel Bloom-Pojar’s work focuses on the communication among people in health care settings who speak different languages and represent diverse cultures. Her book, “Translanguaging Outside the Academy: Negotiating Rhetoric and Healthcare in the Spanish Caribbean,” was based on research at a health care clinic in the Dominican Republic. It was widely praised for its outstanding quality and was published as part of the Studies in Writing and Rhetoric Series, associated with the National Council of Teachers of English.

In addition to her work on health care communication, she has collaborated with other scholars and community partners to research and write about Latinx health promoters (promotores de salud) and rhetorics of reproductive justice. She is also committed to community-engaged work that bridges academic and non-academic spheres.

“She has made outstanding contributions to her field over her young career, and she shows great promise for future growth,” Lane Hall, professor of media, cinema and digital studies and chair of the English Department, wrote in nominating her. “She has been recognized by scholars in her field of research as a rising star in the study of the rhetoric of medicine and health.”

Celeste Campos-Castillo, associate professor, Department of Sociology

Celeste Campos-Castillo has made strong research contributions to the fields of medical sociology, social psychology, health policy, mental health, race and ethnicity. Her work explores how disparities that lead to low trust and elevated privacy risks help produce institutionalized discrimination. The focus of her body of work is on trust, privacy and digital divides.

She is prolific, with five peer-reviewed articles published in 2021 alone, and is currently principal investigator on grants from Facebook and the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a co-principal investigator on a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

“Occasionally faculty will slow down briefly after earning tenure, take a breath and reassemble the next stages of their research agenda. For Professor Campos-Castillo, there has been no slowing down, and she continues to ask (and publish on) vital questions with profound relevance for people’s health and well-being,” Jennifer Jordan, chair of the Sociology Department, wrote in nominating her for this award.

Anne Pycha, associate professor, Department of Linguistics

Anne Pycha investigates how speech sound structure is represented and processed in the mind. In addition to publication in top journals in the field, her research has been quoted and published in a variety of non-scholarly publications. She has written 10 articles for Scientific American on creative and practical linguistic issues such as the linguistic components of autism and Parkinson’s disease and how agriculture may have shaped language.

When the pandemic slowed down overall research activities, she and colleagues conducted a timely project on how speaking style and speech communication are affected by wearing a face mask. That research received extensive press coverage in local and national publications.

“The key to what makes Anne’s work truly special and worthy of acknowledgement, in my opinion, is the fact that Anne has brought some of the findings of her work to a lay readership,” wrote Fred Eckman, distinguished professor emeritus of linguistics. “This is something that not many academics can do and to my knowledge is accomplished by few, if any, linguists.”

UWM Academic Staff Outstanding Teaching Award

Jonathan Bruce, senior teaching faculty and associate administrative program specialist, Cultures and Communities Program

Jonathan Bruce teaches courses in the Comparative Ethnic Studies program, but also works with the MKE Scholars and Summer Bridge programs, and as associate director of the Cultures and Communities program. Bruce has also designed courses illuminating the history of Milwaukee and the ways that popular culture shapes issues of identity.

Bruce works to train students in the vital skills of information literacy, critical reading and writing, according to Rachel Ida Buff, director of the program who nominated Bruce.

In addition to the work with Cultures and Communities, Bruce works with the Writing Center as a tutor and is highly respected by colleagues and students there. Since 2011, Bruce has tutored 1,750 writers at various levels and in various subjects in more than 4,000 sessions. They help “writers to not only create and improve their current product, but to help them become more skilled and confident writers as they move forward to the next project,” wrote Margaret Mika, Writing Center director.

Jennifer Hauser Kunz, senior teaching faculty, Department of Psychology

Jennifer Hauser Kunz is continually updating her courses to reflect feedback from her students and the latest evidence-based teaching practices. The four courses she teaches provide a foundation for psychology majors and minors. Kunz focuses on making classwork interesting and relevant to the students. In psychological statistics, for example, she focuses on the development of “statistical literacy” – becoming informed consumers of statistical data – rather than making computation the sole focus of the course.

She is a regular participant in CETL workshops and tries to incorporate at least one new idea, teaching strategy or assessment technique into each course she’s teaching every semester.

“Kunz stands out in my memory as an educator who is interested in both immersing students in the material at hand while also pointing towards the future applicability of what is learned at the undergraduate level,” one student wrote. “She made a point to translate examples of course content into real world scenarios that her students would likely encounter as researchers or clinicians.”

UWM Academic Staff Outstanding Performance and Service Award

Kyla Esguerra, interim director, Office of Undergraduate Research

Kyla Esguerra has been instrumental in the nationally recognized success of UWM’s Office of Undergraduate Research. Over the years, she has served as associate, then deputy and now interim director.

