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Six faculty, staff honored with Excellence awards

RELEASED: Aug. 24, 2010

UW-Eau Claire's 2010 faculty and staff excellence award recipients are (front, from left) Dr. Paula Kleintjes Neff, Dr. Scott Lester, Wanda Schulner, and (back, from left) Constance Russell, Dr. April Bleske-Recheck and Theresa Wells.

EAU CLAIRE — Six University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire faculty and staff members were recognized for excellence during the university's academic year opening meeting Aug. 24.

Chancellor Brian Levin-Stankevich presented 2010 Excellence awards to Dr. April Bleske-Recheck, associate professor of psychology; Dr. Paula Kleintjes Neff, professor of biology; Dr. Scott Lester, professor of management, department of management and marketing; Constance Russell, associate registrar; Wanda Schulner, program assistant to the vice chancellor for academic affairs; and Theresa Wells, academic adviser and senior lecturer, department of management and marketing.

Each honoree received a university medallion and a $1,500 check from the UW-Eau Claire Foundation. The Excellence in Teaching Award and the Excellence in Performance awards for classified and academic staff are funded by Markquart Motors and Markquart Toyota of Eau Claire.

Bleske-Rechek, who joined the university in 2003, received the Excellence in Teaching Award. She teaches a basic research methods course, a senior level seminar designed to emphasize scientific thinking and the scientific process, and several upper level courses that focus on human individual differences, personality and mating.

Two years ago Bleske-Rechek was chosen as the university's first faculty fellow for the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning. She continues to work with CETL as a collegial consultant for statistics and research design. Each year she closely mentors up to 24 students in apprenticeships, research projects, reading groups and directed studies. Through those collaborations with students Bleske-Rechek has published, on average, two empirical papers per year over the past several years.

Her research interests revolve around the interplay between individual differences and evolutionary psychology. Her lab recently completed an initial analysis of UW-Eau Claire freshmen students' scientific literacy and life aspirations (work-family balance), an analysis that won her lab's fifth student research day poster award. The freshmen will be surveyed again in 2012, as seniors, to investigate change over the college years in their science literacy and life plans. Bleske-Rechek is currently preparing a study of women's physical attractiveness over the menstrual cycle for publication. "Seeing my students developing their scientific thinking and research skills to the point that they could track all these women, analyze the data and present their findings at an international conference is very rewarding," Bleske-Rechek said. "I find it most satisfying to be involved in facilitating my students' development into confident lifelong consumers and producers of scientific research."

According to Dr. Lori Bica, psychology department chair, the consistency of Bleske-Rechek's exceptional ratings across semesters, courses and evaluation items is striking. Evaluations describe Bleske-Rechek and her courses as simultaneously challenging and engaging.

"April teaches a broad range of courses and in each she has earned the highest level of student respect while maintaining exceptional standards for student achievement," Bica said. "These courses include ones where this level of student satisfaction and achievement are notoriously difficult to attain.

"By any measure, she is master educator. Feedback from peer observations and student evaluations of instruction, as well as a review of April's teaching materials, demonstrate a consistently outstanding record of teaching excellence."

Kleintjes Neff, who has served on the UW-Eau Claire faculty since 1993, received the Excellence in Service Award. "Paula's research contributes to a larger effort within her discipline," said Dr. Wilson Taylor, chair of the biology department, noting that Kleintjes Neff is in a position to teach thousands of people about best practices and inspire them to take action, which can have a broad and lasting impact. "The benefit to society as a whole is the attempt to achieve a more robust environment, greater biodiversity and a healthier planet for all."

Kleintjes Neff was instrumental in establishing the conservation biology comprehensive major at UW-Eau Claire. She continues to serve as an adviser for the major and consistently receives positive responses on student evaluations regarding her teaching effectiveness.

Described as a prolific scholar, an enthusiastic and engaging teacher and a classroom innovator, Kleintjes Neff was commended for leading by example and inspiring others to care about their natural world, whether they are students, faculty or community members.

She has fostered a strong and fruitful partnership between the university and Eau Claire County's Beaver Creek Nature Preserve, where she serves on the advisory board. She helped guide the formation of the Citizen Science Center, which trains volunteers in environmental monitoring. Kleintjes Neff emphatically believes that people appreciate the natural world more when they understand it. Therefore, she is an active and passionate contributor to outreach activities at the preserve, involving her students in service projects, speaking to community and school groups and participating in countless conservation projects to show people the way.

Lester, who has taught at UW-Eau Claire for 13 years, received the Excellence in Scholarship Award. He is a prolific and influential scholar, having published 31 refereed journal articles, four refereed book chapters, and numerous conference proceedings and presentations. Widely regarded as an extremely collegial collaborator who "works hard to get the job done right," he has co-authored articles with 15 different faculty members in the College of Business. Lester's research has appeared in top-tier publications in the field of management, including the Academy of Management Journal, Journal of Applied Psychology, Journal of Management, Academy of Management Learning and Education Journal and Journal of Management Education. Many of his projects involve student/faculty collaborative research and have resulted in peer-reviewed journal publications for his management students.

