UW-Milwaukee College of Nursing is proud to recognize the following alumni for their outstanding work as clinicians, researchers and educators. The group of awardees has impacted the field of nursing in extraordinary ways. We recently honored these alumni with historic and prestigious awards.
Distinguished Alumni Award Honorees
Beth Peterman (BS 1974, MS 2000)
My belief in living one’s life with purpose and true meaning came to fruition and was nurtured at UWM College of Nursing as I pursued my nursing degrees. What ensued was a career path that was heavily focused on health and well-being in the service of others. UWM College of Nursing provided me the ability to embrace the ‘arts’ of critical thinking, organizational skills, collaboration, and leadership, all of which served me well in nursing roles as I fully engaged being a provider of nursing care and an educator to those requiring care and those seeking careers in nursing.
Margaret O. Schmelzer (BS 1973)
“The UW-Milwaukee, College of Nursing, changed my life course and launched me into the profession I love. While there, I matured and learned the value of collegiate education. It taught me the importance of preparation, organization, and critical thinking. I remember my public health coursework and professor with great fondness as it unleashed within me my goal to become a public health nurse. My education at UWM shaped my life’s foundation.”
Julia Snethen (PHD 1998)
“Attending the UW-Milwaukee College of Nursing was foundational to my development as an educator, researcher, and scholar. The faculty and coursework expanded my knowledge of the discipline of nursing and healthcare. Not only did my degree expose me to a world of possibilities, it was the ‘golden ticket’ that enabled me to stretch and grow professionally towards attaining my career goals.”
Marivic B. Torregosa (PHD 2011)
“My degree from UW- Milwaukee has prepared me to become an independent researcher, academician, and now a college administrator. I am proud of the education I received from my Alma Mater.“
Julie A. Willems Van Dijk (PHD 2008)
“As a public health nurse leader, my doctoral education at the UW-Milwaukee College of Nursing grounded me in the value of data transparency and data-driven policies. It challenged me to be a continuous learner and to dig for the root causes of the challenges I confronted in my practice. Because of my coursework and my dissertation studies, I have furthered advanced practice around the social determinants of health and health equity. And finally, as a member of the inaugural online PhD program, I learned so much about being a pioneer in innovation.”
Pioneer Award Honorees
UWM College of Nursing honors the following individuals for their work as pioneers in nursing research, clinical practice, education or community impact. Please help us congratulate the following for their efforts and earning the UWM College of Nursing Pioneer Award.
Melissa Anne Brown (BS 2001)
“My degree from the UWM College of Nursing opened the door to my 20+ year nursing career at Advocate Aurora Health. I was fortunate to get hired as a result of my clinical rotation onto a Med/Surg floor at Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center. Without the experience provided by UWM, I’m not sure where my career would have taken me.”
Jessica Castner (PHD 2012)
“The UW-Milwaukee College of Nursing opened doors of opportunity that would not have existed for me otherwise. As an early adopter of hybrid online-distance doctoral education, the College of Nursing allowed me to be immersed in learning with a cohort and faculty committed to achieving and providing the highest quality education, regardless of format. The faculty and learning environments were profoundly and authentically inclusive and supportive of diversity. Several strengths of the program included faculty, administrative, and alumni mentorship from leaders in the field highly engaged in professional societies, scholarly editing, policy, education, research, and more. The UWM alumni community continues to foster my ability to innovate and lead. Thank you.“
Cheryl Ann Ceretto (MN 2000)
“I attended UW College of Nursing 1994-2000 earning my Masters in Nursing (MN). My education presented values such as diversity, leadership, creativity, compassion and collaboration. The experiences at UW College of Nursing have enhanced my professional as well as my personal life by building confidence and expertise as a caregiver, educator and leader – at work and at home.
I retired in February 2021 and as I reflect over the past 43 years of my career, I feel that my education at UWM College of Nursing has been in part who I have become making a difference in the history and advancement of diagnosis and care of patients with arrhythmias.”