In addition to helping connect undergraduates with research opportunities, Esguerra has been instrumental in developing innovations that have increased opportunities for students. In 2008, she developed the UR@UWM summer research program for incoming students.

She is currently leading the UWM and MCW Cancer Center partnership program, helping build pathways for cancer-focused research experiences for UWM undergraduates.

During the pandemic, as chair of the Academic Staff Committee, she rose to the numerous challenges academic staff faced.

“From my perspective in campus leadership and as a faculty member, I can say that Kyla’s exceptional organizational skills and her grace and fortitude under pressure were consistently on display that year,” wrote Mark Harris, vice provost for research, in a letter of recommendation.

Kathy Litzau, senior associate athletics director, Division of Student Affairs

Kathy Litzau oversees four of UWM’s sport programs – men’s soccer, men’s and women’s swimming and diving, and women’s basketball. In addition, she leads the Athletic Department’s student-athlete support and service units for academic support, sports medicine, strength and conditioning, nutrition support and mental health services.

During the pandemic, Litzau collaborated closely with university partners to elevate mental health programming and services to meet the needs of the student-athletes. She has also established a strong and sustainable diversity, equity and inclusion program within the department, helping address culture and inclusion within each athletic team. She not only takes part in numerous campus service activities herself, but she encourages student athletes to do the same.

“Kathy is among a group of dedicated UWM staff who are taking personal and professional actions that make significant contributions to UWM’s overall DEI efforts,” wrote Chia Youyee Vang, vice chancellor for diversity, equity and inclusion.

Lauren Rado, SEVIS coordinator, Center for International Education

Lauren Rado combines her skills in data management and interpersonal communication to ensure that UWM and its students from abroad are complying with all immigration and sponsorship regulations. As coordinator of the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), she works closely with international students. She has helped with a new software platform linking PAWS and SEVIS, which helps international students make requests and upload documents.

When the pandemic hit, she developed a Canvas course for international student orientation, making UWM one of the very few universities in the region that offered virtual orientation in the form of an academic course.

“Lauren was the one who thought through the process first, contributed to the content, solved technical problems, and worked with the team together to make it happen,” wrote Ying Hu, immigration coordinator for the CIE. “She is the type of leader who does not just think of ideas, but gets things done.”

2022 Advisor of the Year Award

Maggie Flath, associate academic advisor, School of Information Studies

In addition to advising and mentoring students in the School of Information Studies, Maggie Flath has helped develop innovative approaches to recruiting. For example, she worked with faculty, staff and other advisors to create an IST (information science and technology) career discovery digital learning environment. This tool is a bridge to local schools and community organizations, allowing them to help their students and clients learn more about web graphics, artificial intelligence, information security, cloud computing and other career areas.

She also served as co-chair of the Enhancing Advising Committee, now serves as co-chair of the Advisory Professional Development Committee, is an active member of the Moonshot for Equity workgroup, and a collaborative voice in campus meetings.

‘When meeting with students Maggie is empathetic, encouraging, and empowering,” wrote Brian Williams, senior academic advisor in nominating her. “Maggie does hold students accountable for taking responsibility in their academic pursuits but is with them the whole way providing the advice, guidance and options needed for students to make the best decision for themselves.”

University Staff Outstanding Service to UWM Award

Justin Almquist, administrative assistant III, Department of Rehabilitation Sciences & Technology

Justin Almquist plays a key support role in his department. He helped manage reaccreditation tasks for the Master of Science in Occupational Therapy (MSOT) degree. He helped organize accreditation visits, graduation events, and large conferences for his department. When the pandemic hit, he worked to transfer critical tasks online and move key events to meaningful virtual or hybrid ceremonies.

Almquist worked to improve application processes to benefit students. He helped create a new application pathway to the MSOT degree for UWM students. He also supports the department’s communication with students and maintains records.

Over the years, he reorganized the way records are kept to better support the master’s program and accreditation requirements.

“His work on this task demonstrated his eye for detail and willingness to learn, which have been vital over the last five years,” wrote Bhagwant Sindhu, associate professor and director of the program, in his letter of recommendation.

PJ Egan, Environmental Health and Safety Specialist III, University Safety and Assurances

PJ Egan stepped up when the Peck School of the Arts identified a need for greater safety and guidance in its operations. A fire in 2017 highlighted the need for more oversight of the multiple potential hazards in the school’s labs and studios.

“PJ has worked to increase the safety culture at PSOA through guidance, training, and being a consistent safety resource for faculty, staff, and students, wrote Zack Steuerwald, environmental health and safety director, in his nomination letter.

