Fall Awards recognize UWM’s best

More than two dozen UWM faculty and staff members were honored at the annual Fall Awards Ceremony Oct. 22. This year’s ceremony was held virtually, and can be viewed on Microsoft Teams or on YouTube.

Here are the staff and faculty who were honored:

UWM Faculty Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching Awards

Anja Blecking, associate professor, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry

Anja Blecking shows a deep passion for student learning in both her undergraduate teaching and her creative scholarship of science education, which is evident in her many outreach projects.

Blecking established the “Science House” at UWM to support high school students and science teachers. In serving as the leader of the science team in the M3 consortium, she has been instrumental in developing programs aimed at increasing the pipeline of Milwaukee Public Schools students to UWM and Milwaukee Area Technical College.

Blecking has secured several large grants totaling more than $4 million to support science education, including from the National Science Foundation. Her efforts greatly increase the visibility of UWM as a STEM destination campus for incoming undergraduates. Many of these student programs, such as Upward Bound, are aimed at inclusion of underrepresented minorities.

Said one nominator: “Dr. Blecking is the strongest connection the Milwaukee Public Schools science department has to UWM at this time. Her dedication to working with our district has made a lasting impact, and increased opportunities for our students.”

Jonathan Kahl, professor, Department of Mathematical Sciences

Jonathan Kahl is regarded as one of the most caring, inspiring and innovative instructors in the Department of Mathematics, chair Suzanne Boyd said. In addition to receiving stellar course evaluations by undergraduates, Kahl has contributed to the scholarship of teaching, developing an assessment of introductory meteorology courses.

One of his teaching innovations is the development of the world’s first faculty-led study abroad course in the atmospheric sciences. In it, Kahl teaches students about his research on atmospheric corrosion by having them study the effect of air pollution on cultural heritage sites in Mexico.

Kahl has developed numerous projects aimed at a range of student levels from college to elementary school. In the late 1990s he developed an online weather forecasting activity for his UWM introductory meteorology classes and then shared this resource with some of his high school teacher colleagues, who continue to use it in their classes.

In 2002-2006, he developed several online curriculum modules targeting children in grades five through 12. One of these allowed pre-college students to research climate change using professional-quality climate data generated by Kahl’s own Arctic research activities.

Kennan Ferguson, professor, Department of Political Science

Kennan Ferguson’s colleague, Ivan Ascher, associate professor of political science, decided to nominate Ferguson after observing his classes and preparing to fill in for him. The class was Contemporary Political Theory, and Ascher was amazed at how well prepared and enthusiastic Ferguson’s students were in discussing assigned readings.

“He called on one student at random who spoke of the reading intelligently, confidently and with poise, displaying an understanding of the text,” Ascher wrote. One after another, students in the class showed the same enthusiasm and preparation in class discussions when he observed or taught the class.

When Ascher filled in leading the class some time later, the students weren’t fazed and continued to demonstrate their confidence and knowledge of the subject matter. Ascher said he enjoyed having a seminar-type experience with undergraduates.

In addition to his research and publication of numerous books and articles, Ferguson makes time to serve on department and university committees. Still, his teaching continues to excel.

“I’ve come to see that no two excellent teachers are the same,” wrote Ascher, “but I can safely say that Kennan Ferguson is among the best teachers at UWM.”

Nikole Bouchard, associate professor, Department of Architecture

Nikole Bouchard is lauded as a gifted teacher who instills high expectations and inspires tenacity among her students to tackle tough and complex design ideas. She works tirelessly to help students succeed and prepare them for careers after graduating from the School of Architecture & Urban Planning.

One example of Bouchard’s tireless efforts is the Urban Edge Workshop, which allows students to collaborate with academics, artists, landscape architects and designers. The workshops are typically one-day symposiums, but Bouchard holds multiday events three times a semester. Her workshops pack one year’s worth of activities for an entire student body into a three-credit class. She shares those activities with the whole school, giving students experience in making presentations that will prepare them for the future.

Bouchard makes a point of acknowledging the work of students as collaborators and partners in her research. Notorious for writing clear, concise emails, Bouchard uses carefully crafted messages geared toward improving the individual student experience.

