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Nine UW-Eau Claire graduates to receive Alumni Association awards

December 13, 2013

EAU CLAIRE — Nine graduates of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire will receive awards from the UW-Eau Claire Alumni Association Dec. 21 at a luncheon and ceremony in conjunction with winter commencement.

Lifetime Excellence Award

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Dr. Robert Sindelar

Dr. Robert Sindelar, a 1978 physics and mathematics graduate of UW-Eau Claire, will receive the Lifetime Excellence Award. The award is presented to alumni who have demonstrated longtime and successful commitment to their careers and communities. Recipients have made positive and dramatic impact through dedication to service and have lived their lives as a testimony to UW-Eau Claire's motto, "Excellence."

Sindelar is a senior advisory engineer in the Science and Technology Directorate at the Savannah River National Laboratory, a U.S. Department of Energy applied research and development national laboratory. Sindelar has 28 years of research and development experience in nuclear science. He is internationally recognized for his work in nuclear fuel management and water decontamination.

Earlier this year, Sindelar spent three months in Japan as an Embassy Science Fellow, where he assisted the Japanese government with decontamination efforts in the Fukushima region, where a major earthquake and subsequent tsunami severely damaged a nuclear power plant in 2011.

Sindelar has been a consultant and lecturer for the International Atomic Energy Agency and NATO, where he led workshops on spent fuel management practices. After graduating from UW-Eau Claire, Sindelar received a master's degree and doctorate in nuclear engineering from UW-Madison.

President's Award

Rakesh Sreenivasam and Dr. Tim Nelson will receive the President's Award, which recognizes outstanding professional and personal achievements and service to UW-Eau Claire.

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Rakesh Sreevinasam
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Dr. Tim Nelson

Sreenivasam received a bachelor's degree in biology from UW-Eau Claire in 1988 and currently is the vice president of operations for North America for Nestle Health Science. He is based in Minnetonka, Minn., but over the course of his 19-year career with Nestle, he has worked throughout the country and the world. Sreenivasam has worked at Nestle facilities in Switzerland, Morocco, Germany and Mexico. He also has been based in Virginia, Illinois, California, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Sreenivasam and his family currently live in Eau Claire.

Sreenivasam, who was born in India, moved to the U.S. when he was 10 years old. He met his wife, Renee, a 1986 UW-Eau Claire medical technology graduate, in an organic chemistry and physics class. After graduating from UW-Eau Claire, Sreenivasam attended the University of Minnesota, where he earned a degree in mechanical engineering.

Nelson received a bachelor's degree in biochemistry and molecular biology from UW-Eau Claire in 1998. He serves as director of the Todd and Karen Wanek Family Program for Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS), which is part of the Mayo Clinic's Center for Regenerative Medicine. HLHS is a rare defect in which the left side of the heart is critically underdeveloped.

Nelson leads a research team working with induced pluripotent stem cells. Researchers take pieces of human skin and bioengineer them to look and feel like embryonic stem cells. Those cells are then used as seeds, planted into diseased tissue, to grow new parts.

Thanks to Nelson's research, the Mayo Clinic will lead the first U.S. stem cell clinical trial for pediatric congenital heart disease. The trial will test the safety and feasibility of delivering personalized cell-based therapy into the hearts of 10 infants affected by HLHS.

Nelson and his research were featured on the ABC News program "Nightline" in January, and he has visited the UW-Eau Claire campus in the past to talk with students about internship opportunities and his cutting-edge research in regenerative medicine.

Nelson received his medical and doctoral degrees from the Medical College of Wisconsin.

Alumni Distinguished Achievement Award

Jerry Eliason, Krystyna Wolniakowski and Dr. Bart Wilson will receive the Alumni Distinguished Achievement Award, which recognizes distinguished service to the community, state or nation in a manner that brings credit upon the recipient and the university.

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Jerry Eliason

Eliason graduated from UW-Eau Claire in 1978 with a bachelor's degree in environmental and public health. His first job out of school was in the water quality lab of the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District in Duluth, where he worked for five years. He then joined the Minnesota Department of Public Safety as a driver's license examiner, was named Minnesota's examiner of the year in 2001 and was promoted to assistant regional supervisor in 2002.

A resident of Cloquet, Minn., Eliason said his reason for seeking employment in the Duluth area was to feed his growing interest in exploring and documenting Lake Superior shipwrecks. During the 1980s he published a dozen magazine articles about shipwrecks, many featuring his underwater photography.