With the onset of COVID-19, Egan helped out by serving as part of the case management team that determined when employees could safely return to onsite work while protecting the health and safety of others.

When the university safety and emergency preparedness officer retired, Egan was called on to continue providing safety guidance and training during the seven-month recruitment period.

Egan has worked to standardize art safety practices across UWM, influencing other art areas beyond Peck, including the College of General Studies and the Union Studios Arts and Crafts.

Khadijah S. Perry, classroom technology specialist, Campus Technology Support

Khadijah Perry is a UWM alum and has played an integral role in helping university staff make the transition from in-person events to online and hybrid events. She provided training on how to use virtual platforms such as Zoom and Teams to instructors and departments across campus. In many cases, she helped run events such as the Faculty Senate and CIO town hall meetings. She also played a key role in choosing and testing equipment based on quality and experience, and coordinated with users and IT staff in doing installations. When student staff weren’t available, she worked late to ensure classroom tech support as available. In addition, she has served as a treasurer of the African Diaspora Council, helping that organization create an electronic platform to receive funds when the pandemic hit.

“She is a go-getter, meaning that she accepts an assignment and completes it above average, is observant and has always worked on what is needed (not just what was requested), and did so with a congenial, team spirit,” wrote Kevin Jahnke, manager of classroom services, in a nomination letter.

Brian Switala, lieutenant, UWM Police Department

Brian Switala’s background is as a police officer, so he was used to overseeing security for events and helping assure the safety of the campus community. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the campus community in 2020, he found himself learning about public health and taking on new leadership responsibilities. “He worked tirelessly to quickly educate himself and collaborated with multiple disciplines to develop and coordinate an effective response mitigation and management plan for a circumstance never before seen in our university’s history,” wrote Police Chief David Salazar in a letter of recommendation.

As co-incident commander of the university’s Emergency Operations Center, he worked with 100 colleagues from all over campus to help keep students and staff as safe as possible from the virus and arrange for COVID-19 testing and vaccination sites on campus.

In addition to his regular police duties and his work with the EOC, Switala also served as interim police chief from February to November 2022.

Joanne Lazirko Award for Innovative Use of Learning Technologies

Sarah Riforgiate, interim director, Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning; associate professor and communication internship director

Well before she became interim director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning in August 2022, Sarah Riforgiate used technology to create highly effective communication classes.

Riforgiate thoughtfully designs Canvas course sites with deliberate structure and scaffolded assignments to focus students on learning. She incorporates videoconferencing technology, such as “the owl,” to develop meaningful in-person and remote learner discussions. She uses virtual platforms to incorporate guest visits from prominent researchers. Riforgiate also leverages technology tools, such as FlipGrid, to foster a rich class community.

When COVID-19 disrupted communication internships, Riforgiate adapted to help students persist by moving some internships remotely and finding work alternatives for others to ensure a positive learning experience.

One  undergraduate student wrote: “It was because of her innovation that COVID became a less scary and daunting time for me – that I had a course that I looked forward to every week even amongst all the uncertainty.”

Ernest Spaights Plaza Awards

The Ernest Spaights Plaza award is named in honor of the late Professor Ernest Spaights and is dedicated to individuals who have made significant, enduring and campuswide contributions to the growth and development of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Dennis Bennett, professor emeritus of chemistry and biochemistry, 1983-2018 

Dennis Bennett’s research is internationally recognized for its contributions to improving the fundamental understanding of chemistry, and it was critical in helping UWM become a top-ranked research university. He is also a gifted teacher, working with classes from first-year to graduate students. His intellectual curiosity led him to work with a colleague to develop a new blood testing method that became the foundation of a successful company.

Bennett’s research focuses on the physical-inorganic chemistry of organometallic compounds, with an emphasis on molecular electronic devices and catalytic systems. Bennett set up a laboratory to use X-rays to study the structures of materials, especially inorganic compounds.

In his more than 200 publications, he has shown a knack for making difficult concepts understandable. The textbook he wrote on understanding single-crystal X-ray crystallography is considered a classic in the field. Until Bennett’s book came out, there was no textbook on the subject that was at once rigorous and readable.

Bennett brought that same clarity to the classes he taught, constantly searching for better ways to present the material to majors and nonmajors alike. He served as chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry for three years.

With colleague Jim Otvos, Bennett developed a new methodology providing a better way to assess heart disease risk based on blood signals detected through nuclear magnetic resonance. Bennett created the software needed to test the idea. The project led to several patents, NIH grants and founding the company LipoScience (now part of Labcorp), which grew to produce revenue in excess of $50 million a year.