Said one student supporting her nomination: “Nikole Bouchard’s engaging, supportive and challenging style of teaching was crucial to my development as well as many others. … I am grateful for her guidance in these early phases of my career.”

René Izquierdo, professor, Department of Music

René Izquierdo is a world-renowned classical guitarist, playing an average of 70 to 90 concerts a year, but he also shares his love of the instrument and the music enthusiastically with students. “While enjoying a worldly reputation as a concert musician, his real passion lies in teaching,” wrote a group of his students in nominating him.  Students come from all over the world to study with Izquierdo at UWM.

He is often invited to international competitions and shares what he learns with his students. In recent years, students in the guitar program have won more than 70 international prizes in competitions. But more than competition, he also encourages his students to develop their performing careers by sharing the music with the community at schools, nursing homes and other organizations. Izquierdo works patiently with individual students, encouraging them to grow at their own pace. “When a student experiences self-doubt,” wrote his students, “he always finds a way to redirect the negative energy, encouraging them to focus on the music and continue growing as a guitarist.”

UWM Faculty Distinguished University Service Awards

Derek Counts, professor and chair, Department of Art History
Derek Counts has served as the chair of the Department of Art History since 2014, “expertly steering it through a period of massive budget cuts and making it far stronger in the process,” according to Tanya Tiffany, associate professor of art history. Throughout this time he also oversaw the construction of the newly opened Emile H. Mathis Art Gallery, a state-of-the-art, 2,400-square-foot exhibition space on the first floor of Mitchell Hall.

In addition to serving as chair, Counts is a researcher and has been a teacher and mentor to students, providing them with fieldwork opportunities in Cyprus, where he serves as associate director of the Athienou excavation project. The project, funded by the National Science Foundation for many years, had a long and productive record of training undergraduates, and especially providing traditionally underrepresented groups with field experience, said Bettina Arnold, professor of anthropology. “He has been a grant-writing powerhouse as well and obtained external funding for a digital humanities project that supported one of my past PhD students as a collaborator that put UWM on the scholarly map in Classical archaeology.”

Counts’ regular emails and group texts have helped keep up faculty and student spirits during the difficult period of the coronavirus, Tiffany said. “The group text has allowed us to share advice, tips, and silly gifs and videos and to commiserate during this difficult time.”

Hobart Davies, professor and chair, Department of Psychology

Hobart Davies’ steadfast leadership as chair of the Department of Psychology has fostered a collaborative environment in which faculty and students have thrived in the classroom and laboratory.

Davies became department chair in 2013, when there had been constant turnover in the position. He has provided a stabilizing influence through times of lean budgets and internal changes. Professor Karyn Frick, who nominated Davies, says the department has changed in many positive ways under his leadership. Under Davies, she says, the department is a model of collegiality and financial and administrative stability in the College of Letters & Science.

He has adeptly and fairly balanced the sometimes competing needs of clinical and basic science programs. Davies has fostered a supportive and altruistic environment in the department. His standing on campus and dedication to service are also evident in the long list of high-profile committees on which he serves. Davies also finds time to provide extensive service to the professional and mental health community in Milwaukee, as well as service to organizations in his field.

Joseph Rodriguez, professor and chair, Department of History

Joseph Rodriguez is committed to collaborating with stakeholders on campus to support faculty  and students of color, said Chia Vang, professor of history and associate vice chancellor. In addition to mentoring faculty colleagues, he has led tenure and promotion workshops. He takes part in Fall Open House and Winter Welcome to help introduce underrepresented and first-generation students to campus. He is part of the chancellor’s Hispanic Serving Initiative and helped plan the Roberto Hernández Center’s 50th anniversary celebration.

“As a Hispanic, he is asked to play many roles above and beyond his normal duties and is always willing to help,” said Vang.

Rodriguez has written about the history of Latino activism and the creation of the Spanish-Speaking Outreach Institute at UWM, which eventually became the Roberto Hernández Center. That writing and research has provided an invaluable resource, said Alberto Maldonado, director of the center. Rodriguez also serves on the center’s emergency scholarship committee.

“His genuine and selfless contributions to this committee over the years have made it possible for many of our students to stay in school and graduate,” said Maldonado.