According to Dr. Robert Sutton, associate dean of the College of Business, more people in the college are doing research because of Lester's example and leadership, and students and faculty are drawn to UW-Eau Claire for the opportunity to work and study with Lester. Within his discipline Lester investigates issues related to human resource management and organizational behavior. Colleagues describe his work as conceptually innovative, methodologically rigorous, conscientious and outstanding.

"His ability to bridge discipline-based research with learning and pedagogical issues, publishing contributions of both types in top-tier journals, speaks to his inquisitive nature and disciplined work ethic," said Dr. Timothy Vaughan, chair of the management and marketing department.

Lester also has been commended for his dedication to service-learning. He was recognized in 2006 for mentoring more than 60 service-learning students and conducting research on the effectiveness of the program.

Russell, who began her career at UW-Eau Claire as registration assistant, was honored with the Excellence in Performance Award for Academic Staff. Russell has been the associate registrar since 2002, and will retire this year after 35 years of service. In support of her nomination, colleagues described Russell as "a dedicated and capable professional whose work is a key factor in the success of our registration system." In her role, Russell plans, directs and monitors all of the university's registration processes for credit courses and maintains each term's enrollment and student data files.

According to her supervisor, registrar Sue Moore, Russell is responsible for many of the most visible elements of the university's business, which impact nearly everyone — faculty, staff, students and community members — and carries them out with "expertise and aplomb." Other nomination materials emphasized the volume of work Russell does behind the scenes as well.

Over the years, Russell has worked on the development and implementation of major student systems, such as the online academic record, course scheduling and the Blugold registration system. Her broad knowledge base, technical skills and problem-solving abilities have made her a key player in the stable evolution of student registration services at the university.

"During each conversion she worked tirelessly to be sure that planning and training were maximized and impact to students and faculty was minimized," said former colleague Susie Warden. An ardent student advocate, Russell is known for researching problems that affect even one student's registration experience, going above and beyond to ensure that computer conversion is not used as an excuse and that issues are resolved.

"No one has worked harder to make sure that changes helped students and their advisers or were as painless as possible," said Debbie Gough, director of advising, lauding Russell's ability to focus on student needs while capturing the broader goals and objectives of the university.

Schulner, who has served the university for 23 years, received the Excellence in Performance Award for Classified Staff. In her nomination Schulner was described as someone who has made a huge impact wherever she has worked and who repeatedly has shown a vast and varied knowledge of her duties and of the university. Schulner first worked as a program assistant in the geology department, moving to the Student Senate office and most recently working in the offices of Academic Affairs and Affirmative Action. Known for her professionalism, attention to detail and knowledge of the campus, Schulner was recognized for serving an instrumental role in recent campus initiatives, including the Higher Learning Commission reaccreditation, the PEEQ program, the Blugold commitment process and the supplemental budget process.

"While many of us had constructed the PEEQ process to help move the university more toward a culture where honest dialogue and evidence-based decision making would reign, Wanda's participation in PEEQ was crucial in shaping how that process would actually work in practice," said Dr. Andrew Phillips, former associate vice chancellor for academic affairs and dean of graduate studies.

Nancy Amdahl, dean assistant in graduate studies, said that Schulner stepped into a "difficult position at a very difficult time" when she moved into her latest role. She is currently program assistant advanced confidential for the associate vice chancellor for academic affairs.

Schulner serves on the Classified Staff Professional Development and Classified Staff Grant Fund committees. In addition to her years of service and dedication to the university, Schulner was lauded for her grace and tenacity during her recent battle with breast cancer.

"Wanda has provided this outstanding service while serving on numerous campus committees, furthering her education and fighting a very serious personal illness without a single complaint or concern for herself over her duties," said Robert Butterfield, chair of the nomination committee.

"Beating cancer was just one more task at which Wanda surpassed even the highest expectations," Dr. Michael Wick, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs, said.

Wells, who joined the College of Business in 1993, was honored with the Excellence in Advising Award. The award recognizes outstanding advising qualities and practices and is based on feedback from current students. The nominations described Wells as a teacher, mentor, motivator, friend and advocate and recognized her "tireless support and dedication to students."

Several students noted her passion for helping operations management students earn their CPIM — a professional level certification in production and inventory management. Wells offers an annual review course and established the UW-Eau Claire CPIM Enhancement Scholarship for those working to complete the final three CPIM exams. As a result of these efforts, many students have received a CPIM prior to graduation. Students commented that Wells listens to their concerns, questions and future goals, tailoring course selection and recommendations to their individual needs.

Wells is president of the Indianhead professional chapter of APICS — an international association for operations management — and has advised the UW-Eau Claire student chapter of APICS for 17 years. "Without her heavy involvement, APICS would not be the successful organization it has become," noted a student board member. "She attends every meeting, tour, or event the group has going on." Others appreciated the many networking opportunities she facilitates locally and statewide and commented that she has helped them develop leadership skills.

Wells is involved in freshman orientation advising and has mentored a remarkable number of student service-learning projects. She was recognized as a Beta Gamma Sigma Outstanding Professor in 2009 and was honored with the APICS National Student Mentor Award and the UW-Eau Claire Excellence in Advising Award in 2004.

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RD/DW

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