Beth Peterman, RN
I received a broad and enriching education at UWM‘s College of Nursing & because of it, I was afforded a varied career in nursing. My career spanned both the provider side of health care as well as the payer side. Both areas played a significant role in my life, affording me opportunities to seek out interesting career options and to pursue those that found me first. In the course of working, I never stopped learning . Learning about people, their lives, their struggles, their joys and the role that health, health care and medicine played in their abilities to live a quality life- as they defined it. It was forever a privilege to be allowed or welcomed into their lives when they sought care- especially those who had been traumatized by that system in the past.
My early years after graduation were spent in the City of Milwaukee’s Public Health Nursing Division. Here I learned what the health of the community & its people really was and it kindled in me a desire to teach people about their own health and how they could learn by listening to their own body cues & how to better understand when they needed health care services. This time in my career also furthered my understanding of how various factors in our City’s government – ie water, transportation, schools, etc. impacted a community’s health, well-being and their ability to engage in meaningful work. And I soon became familiar with socioeconomic factors and what these meant in assessing the health of a community’s members.
The next facet of my career was spent as a healthcare consultant, working with large companies and their employees, where I learned how closely linked both occupational and non-occupational health issues are and the importance of treating these as integrated entities and not separate ones. It also opened my mind to how important safeguards and regulations are in our work settings. Whether these safeguards were provided by government, organizational/industry standards, or other oversight bodies, they are truly necessary in protecting people’s health and well-being.
Returning to pursue a master’s in nursing as a family nurse practitioner was a turning point in my continued education and here I developed an awareness of social justice/injustices in our society. After completion of my master’s degree, I worked as both an educator and provider in the community I had loved during my undergraduate years. I learned what it meant to manage a clinical learning lab in community and how to provide meaningful learning experiences for our nursing students- at all levels of their education. I spent 15 years at the UWM House of Peace Community Nursing Center and was blessed many times over to provide care, educate students, manage a collaborative effort between the University and the House of Peace- a Capuchin establishment that graciously housed our clinical site. It also taught me more about team building both inside and outside the nursing center. We focused our hearts and souls on assisting without dictating, how to continue to learn from and better understand what change could or could not be effected with our community, and more importantly how to serve by improving options and opportunities for communities so that they could uphold and/or upgrade their community with the right tools.
My final learning opportunity, hospice nursing, helped me to learn more about end of life issues; nursing’s role and patients’ needs during this time. I sought to understand what it meant to say goodbye in a positive way. Although this was an unexpected direction in my career I developed a greater awareness of how people and their families respond to and prepare for end of life. It was truly a meaningful way for me to say ‘goodbye’ to a full and rewarding career as I retired from the direct caregiver role.
I am filled with gratitude to the UWM College of Nursing for these many opportunities that came my way because of my education.
Margaret O. Schmelzer, MS, RN
My 44-year career has been dedicated to improving the health and quality of life of individuals, families, and entire populations through the fields of public health nursing and public health. A major driver of my administrative, consultative, and leadership practice was directed toward leading collaborative systems transformation to make a lasting difference in the lives of the people of Wisconsin and the communities where they live, grow, work, learn, and play and “assure conditions in which people can be healthy.”
- 1973: District Public Health Nurse and later Lead Poisoning Prevention Coordinator, Milwaukee Health Department.
- 1976 – 1978: graduate student at the University of Minnesota, School of Public Health, Program in Public Health Nursing. In 1978, I was awarded a Master’s of Science Degree in Public Health.
- 1978: Dane County Health Department Communicable Disease Specialist and Interim Home Health Coordinator where I also taught epidemiology to the public health nurses.
- 1980 – 1988: Public Health Nursing Director at the Madison Department of Public Health that included the development and implementation of a major restructured public health nursing model to assure the delivery of contemporary public health nursing and school nursing services throughout Madison. This was in addition to my administration and management responsibilities.
- Circa 1980: joint appointment as a clinical nursing instructor at the UW Madison, School of Nursing, where I developed an undergraduate epidemiology module.