Office of Research/UWM Foundation Research Award

Junjie Niu, associate professor, Department of Materials Science & Engineering

 Junjie Niu is helping to create the next generation of fast-charging lithium-ion batteries. His novel electrode material allows rapid charging without damaging the battery and delivers far more energy than existing technology. In addition, the material would allow consumers to use their devices longer and drive electric cars much farther between charges.

In 2019 he received the College of Engineering & Applied Science Outstanding Research Award in recognition of his water and energy research, which includes finding new ways to decontaminate drinking water and waste discharged from sewage lines, as well as creating self-cleaning coatings for a wide variety of surfaces, saving water and energy used in traditional cleaning methods.

Niu’s expertise in electrochemistry and materials and their applications in energy storage and water technology — as well as his strong academic background — led to his hiring at UWM in 2014 from a pool of hundreds of applicants.

Niu has published more than 80 papers in top journals, with more than 8,200 citations and an H-index of 41. he has been awarded one U.S. patent and more than four provisional patents. He earned the 2019 Best Presentation Award from the Materials Research Society and received a 2018 UWM Foundation Technology Licensing Award.

Michael Nosonovsky, associate professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering

Michael Nosonovsky’s research deals with fundamental mechanisms and models of friction and the interaction of liquids with rough surfaces. These new models have led to improvements in water-repellent surfaces, ranging from concrete to coatings for the freshwater industry as well as a better understanding of natural phenomena, such as microdroplet clusters.

Nosonovsky is addressing problems in tribology — the science of friction, wear and lubrication — through biomimicry, which is the emulation of models, systems and elements of nature for the purpose of solving complex human problems. For example, scientists are studying sharkskin — which stays free of algae and barnacles while moving through the ocean — to develop similarly water resistant and self-cleaning hulls on ships.

His research has been published in prestigious journals such as Nature and the world’s oldest scientific research journal — Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society — which published work by Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Benjamin Franklin and Stephen Hawking. Nosonovsky has authored or co-authored more than 100 papers and three books and been cited more than 8,500 times in scientific literature.

Ryan Shorey, assistant professor, Department of Psychology

Ryan Shorey studies risk factors for, and consequences of, intimate partner violence, as well as substance use disorders and treatment. Integrating these two lines of research, he examines substance-related intimate partner violence and the effectiveness of substance use treatment in reducing the occurrence of intimate partner violence and sexual assault. His goal is to develop and implement prevention and intervention programs that reduce intimate partner violence, sexual assault and substance use disorders.

Accolades for Shorey from his peers in his field include “the most talented researcher of his generation,” “an extraordinary scientist” and an early-career researcher possessing “absolutely astonishing” and “truly unparalleled” productivity. Shorey has also been praised for his interest in treating sexual minority young adults, an extremely vulnerable and understudied population.

Shorey has published 166 peer-reviewed articles, including 80 as first author. Since 2014, he has been principal investigator on seven grants, many R01 or R21, totaling more than $3.7 million. Since joining UWM in 2018, he has established the Substance Use and Relationship Factors Lab, which includes two PhD student members who hold competitive fellowships from the UWM Graduate School.

Office of Research/UWM Foundation Outstanding Creative Research Achievement Award

Lisa Moline, associate professor, Department of Art & Design

For more than 20 years, Moline has focused her creative research on the complex relationship — sometimes complementary, sometimes conflicting — between humans and the natural world. This involves an ongoing investigation of habitat, and explorations of where nature resides with increasing urbanization and globalization.

Her work encompasses many forms, from intimate prints to large-scale installations, from video and audio environments to activist interventions.

Moline’s most recent ongoing project is the Overpass Light Brigade, an episodic performance in contested zones of public space, and a navigation of the tactics of visibility. Since its formation in 2011, the brigade has engaged in more than 400 actions, reached millions on social media, inspired numerous national and international Light Brigade chapters, and become an official tactic of political engagement.

Her work has been exhibited in the Brooklyn Museum, the Milwaukee Art Museum, the California Academy of Sciences, the Field Museum, Science Gallery (Trinity College, Dublin) and Eyebeam gallery (New York City). Her videos have been screened at London’s Cinema Museum and other international venues. Her performance-based activist projects have been featured in national and international news media.

