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Bonnie Isaacson to receive Regents Academic Staff Excellence Award

February 28, 2014
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Bonnie Isaacson

EAU CLAIRE — A University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire nontraditional student adviser known for her optimism and can-do attitude is the recipient of the UW System's 2014 Regents Academic Staff Excellence Award.

Bonnie Isaacson will receive the award during the UW System Board of Regents meeting March 6 in Madison. The award recognizes the recipient's dedication, excellence of performance, personal interaction, initiative and creativity, and outstanding achievement.

Isaacson began her career at UW-Eau Claire in 1990 working as a program assistant in several departments while completing her bachelor's and master's degrees. As someone who returned to college after several years away, her journey was similar to those of the adult students she advises today.

"My career path started as a low-income, first-generation student enrolled at UW-Barron County following high school," Isaacson said. "Fourteen years later, now married and with four children, I was back in school at UW-Eau Claire for a bachelor's degree, then on to a master's degree at UW-Stout."

Isaacson has been advising and advocating for nontraditional, veteran and transfer students at UW-Eau Claire since 1995. She created the Adult Student Welcome program, which is an expanded orientation specifically for nontraditional students to assist them in their transition to the role of university student. She also developed the curriculum for and teaches a one-credit course, "Foundations for Academic Success."

"The course helps returning adult students brush up on rusty study skills, balance their many roles through time-management skills, learn about campus resources to aid in academic success, understand budgeting and financial aid resources, and learn about ways nontraditional students can be involved in immersion experiences or study abroad," Isaacson said.

Because of her work with nontraditional students, Isaacson said she anticipated an influx of military veterans wanting to use education benefits.

"We saw a need to be proactive and ready to serve this unique population of students," Isaacson said. "We established a veteran student advisory committee and opened the Veterans Center on campus. Here veteran students can learn about campus resources, study, relax and share camaraderie with others from similar situations."

Isaacson said she is in a unique position to help Chippewa Valley Technical College students who wish to transfer to UW-Eau Claire. As a part-time adjunct staff member at CVTC, she advises students enrolled in the liberal arts transfer program, offering advice on CVTC courses that will transfer to UW-Eau Claire and meet graduation or major requirements.

Isaacson serves on several committees and boards related to her position at UW-Eau Claire. Among them are the UW Systemwide Committee on Veterans Issues, Western Dairyland RENEW Advisory Board and the Eau Claire County Hunger Coalition.

"Service to the Eau Claire community and knowing referrals to resources is important in serving nontraditional students," Isaacson said.

She also is chair of UW-Eau Claire's Nontraditional Student Advisory Committee, co- chair of the Veterans Advisory Committee and a member of the CVTC/UW-Eau Claire Liberal Arts Advisory Committee.

Isaacson's most outstanding achievement is the improvement in the lives of those students she touches in her work, said UW-Eau Claire Chancellor James Schmidt.

"Ms. Isaacson's magical people skills, extraordinary presentation talents and the effort she expends to establish and maintain solid relationships with everyone she encounters are central reasons she is so successful in her work," Schmidt said. "She exhibits a first-rate work ethic, an amazing ability to creatively solve problems, the initiative to see and take on new issues, a congenial, collaborative manner, and a willingness to follow through on tasks large or small."

Debbie Gough, director of advising and new student initiatives at UW-Eau Claire, said for the past decade Isaacson has been the person at the university who has most consistently advocated for nontraditional students while at the same time providing the services they need to be successful.

"She is, first and foremost, a caring, concerned and knowledgeable adviser," Gough said. "People love working with Bonnie. Her quiet demeanor is a calming presence in any group. She also consistently and substantially demonstrates an innovative approach to her job. She does this in two ways: identifying groups of students the university is not serving as well as it could and improving programming for students she already serves."

UW-Eau Claire senior social work major Tina Tryggestad said she first met Isaacson as a CVTC student in the college's liberal arts transfer program.

"Bonnie is one of the most dedicated people I have met," Tryggestad said. "Her understanding of my unique needs as an adult student has been significant in my continued academic success. She encourages her students to recognize not only what we will receive from furthering our education but also what we are able to contribute to class discussions and the academic environment."

As a recipient of the UW System excellence award, Isaacson will receive $5,000 to be used for professional or program development activities. She also received UW-Eau Claire's Excellence in Performance Award for Administrative and Professional Academic Staff in 2013.

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