- 1988: full-time Clinical Assistant Professor, UW-Madison, School of Nursing.
- 1990 – 2013: State Public Health Nursing Director, Division of Public Health, Wisconsin DHS. I assumed this role after several decades of no visible public health nursing leader at the helm. My chief focus during these early years was to “give voice” to public health nursing, create understanding of the role, build visibility, standardize practice, and establish the critical importance of public health nursing at both the statewide and local levels through our collaborative strategic plan entitled Strengthening Public Health Nursing in Wisconsin for the 21st Century. My role then evolved as the public health policy director:
- 1991 – 1996: Chief of Staff for the Public Health Statutes Revision Committee to comprehensively and collaboratively revise the public health statutes and related public health administrative rules . This resulted in the first landmark of public health laws since 1949.
- 1993 – 1994: selected as one of 50, Year-Four National Scholars, in the CDC’s elite year-long public health leadership program.
- 1996 -2013: I led the creative and massive statewide collaborative effort to transform Wisconsin’s public health system that included the publication of two decennial statutorily mandated state health plans including public health models, tools, guidance, and measurement.
- 2014: Chronic Disease Prevention Coordinator, Wisconsin Nurses Association, CDC Chronic Disease Grant, to promote systems of care to improve patient and population health outcomes for persons with hypertension.
- October 2020: a colleague and I were called to service by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services to prepare the massive compliance and after-action reports for the CDC that covered COVID-19 Pandemic Intervals I and II including vaccine mobilization. This work is ongoing.
Julia Snethen, PhD, RN, FAAN
Julia A. Snethen, PhD, RN, FAAN is a Professor and PhD Program Director at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, College of Nursing.
Dr. Snethen has been on faculty since 2002 at the UWMilwaukee, College of Nursing. The program of research that Dr. Snethen developed has explored the health needs of children with chronic conditions globally, and ensuring the promotion of health and wellness of children from birth to emerging adulthood. Dr. Snethen’s research has been acknowledged by the Greater Wisconsin Chapter; Society of Pediatric Nurses Excellence in Nursing Research Award; Midwest Nursing Research Society, Honor a Researcher and Junior Researcher Award; College of Nursing New Investigator Award; Experienced Researcher Award, Eta Nu Chapter of Sigma; and the Harriet Werley Faculty Research Award. Dr. Snethen has disseminated her work through 278 publications, paper and poster presentations. Additionally, Dr. Snethen has established multiple programs to promote research including the UWM CON Research Academy and the Annual Student Poster Symposium, in its 7th year, to facilitate scholarship and professional dialogue highlighting students’ research, QI, and evidence-based projects, and an innovative mentoring and educational program for doctoral students to learn to coordinate research teams.
Recognized as an expert in Maternal-Child Health, Dr. Snethen provided sustained consultations in the U.S. and Canada. Working with nurse led interdisciplinary teams Dr. Snethen facilitated the development of innovations to increase quality/safety, improved outcomes such as increased breastfeeding rates, and strengthening developmental outcomes for NICU graduates. Dr. Snethen initiated the College of Nursing first international study abroad course (2003), and an ongoing Maternal-Child nursing education program in Thailand. Outcomes of the program included award winning research projects, presentations, and the mentorship of nurse researchers in Thailand.
As a master teacher, Dr. Snethen has taught successfully at all levels of the CON and served as major professor to 30 PhD students and supervisor for 49 DNP and MSN students. Dr. Snethen’s teaching received the Society of Pediatric Nurses, Excellence in Education award; the Wisconsin Nurses Association Rita Kisting Sparks Excellence in Nursing Education Award; and the UWM Alumni Association campus wide Award for Teaching Excellence. In the UWM College of Nursing Dr. Snethen twice received the Teaching Excellence Award and the Excellence in Education Award through the Daisy Foundation. Dr. Snethen’s work with graduate students reflects her commitment to mentoring and nurturing the next generation of clinical and research scholars.