Office of Research/UWM Foundation Senior Faculty Research Award

Christine Larson, professor, Department of Psychology

Recognized as both scientifically rigorous and community engaged, Christine Larson’s collaborative research is dedicated to understanding the neural bases of healthy and pathological emotional processing, as well as predicting risk factors and early warning signs of anxiety-related disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. Her work is further distinguished by her interest in learning about trauma risk factors that are unique to ethnic and racial minority communities.

One of the biggest challenges in trauma research is identifying recent victims of trauma, which Larson achieved through a partnership with Froedtert Hospital, where victims are sent almost immediately after a violent incident or other event resulting in traumatic injury. That partnership grew into the Milwaukee Trauma Outcomes Project, a regional consortium co-founded by Larson dedicated to improving the lives of those affected by trauma through research, intervention, prevention, education and outreach.

Larson’s innovative approaches have attracted more than $10 million in research funding — more than $7 million as principal investigator — including several R01 grants from agencies such as the National Institute of Mental Health, as well as three UWM Research Growth Initiative awards.

Lindsay McHenry, professor, Department of Geosciences

Lindsay McHenry is unraveling the remarkable history of hominid sites in Tanzania. Her analysis and dating of volcanic ash preserved within sedimentary layers at Olduvai Gorge and other important archaeological sites has yielded a robust chronology for the region’s fossils and stone tools associated with human evolution. Her meticulous field and laboratory work has helped unite scientists who previously had conflicting hypotheses on the evolution and behavior of early hominins.

McHenry’s research has focused on analyzing volcanic ash preserved within sedimentary layers at such important archaeological sites. Studying the ash within the layers can create frameworks to look at important evolutionary and cultural changes throughout a region.

She also studies Mars geology, looking at the minerals, sediments and geochemistry of the Martian surface, particularly how altered volcanic and sulfate materials may relate to places on Earth where materials have formed under similar conditions.

McHenry has attracted more than $4.1 million in research funding, more than 85% of that as principal investigator.

Scott Strath, professor, Department of Kinesiology

As director of the Center for Aging and Translational Research, Strath and his research team focus on the intersection between physical activity and public health. Specific research interests include the relationship between physical activity and cardiovascular health; physical activity interventions and promotional strategies; physical activity assessment; community and national physical activity patterns; and environmental determinants of physical activity behavior.

He has held continual National Institutes of Health funding since 2005, with his latest $3.1 million grant received in 2017. The focus of that grant is to develop new machine learning algorithms for use in wearable technology, ultimately to better assess physical activity behaviors in adults with and without functional movement disorders. This includes adults who have arthritis, multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease or have had a stroke.

Strath continues to work on projects to increase the awareness of the benefits of physical activity and regularly works with the community on promoting the use of available community resources to help seniors increase their physical activity, strength and physical function and maintain their community independence.

A colleague wrote that Strath’s achievements exemplify scholarship at its best and are a credit to him and to the university.

Strath holds affiliate appointments with the Medical College of Wisconsin, as well as the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

UWM Academic Staff Outstanding Performance and Service Award

Carl Bogner, senior lecturer, Department of Film, Video, Animation & New Genres

When Lori Felker, assistant professor in the Department of Film, Video, Animation & New Genres, talked to students about whom they would nominate for this award from their department, “many students, undergraduate and graduate, named Carl without thinking twice.”

Bogner has provided programming at the Union Cinema and was the longtime leader of the Milwaukee LGBT Film Festival. “Through Carl’s work programming and supporting programming at the Oriental, Woodland Pattern, Microlights, the Milwaukee Underground Film Festival, etc., he has created networks of audiences that continue to grow,” said Felker.

Bogner is engaged with students, encouraging and mentoring them and sometimes even appearing in their films. “He is beloved by students because he finds what is best in each of them and highlights it, giving individual students the courage to go deeper in their creative and academic pursuits,” said Sofia Theodore-Pierce, a master’s student and Bogner’s former teaching assistant.

Wrote Stephen Wetzel, the department chair: “I consider Carl to be the single most important member of my staff, and he has been for two decades.”

Keith Kunkel, senior information processing consultant, Campus Technology Support

Keith Kunkel’s nearly two decades at UWM have been highlighted by exemplary work and unwavering service to the university. Those who have worked with Kunkel compliment his sense of personal responsibility to perform at the highest level while putting the needs of others first without seeking recognition.

