UW-Eau Claire Alumni

Outstanding Recent Alumnus Award
2013 Recipients

Brandon Johnson, Kyle Newmaster and Zachary Verriden will receive the Outstanding Recent Alumnus Award, which acknowledges special achievements and great promise of alumni who are within 15 years of their graduation from UW-Eau Claire.

Carson KipferBrandon Johnson graduated from UW-Eau Claire in 1998 with a bachelor's degree in theatre arts and has been a working actor and television host for more than a decade. His current work includes playing the character Gary Wilde on the Disney Channel's hit show "Shake It Up!" He also recently hosted two seasons of HGTV's "My Yard Goes Disney" and "Meet the Disney Legends," TNT's reality competition show "72 hours" and NBC's singing competition "The Winner Is."

Johnson's first big break into acting came in 2003 when he was cast as the character Dr. Michael McBain on the ABC daytime series "One Life to Live." He played that role until 2004 and returned to the series in 2007-08 in the recurring role of Chuck Wilson III. Johnson also appeared in three episodes of the Disney Channel series "Hannah Montana" as character Brian Winters. His feature film credits include "The Notorious Bettie Page," alongside Gretchen Mol and Lili Taylor; the dark comedy "Rick," alongside Bill Pullman and Aaron Stanford; and lead roles in horror films "Malevolence" and "Little Erin Merryweather," which was an official selection of the Cannes Film Festival. Johnson also played roles in political dramas "Invisible Evidence," shot entirely on location in Guatemala, and "The Mondavi Gang."

Johnson's introduction to hosting began with the infotainment show "Cool In Your Code," shot entirely throughout each of New York City's boroughs. The show was nominated for 18 New York Emmy Awards, winning four of them. Simultaneously, Johnson worked as the premiere host for OLN's "Rally America" and on FOX Soccer's "Fox Soccer USA." Soon after, he booked "Formula D" for the G4 TV Network. Johnson also hosted HGTV's "RV 2012," "RV 2013" and "Get Out, Way Out!" which sparked opportunities to co-host HGTV's "Consumer Electronics Show" and the "Homes and Housewares" special. He also shot more than 100 episodes of USA's "Character Fantasy," hosted VH1 reality pilots "Perfect" and "Pretty Smart," and another on TNT titled "The Great American Scavenger Hunt."

With 20 years of drumming experience and involvement in the music industry, Johnson also became a correspondent for The MySpace Music Feed, where he interviewed up-and-coming artists and world-renowned musicians.

Carson KipferKyle Newmaster graduated from UW-Eau Claire in 1999 with a bachelor's degree in music education and is an award-winning film, television and game music composer.

Being a self-professed "Star Wars" fanatic, Newmaster is most proud of his work co-scoring the music for the Lucas Arts' "Kinect Star Wars" game, which was recorded at the famed Abbey Road Studios in London with the London Symphony Orchestra. He also provided music and orchestrated for other Lucas Arts games, including "Star Wars: The Old Republic" and "Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings."

Newmaster is primarily active in film scoring and recently composed the score for the films "Channeling," "Something Wicked," "Blood Shot" and "The Myth of the American Sleepover," which was an official selection at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. Other credits include arranging and orchestrating the score for Rob Zombie's animated film "The Haunted World of El Superbeasto," scoring the Hallmark Channel movie "Bound by a Secret" and providing or licensing music for a variety of other television shows, including "Little People, Big World," "Crash" and "Jimmy Kimmel Live."

When he is not writing music, Newmaster is an active professional trumpet player who performs and records in a variety of groups, including the Brian Setzer Orchestra and the Seth MacFarlane Big Band. He has recorded for numerous television shows, including "Family Guy," "The Cleveland Show," "The Middle," "America's Got Talent" and "American Dad."

Newmaster received a master's degree in composing for contemporary media from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., and frequently gives lectures on composing and the music industry at universities, including guest lectures at UW-Eau Claire. Newmaster also continues to compose and arrange for the Columbus Jazz Orchestra and has provided music for a variety of the ensemble's guest artists.

Carson KipferZachary Verriden graduated from UW-Eau Claire in 2004 with a bachelor's degree in political science and has a passion for and commitment to urban education. After graduating from UW-Eau Claire, Verriden immediately joined Teach For America, through which he spent two years teaching in Camden, N.J., and later went on to become one of the top recruiters for Teach For America after earning his master's degree in education policy and management from Harvard University in 2008.

He returned to teaching in 2009 at YES Prep Southwest School in Houston, where he served as the 10th- and 11th-grade level chair, instructional fellow and history instructor. His students achieved 100 percent passing and 67 percent commended scores for 10th-grade world history students on the Texas state test, and 100 percent passing and 74 percent commended scores for 11th-grade U.S. history students on the Texas state test.

In 2011 Verriden received his principal and business certificate from the Jones School of Business at Rice University in Houston and returned to Wisconsin to be close to family and work to improve schools in his home state. He currently is the principal of HOPE Christian High School in Milwaukee. In 2011, his first year as principal, the school boasted a 100 percent college acceptance rate for the senior class, a first for a high school on Milwaukee's north side. In his second year, the school achieved 100 percent college acceptance once again and raised the school ACT average to outpace the city, state and national averages for African-American students. Verriden also received recognition from Gov. Scott Walker for his hard work and dedication to improving education in urban schools. HOPE's current senior class is already at 83 percent for its college acceptance this school year.

Verriden's wife, Anya Woronzoff, said her husband's greatest strength is his unrelenting passion and belief in equality and in urban education.

"Zach is under the firm belief that any child, regardless of race, gender or ZIP code, is entitled to a quality education and to fulfill their dreams," Woronzoff said. "Just by stepping into his school you can see Zach's commitment is infectious. His passion for social justice is marked by the great successes his high school has seen since he has taken over as principal."

View the list of past recipients of this award.