Dr. Snethen’s accomplishments led to her induction (2017) into the American Academy of Nursing (AAN) and chairing the Expert Panel on Child, Adolescent & Family (2018-2020). As the president of the Society of Pediatric Nurses (SPN) state chapter (2008-2012), Dr. Snethen oversaw educational and service meetings. Nationally, Dr. Snethen chaired the SPN conference planning committee (2009-2012). As an Associate Editor for Nursing Outlook from 2008 to present, Dr. Snethen has contributed to the advancement of health policy and practice, as well as the International Academy of Nurse Editors (INANE). Dr. Snethen has worked on the International Academy of Nurse Editors conference planning committee (2015-2022), chairing the awards committee for three years.
Marivic B. Torregosa PhD, RN, FNP-BC
Originally from the Philippines, I came to the United States in 1994 and started a nursing career in as a medical surgical nurse. In 2002, I completed a degree in advanced nursing practice and became a Family Nurse Practitioner. At this time, I started working as a clinical instructor at Texas A&M International University Canseco School of Nursing and pursued a research doctorate at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee thereafter. Throughout my journey towards promotion and tenure, I took on several tasks to advance the mission of my institution and the college through research, teaching, and service. I managed several multi-million programmatic grants to support my research agenda on health disparities particularly on the areas of nursing student success and improved access to healthcare among minority populations. I believe that increasing the representation of minorities in health care professions through improved student success could help address the health care gap. This research agenda started back when I was a doctoral student at UWM and has since then remained as my focus in my academic career. In fact, I won my first research grant award from the National League for Nursing (NLN) as a doctoral student through the mentorship of Drs. Karen Morin, Rachel Schiffman, and Marcus Antonius Ynalvez – my dissertation committee members.
In 2019, I was appointed as interim Dean and became the full time Dean. Since 2019, Texas A&M International University College of Nursing and Health Sciences was able to open four new programs: BS Public Health, BS Kinesiology with a concentration on Pre-Physical Therapy/Occupational Therapy, an online Family Nurse Practitioner Program, and just recently RN-MSN Nursing Admin Program. As an administrator I was able to secure monies from administration through CARES and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) to build a new simulation lab for the Nursing Department, buy new sim lab equipment, secure money for faculty development, and other resources for students to enhance student success totaling to approximately $1.3 million. I also launched four non-credit awarding certificate programs or micro-credential programs to enhance revenue. These are now up and running in the Continuing Education Department at TAMIU. Certainly, I would not have been prepared to do the above if not for the mentoring and guidance I received from my mentors at UWM.
Julie A. Willems Van Dijk, PhD, RN
Julie most recently served in Governor Tony Evers’ administration as the Deputy Secretary and State Health Officer for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. From the beginning of the pandemic until her retirement in September 2021, she led the Department’s COVID-19 response, building an infrastructure for COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, surveillance, and vaccination to control and contain disease spread. Committed to data transparency and data-driven policies, she communicated with the public as one of the Department’s primary spokespeople, providing regular updates about the course of COVID-19, the state’s response, and the actions Wisconsinites could take to protect themselves.
Prior to joining the Evers Administration in 2019, she was a Senior Scientist at the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute (UWPHI), and served as the Director of County Health Rankings and Roadmaps, a national collaboration between the UWPHI and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, providing data, evidence, and guidance to over 3,000 counties who are building a culture of health. She also directed the RWJF Culture of Health Prize program, recognizing communities across the nation who were advancing health and health equity.
Julie’s ability to lead at the state and national level was built on her strong foundation in local public health where she served for 21 years as a public health nurse, director of nursing, and a health officer for Marathon County Health Department. In addition to her traditional public health work, Julie has served on the boards of Aspirus Wausau Hospital Board of Directors, Bridge Community Health Clinic, and as an elected member of the Wausau School District Board of Education.
Julie received a PhD in Nursing with an emphasis in Public Health Leadership from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She also holds a M.S.N. from UW-Oshkosh and a B.S.N. from UW-Eau Claire. Julie is a graduate of the Robert Wood Johnson Nurse Executive Fellows program, the National Public Health Leadership Institute, and is a Fellow in the American Academy of Nursing.