Currently holding the position of senior information processing consultant, Kunkel takes pride in making sure that computing needs and issues are addressed as quickly as possible. He always does so with a friendly demeanor. Kunkel is praised for having an “extraordinary technical aptitude” along with a willingness to make sure colleagues feel welcome and secure.

A record of involvement with committee work across the university started shortly after his hire in 2001, demonstrating his steadfast dedication to UWM. He currently serves on the Academic Staff Senate and the Non-Instructional Academic Staff Subcommittee, among other assignments. Colleagues also recognize his commitment to building contributions to the community beyond campus, forging strong partnerships to help UWM reach its institutional goals.

Brooke Thomas, senior administrative program specialist, Center for International Education

Brooke Thomas’ dedication to UWM and the Center for International Education, where she is associate director for international faculty/scholar services, is evident through the respect that she has earned not just from colleagues at the university, but throughout the UW System. She is recognized as a national expert on immigration regulations pertaining to employment-based visa applications. Thomas was one of the first voices in her field to address the issue of visiting scholars needing to extend their stay as a result of COVID-19 travel restrictions in January. A colleague says Thomas’ competence, sound judgment and leadership provide a significant contribution to UWM’s status as a top tier research institution.

Thomas’ passion for her job is evident in the way she willingly shares her expertise in order to mentor and educate. Another nominator describes Thomas as having a “huge caring heart” and exceptional ability as a communicator that allows her to be a key resource to create, nurture and promote global connections and international partnerships.

Thomas is also praised for her ability to juggle priorities and willingness to take on additional tasks and participate in events that help international students and scholars feel welcome and engaged with campus.

UWM Academic Staff Outstanding Teaching Award

Krista Grensavitch, lecturer, Department of Women’s & Gender Studies

Krista Grensavitch demonstrates passion and care for her students, while applying scholarship on teaching and learning to her classes. “She embodies critical feminist ideas of inclusion and access in the classroom,” wrote Anna Mansson McGinty, chair of women’s studies, in nominating Grensavitch. Grensavitch has applied a range of innovative initiatives in her class, she added.

Among those creative approaches was a project titled “Supper Club,” which highlighted women’s voices and work in showing the history of women in American society. In addition to reading texts and listening to presentations, students actively participated developing an exhibit, shown at the Golda Meir Library. Grensavitch’s teaching demonstrates that teaching is not a one-way street; it is a dynamic process in which students and teachers are collaborating and involved in productive dialog that extends beyond the traditional classroom,” said Mansson McGinty.

Wrote one student: “I’ve heard that one teacher can make an impact on a student’s life. Krista is a living testament to this belief.”

Lisa Mihlbauer, clinical associate professor emerita, College of Nursing

As director of the RN to BS Completion Program in the College of Nursing, Lisa Mihlbauer helped expand the program to a statewide asset that meets not only the needs of students, but also those of hospitals that prefer to hire nurses with a bachelor’s degree.

Through her invaluable leadership, Mihlbauer has improved three modes of curriculum delivery. Working with hospitals, she helped shift face-to-face courses to a hybrid model, creating eight-week formats that allow students to finish their degrees sooner.

She also led revisions to the online curriculum, called BSN@Home, to include eight-week courses based on UWM’s successful implementation in the hybrid formats. BSN@Home is a partnership of all UW System schools with nursing programs.

Finally, Mihlbauer led a nursing faculty team that created a truly innovative competency-based education curriculum called the UW Extension Flex Option, which enables students to better fit higher education into their busy lives.

“Ultimately, she is increasing access to higher education through innovative program design,” says nominator Laura Pedrick, executive director of UWM Online.

Kristin Smith, lecturer, Department of Psychology

A pedagogical leader, Kristin Smith is constantly looking for new ways to deliver course content and develop active learning exercises that motivate students.

For example, she frequently employs small-group activities that engage students rather than lecturing to passive listeners. These activities, completed even in high-enrollment courses, also encourage students to attend class.

To complement other forms of instruction in child psychology courses, Smith has used a virtual child to illustrate relevant topics. Students indicated that use of the avatar was “fascinating,” made the material easier to understand and “provided concrete context” for concepts discussed in class.