Even after retirement, Bennett continues to make scholarly contributions. He is currently writing a book entitled “Atoms,” with a second volume entitled “Polyatoms” planned.

Ed Burgess, professor emeritus of dance, 1989-2011 (posthumous)  

Ed Burgess brought creativity, knowledge and leadership to the university’s dance program. He was also an integral part of Milwaukee’s dance and arts community.

Burgess came to UWM after a successful touring and international teaching career. He became one of the founders of the university’s dance program. In 2001, the Department of Dance became part of the newly formed Peck School of the Arts, and Burgess became chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance in 2002. In 2003, he became chair of the independent Department of Dance.

Burgess helped build a flourishing dance program and was one of the founders of an innovative graduate program for former professional dancers preparing for a second career in higher education. He was uncompromising in the classroom while respecting individuality and freedom of expression.

His own joy in physical movement and sense of humor often found him walking around the studio in a handstand.

He served on numerous academic committees and worked tirelessly to bring the contributions of diverse groups into dance. As a Native American who spent part of his early years on an Oklahoma reservation, he incorporated Native themes into his choreography. Burgess also reached out to the LGBTQ+ community, creating safe spaces for students at UWM and bringing diverse representation to local stages.

He contributed to the Milwaukee theater and dance community, choreographing, directing and performing with organizations such as the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, Wild Space Dance Company, Theatre Gigante and others. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel named him both performer of the year (2011 in dance) and choreographer of the year.

The many students he mentored continue to inspire dance and theater companies across the country with the enthusiasm and work ethic Burgess modeled for them.

Ron Perez, former dean, Joseph J. Zilber School of Public Health, 1990-2020 (posthumous)

Ron Perez never shied away from volunteering to fill a leadership void.

When he took the role of interim dean of the Zilber School of Public Health, Perez was an outsider, an engineer with no public health training. But he was a leader so clearly committed to UWM and the school that the faculty asked for him to be named to the role permanently.

Perez joined the Zilber School after serving as associate dean of academic and student affairs, one of multiple roles he had at the College of Engineering & Applied Science.  He brought with him a wealth of administrative expertise and experience in relationship-building.

It was because of Perez that the Zilber School successfully navigated its first round of accreditation; began building an undergraduate program, which was critical to its sustainability; and fostered a successful relationship with multiple donors, including the Zilber Family Foundation.

He played a significant part in forming Partners for Health, a health school consolidation effort that had previously failed at UWM. Partners for Health was jointly created by Perez; Ron Cisler, then dean of the College of Health Sciences; and Kim Litwack, dean of the College of Nursing.

Through Partners for Health, the colleges were able to advance research through shared administration, establish research groups in geriatrics and community/population health and offer joint student-community experiences at a local public housing project.

The strengths of the relationships formed through Partners for Health became the foundation of UWM’s health school realignment involving the three schools becoming two new colleges.

Perez also co-chaired the UWM Restructuring Team, which helped bring together the Washington County and Waukesha campuses with UW-Milwaukee, a realignment mandated by the UW System. It was just one of the dozens of committees and task forces he served on.

Randall Lambrecht, professor emeritus of health sciences and dean of the College of Health Sciences, 1988-2009

Randall Lambrecht served as dean of the College of Health Sciences from 1999-2009, but his educational contributions and passion for research were felt campuswide. His legacy includes significant accomplishments, from the collaborative expansion of health sciences programs and building of new facilities to the growth of community partnerships and financial support for students. With a PhD in medical microbiology and immunology from UW-Madison, he joined the UWM faculty in 1988. There, he received numerous teaching awards and research grants, authored over 71 publications and led numerous national, state and community boards.

He chaired the UW System and city feasibility committee exploring the establishment of a graduate school of public health in Milwaukee. He subsequently secured a $10 million philanthropic gift in 2009 to launch the Joseph J. Zilber School of Public Health, the first and only accredited school of public health in Wisconsin.

As dean, he worked with department leaders to help develop new graduate programs and promote the concept of collaborative research centers and partnerships. These include the Center for Urban Population Health in 2002, helping UWM secure $20 million from UW System for the design and construction of a rehabilitation facility in the Pavilion, which today hosts programs in physical therapy and sports medicine. He supported the Rehabilitation Research Design & Disability Center (R2D2), a multimillion-dollar entity that’s received continuous funding since its inception. He also facilitated UW System approval of new doctoral programs in health sciences and physical therapy.

Lambrecht was committed to the success of faculty, staff and students, and he was highly productive in fundraising to support scholarly activities and student scholarships. He led by example, personally funding the largest endowed academic scholarship in the college, later named by the faculty as the Randall S. Lambrecht Endowed Scholarship.