Eliason is part of a three-member team that has been searching for sunken ships for more than three decades. He and his fellow crew members have discovered a total of 12 shipwrecks, 11 in Lake Superior and one in the North Atlantic. Two sunken freighters were discovered this year alone: the Henry B. Smith and the Scotiadoc.

Professor emeritus Dr. Robert Nelson, one of Eliason's environmental health instructors at UW-Eau Claire, assisted the Eliason crew in operating the underwater camera system Eliason developed and used during the Scotiadoc expedition.

"Observing Jerry's genius and savvy in planning, research and technology was truly a fulfilling and proud experience for me," Nelson said. "The other members of Jerry's team, Kraig Smith and Ken Merryman, are equally skilled, and the combination of their talents has led to many shipwreck discoveries."

Eliason is a member of the Great Lakes Shipwreck Preservation Society, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting Great Lakes shipwrecks from the looting of artifacts.

Eliason said his greatest achievement is his son, Jarrod (high school valedictorian and summa cum laude college graduate).

"At the age of 4, Jarrod attended a few classes with me at UW-Eau Claire when I couldn't find a babysitter or afford day care," he said.

A recent article in the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram describes Eliason's experiences as a shipwreck hunter.

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Krystyna Wolniakowski

Wolniakowski graduated from UW-Eau Claire in 1977 with a bachelor's degree in biology. In 1979 she received a master's degree from Oregon State University in environmental sciences with emphases in oceanography and marine ecology. She currently works as director of the Western Partnership Office for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. She previously worked in conservation for consulting firms, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and the German Marshall Fund of the U.S.

At the Oregon DEQ, she worked for 10 years on the passage of the toughest water quality standards in the country to prevent toxic pollution from being discharged into the state's waters and to protect high-quality waters in pristine wilderness areas.

During a decade abroad, Wolniakowski worked for the German Marshall Fund of the U.S., setting up the first philanthropic foundation in post-Communist Poland and helping to educate the newly democratic citizens about how to become involved in free elections. During this time she received the EcoLisc Award for her contributions to the Polish environmental movement. She was then promoted to director for Central and Eastern Europe, where she initiated grants to develop independent think tanks in economic, human rights and political reforms as well as the environment.

Wolniakowski started the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation's regional office in Portland, Ore., in 2000. Of note is her work to create the Community Salmon Fund for Washington state, leveraging millions of federal dollars with private community donations to bring almost extinct wild salmon species back from the brink to their home streams. She also is a member of the National Fish Habitat Partnership board, which oversees the restoration of marine and freshwater fish habitat across the U.S.

"My goal is to promote stewardship; protect intact, healthy habitat; and restore our nation's waterways and wildlife for future generations to learn from and enjoy," Wolniakowski said.

 Bart-Wilson-web
Dr. Bart Wilson

Wilson graduated summa cum laude and with University Honors from UW-Eau Claire in 1992 with majors in economics and mathematics. He also holds a master's degree and doctorate in economics from the University of Arizona. He is a professor of economics and law at Chapman University (Orange, Calif.) and holds the Donald P. Kennedy Endowed Chair of Economics and Law. He has joint appointments in the Argyros School of Business and Economics and the Fowler School of Law, with a specialty in experimental economics.

Wilson's current research focuses on the emergence of markets and property right systems in laboratory economies. His other research programs compare human and nonhuman primate decision-making and apply the experimental method to topics in gasoline markets, e-commerce, electric power deregulation and antitrust. Wilson is part of the team, led by Nobel laureate Vernon Smith, that founded the Economic Science Institute at Chapman in 2008.

Wilson's research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Federal Trade Commission and the International Foundation for Research in Experimental Economics. He has published papers in numerous professional journals, including the American Economic Review, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Wilson and three collaborators were awarded the 2012 Oliver E. Williamson Prize for best article in the Journal of Law, Economics and Organization for their article titled "The Ecological and Civil Mainsprings of Property: An Experimental Economic History of the Whalers' Rules of Capture."

Wilson extensively uses experimental economics in teaching undergraduate and graduate classes and has for the past eight years taught an intensive six-week program to introduce high school students and undergraduates to research in experimental economics.

Prior to joining Chapman University, Wilson taught at George Mason University in the department of economics, with affiliations in the schools of law and management. He also was a research scientist at the Economic Science Laboratory at the University of Arizona. He also spent a year in Washington, D.C., as an economist in the Division of Economic Policy Analysis and the Antitrust Division of the Federal Trade Commission.

Outstanding Recent Alumnus Award

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.

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Brandon Johnson

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.

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Kyle Newmaster

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.

 Zachary-Verriden-web
Zachary Verriden

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."

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