Melissa Anne Brown, MBA, BS, RN
I am an August 2001 graduate of the UW-Milwaukee College of Nursing. I was hired directly into a position at Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center after my UWM clinical rotation there in the summer of 2001. For the first 10 years of my career at Advocate Aurora Health, I was a bedside nurse at Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center. This first nursing position provided me with some incredible opportunities. I quickly transitioned into a nursing preceptor on my unit which then guided me into positions in our Shared Governance structure, ultimately leading to the Nursing Shared Governance Chair for Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center. During this same time, I became involved in many aspects of our EHR and began teaching classes for new hires. In 2010, Advocate Aurora Health changed EHR vendors and rolled out a plan to implement Epic at all of our hospitals. This change led me to the world of Nursing Informatics where I have held roles as an analyst, a workflow and process manager, and most recently as the Director of Partnership EMR Implementation and Operations. I feel very fortunate that my nursing career has spanned over 20 years at the same organization and has encompassed many different facets of Nursing. I believe my experiences at UWM helped to prepare me for the changing field of nursing and directly contributed to my overall success in the field.
Jessica Castner, PhD, RN, CEN, AE-C, FAEN, FAAN
Dr. Jessica Castner is the 2021-2022 Distinguished Nurse Scholar, National Academy of Medicine, Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Emergency Nursing, and President of Castner Incorporated. Her work focuses on healthy environments and environmental determinants of health, particularly as these exposures relate to emergency department use. Dr. Castner earned her PhD in Nursing
from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Master’s in Nursing with a Public Health Nursing focus from the University of Missouri-Columbia, and Bachelors of Nursing from Marquette University.
Cheryl Ann Ceretto, RN, MS, CCDS
I am Cheryl Ceretto, Registered Nurse (mom, wife, friend, grandmother, optimist…)
I achieved a diploma from Milwaukee County General Hospital School of Nursing (1976), then a Bachelors of Nursing from Marquette University (1986), then Masters of Nursing from UW-Milwaukee College of Nursing (2000). I LOVE learning!
My first job as an RN was at St Mary’s in Milwaukee (1 of 64 new nurses) on a post-operative unit (for 3 months). I transferred to a 14-bed ICD/ SICU for 1.5 years – learned a lot! FAST! I then went to Mount Sinai in CCU, then advanced to the educator in cardiology at Mount Sinai.
In 1992 I accepted an offer to move to Aurora St Lukes with Dr. Akhtar, who was considered one of the preeminent Electrophysiology (EP) MDs in the world. Two MDs, 1 RN (me) and 1 secretary came to St Luke’s Medical Center to begin an exciting, advancing medical specialty of cardiac electrophysiology! Much of the preparation began in the 1980s when Dr. Akhtar and Dr. Donald Schmidt (both Professors of Medicine at UW Medical School) were innovative practitioners and researchers.
Since 1992, EP has grown! I have had several roles in the area of cardiac EP, collaborating with the cardiology department. Some of the opportunities include patient caregiver, educator (patients, significant others, RNs, MDs, fellows, APNs, HAs, etc), staff supervisor, RN coordinator for Atrial Fibrillation Centers in Wisconsin and RN coordinator for Left Atrial Appendage Closure (LAAC) for 8 MDs at St Lukes Medical Center. The diversity, culture and spirit at UW-Milwaukee College of Nursing prepared me for many of my roles over the years!
My personal life is a Lifetime Movie Channel story – too long!
The year 2020 was a difficult year for everyone. My mom was at my home in hospice before she passed 6 weeks later. My sister-in-law, aunt and uncle passed (not COVID related). I retired this February 2021 BUT I continue to be a “nurse” every day. I have been volunteering to give COVID vaccines and will eventually spend time with people who are near end of life without a loved one to provide a voice or a hand. I continue to do yoga, meditation, photography and travel! I keep values learned in my daily mantra.
I continue to live by these words:
“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love” Mother Teresa