Her student course evaluations are overwhelmingly positive and highlight her enthusiasm for teaching, her innovation in the classroom and her compassion.

Smith has been an invited presenter at the Go Milwaukee recruitment events, a member of the Online Program Council and a member of the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Mental Health. Because of her experience as a licensed psychologist, she can make valuable contributions and suggestions about how to effectively address mental health issues that affect our students.

UWM University Staff Outstanding Service Award

Geoffrey Anderson, research vessel crew leader, School of Freshwater Sciences

Geoffrey Anderson holds what School of Freshwater Sciences Dean J. Val Klump says might be one of the most complex and physically demanding positions at the university as engineer and former relief captain – and now the captain – of the Neeskay, UWM’s workhorse research vessel. Anderson possesses a mix of technical expertise, interpersonal skills, physical endurance and experience required of a ship’s officer to maintain the safety and well-being of scientists and students on board.

Anderson also serves as the scientific diving safety officer. He’s handy with the school’s smaller boats and also is a skilled welder and general facilities expert who is relied upon for a variety of projects at the school.

One colleague described Anderson as a model of efficiency and productivity, pointing to the example of how Anderson finished construction of a floating dock for the school’s smaller boats. His efforts saved the school more than $5,000.

While marveling about his skills and work ethic, colleagues also laud Anderson’s character. Possessing a positive, can-do attitude, Anderson is willing to assist whenever needed for students, faculty or staff.

Andrew Avery-Johnson, surplus manager, Office of Sustainability 

As the surplus manager in the Office of Sustainability, Andrew Avery-Johnson has created a system for resale, reuse and recycling of used equipment that has increased the department’s revenue and allowed it to operate in the black. In fact, Avery-Johnson has sent five times the amount of material back to campus for use than his predecessor, says Kate Nelson, the campus chief sustainability officer.

He also has gone above and beyond to ensure the safety and security of e-waste. Avery-Johnson proactively rewrote the IT security procedures in partnership with University Information Technology Services and Campus Technology Support, enabling better oversight and process improvements for surplus materials.  

This partnership proved very useful as COVID-19 hit. The changeover to online learning meant that a lot of students were at a disadvantage without a reliable computer. Avery-Johnson sprang into action. Working with the Dean of Students Office and Campus Technology Support, he gathered, wiped and distributed more than 100 computers in a matter of just two days. Because of this, many more students were able to continue their education during a difficult time.

Emmitt B. Houston III, IT Support Coordinator, Finance and Administrative Affairs

Emmitt B. Houston III has provided outstanding technology support and customer satisfaction during a series of operations changes in the IT and campus technology support areas, according to Scott Kleba, IT support manager, who nominated him.

As a Mac support person, Houston has been invaluable to the Integrated Marketing & Communications (IMC) and web and mobile teams, which work primarily on Macs, according to Michelle Johnson, senior director of IMC. When the area needed to adjust software to make sure programs fit the needs of employees and still met university guidelines for managed computers, Houston helped out. He met with teams and individuals a number of times to address concerns and find workable solutions, said Johnson.

“I know he has a heavy workload and I’m sure this must be stressful, but I’ve never seen him down or frustrated,” she added.

Ora Vaughn, security officer, Transportation Services

The university staff who patrol parking lots and garages are not always the most popular people in the UWM community, but the work ensures that those who need parking can find it and the rules are enforced fairly. Ora Vaughn approaches the job with kindness and a smile, according to Geoff Hurtado, associate vice chancellor/facilities planning and management, who nominated her for this award.

In addition to training parking officers and occasionally joining the patrols herself, she often assists employees who need help with a dead battery or other car problems. On her own, she’s learned how to do minor repairs on kiosks and gate controls to help out. In addition, she volunteered at College for Kids to make sure youngsters are safe during their drop-off and pickup times, said Hurtado.

LGBTQ+ Champion of the Year Award

Melissa Monier, assistant director, Women’s Resource Center

Melissa Monier has worked hard to strengthen collaborations between the Women’s Resource Center and the LGBTQ+ community. For example, she analyzed the center’s lending library to make sure LGBTQ+ books were still friendly to the community and removed books that weren’t. She also purchased books by authors in the community. She makes sure the center and its social media advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, said Luke Olson, an LGBTQ+ advocate who works in the School of Continuing Education. Monier, a graduate student in the media studies program, also provides education and tools for students, faculty and administration, and attends conferences and camps to educate herself.