Ruth Schwertfeger, professor emerita of German, 1979-2016 

Ruth Schwertfeger, professor emerita of German, is a superb teacher, scholar, colleague and supporter of UWM. Her scholarly work focuses on the Holocaust, rescuing voices from the ashes of history. One of the central themes she shared in her research and with her students was the need to always remember the human lives at the center of historical events. In her research and writing, she explores the overlooked, underappreciated and personal.

She wrote on the women of the concentration camp at Theresienstadt, drawing on their own writings and recollections. She wrote several other books, including a memoir about growing up in Northern Ireland.

Her most recent book, published in 2022, focuses on Stutthof, a concentration camp near the Polish city of Gdańsk.

This camp had previously been little known outside of Poland. The book explores the consequences of Nazi ideology, initially on the local community of Poles, Germans and Jews and then extending to the occupied territories in the camp’s 5 1/2-year history.

Schwertfeger was instrumental in developing Holocaust Studies at UWM. Her research and lectures helped lead to the university’s Certificate in Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights Studies, and put in place a foundation for the Stahl Center for Jewish Studies.

Colleagues and students remember her as an inspiring, student-centered teacher, sharing her love of German language, literature and culture in her decades-long career. She served as chair of the German Department from 1986 to 1988 and from 1989 to 1990.

A firm supporter of her colleagues and the Department of Foreign Languages and Literature, Schwertfeger and her family have been generous in their financial support for student awards and faculty research and travel. She is helping fund German students and faculty efforts to translate an important collection of Holocaust-era letters.

William Vélez, professor emeritus of sociology, 1981-2017

William Vélez’s long career embodied UWM’s dual core values of top-tier research and educational access for underrepresented groups. As a professor of sociology for 35 years, Vélez’s service, research and mentoring extended beyond the boundaries of his department.

He became a leader studying the sociology of Latino education, with a focus on trying to understand why Latino students succeed or fail in school. Because of this, Vélez saw connections between curriculum and Latino student recruitment and retention at UWM, and he worked to make sure students could see themselves reflected in their studies. In 1994, he helped create a certificate in Latino Studies. In 2005, he led an effort to expand curricular offerings on Latino studies at UWM, resulting in the creation of a new major – Latin American, Caribbean, and U.S. Latino Studies. That program was among the first in the United States to bring together Latin American studies with the experiences of U.S. Latinos.

He was instrumental in the creation of UWM’s Roberto Hernández Center, which was initially called the Spanish Speaking Outreach Institute, and he served as its interim director twice.

His scholarship has impacted both the campus and the greater Hispanic community in Milwaukee. He was one of the co-authors of “Latino Milwaukee: A Statistical Portrait” for the UWM Center for Economic Development. The information in that work led to UWM and Marquette University aspiring to attain the status of Hispanic Serving Institutions. Such status requires an undergraduate population that is at least 25% Hispanic.

For many years, Vélez served as faculty mentor for the federal Ronald McNair program at UWM.

Along with Joseph Rodriguez, professor of history, he wrote a chapter on the history of Latinos at UWM in the book “Telling Our Stories: A History of Diversity at UWM, 1956-2022.”

David C. Yu, professor emeritus of electrical engineering and computer science, 1984-2020

During his 36 years at UWM, whenever David Yu was asked to contribute, he did – and the university and community are better because of it.

In addition to a successful career as a researcher and educator, Yu, professor emeritus of electrical engineering, was a talented administrative leader. Over the years, he served as his department’s chair, associate dean for research in the College of Engineering & Applied Science, and interim dean of the Graduate School.

Yu was a major contributor to and supporter of the integrated bachelor’s-master’s degree program, which encourages undergraduates to continue their UWM education in the college’s master’s program. As associate dean in the college, he developed initiatives to boost graduate student enrollment across departments.

He stepped in to lead the Graduate School at a critical time – when it was growing its doctoral program offerings for the first time in more than two decades.

Yu led the Graduate School in a reorganization, a step that set the university on the path to achieving R1 status, the top tier of research universities as defined by the Carnegie Classifications of Institutions of Higher Learning, in 2015.

He also forged important collaborations between the Graduate School and the Center for International Education to increase the campus enrollment of international students and form partnerships with numerous institutions in other countries. The relationships he built in China and Taiwan are still active and benefiting UWM faculty and students.

These partnerships resulted in several high-profile international internships. Two of these were with Rockwell Automation in Shanghai, in collaboration with Shanghai Jiao Tong University, and an international co-op program with Foxconn in Taiwan, in collaboration with Chung Yuan Christian University. These allowed UWM students to get experience working in a truly global setting.

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