“As a future college educator, Melissa values education and I’ve never known her not to discuss hard/controversial topics to show solidarity and support to the communities she loves,” he wrote.

In November, she spearheaded a project about trans women who died in 2019 as a result of hate crimes. “Melissa makes sure that the LGBTQ+ womxn of our campus are heard and have a safe place to be,” wrote colleague Natalie Repinski.

Ernest Spaights Plaza Awards

Allen B. Caucutt, senior lecturer, emeritus board member of the UWM Alumni Association

Allen B. Caucutt is an artist, educator, donor and proud alumnus of UWM.He dearly loves UWM and will tell anyone who cares to listen that the knowledge and experiences he gained and friendships he made earning his undergraduate and graduate degrees here have made all the difference in his life.

Caucutt was part of the first class to graduate from the newly formed UWM in 1957, earning his BS in art education and then an MS in 1963. He taught art in the Milwaukee Public Schools and Maple Dale Elementary in Fox Point. While at Maple Dale, he created an award-winning curriculum that received the Rockefeller Fund Exemplary Arts Education grant in 1982 — at that time it was the only middle school in the U.S. to earn this award.

After “retiring,” he taught art education to future teachers as a senior lecturer at UWM starting in 1999. He also has mentored more than 160 student teachers, many from UWM. Among his many awards, he was honored as a UWM Distinguished Alumnus and received the Outstanding Service to the Arts Award from the Peck School of the Arts.  He is an emeritus board member of the UWM Alumni Association. He retired from teaching at UWM in 2012.

His former students still appreciate his lessons.

One student summed up her experience, saying Caucutt taught her to never forget what makes teaching matter most, and what leaves the most lasting impression. She said he was absolutely the most notable and influential person she has ever met.

Caucutt met Susan, his wife of more than 60 years, when they were undergraduates at UWM, and both were active supporters of UWM. She died in February 2020. Allen Caucutt continues to be active as an artist with major artworks in more than 75 public venues and more than 1,500 works in private collections.  He is a featured artist at the Peck School of the Arts’ Continuum Alumni Exhibition in fall 2020.

Diane Ogimaa-giizhigokwe Amour, coordinator of the American Indian Student Services Office, emerita

Diane Ogimaa-giizhigokwe Amour has been instrumental in supporting American Indian students at UWM and sharing Indigenous culture with the broader Milwaukee community.

Amour, an elder of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, retired from UWM in 2016 after 40 years. She earned her master’s degree in education in community counseling in 1986 and her bachelor’s degree in social work in 1975, both from UWM.

In her 30 years as coordinator of the American Indian Student Services Office, she went above and beyond to ensure that American Indian students aspired to attend UWM and were successful when they did.

Amour also reached out to the American Indian and broader Milwaukee communities. She was one of the founders of the annual UWM Pow Wow to connect UWM to the Native community and helped organize Milwaukee’s Indian Summer Festival, events that showcased and celebrated both traditional and contemporary arts and cultures of Wisconsin’s Indigenous people.

Amour provided the opportunity to allow people to have more realistic views of American Indians and lessen the stereotypical views of being perceived only in the past by showing American Indians in a contemporary setting, according to colleagues. She was all about education at all levels of life.

Beyond her work at UWM, Amour has been active in the educational community, serving on the Wisconsin American Indian Language and Culture Education Board and the Wisconsin Indian Education Association, and being a founding and current member of the Milwaukee Indian Education Committee. She also serves as a board member and secretary of the Indian Community School and served as vice president of Indian Summer Festivals Inc.

Her fellow board members of the Indian Community School wrote that her work at UWM in supporting students, families and the community helped unite and strengthen the Indian community of today in Milwaukee. Her work to ensure there was a space for Native students to connect gave many of them an opportunity to earn their degrees, meet other Native students, and learn the true and accurate history of their people.

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 campus-wide contributions to the growth and development of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

More in Campus & Community

Top Stories