Excellence: Our Mission
by: Ellen Zamarripa
Seven UW-Eau Claire faculty and staff members were honored with Excellence Awards and said a variety of benefits provided by UW-Eau Claire are responsible for aiding them in becoming the educators, advisors, and award winners they are today.
These faculty and staff members have proven their dedication to the UW-Eau Claire mission of excellence and were honored with Excellence Awards on August 24 during the university's academic year opening ceremony.
Excellence Awards were presented to Dr. April Bleske-Rechek, Ms. Wanda Schulner, Dr. Scott Lester, Theresa Wells, Dr. Paula Kleintjes Neff, and Constance Russell. Dr. Paul Thomas received the 2010 Regents Teaching Excellence Award. Award recipients were recognized for a variety of achievements including teaching aptitude and performance quality.
Dr. April Bleske-Rechek, associate professor of psychology, received the 2010 Excellence in Teaching Award. She said she appreciates all of the opportunities that UW-Eau Claire offers, such as independent studies and reading groups that aid her in her teaching and research. Yet Bleske-Rechek said that creating new courses is one of the most rewarding things about teaching at UW-Eau Claire.
"I take pride in creating courses I really feel are impacting students," she said. "I am reinforced for creating courses that push students to think carefully about research and its application to humans."
In 2009, Bleske-Rechek created a seminar course for psychology students called Big Issues in Psychology which uses discussion as the primary means of instruction.
"There was a time I thought that you can't have a class with only discussion where the learning can unfold like that, but it does," Bleske-Rechek said.
The twenty students in the class are quizzed everyday on the reading materials which consist of both old classics and to-be classics in a variety of areas of psychology. Bleske-Rechek said the Senior Seminar on Big Issues is one of her favorite classes to teach.
Ms. Wanda Schulner, who has been in service at UW-Eau Claire for 23 years, received the Excellence in Performance Award for Classified Staff. As the program assistant to the associate vice chancellor for academic affairs, Schulner has an extensive job description. Her responsibilities include assisting with program and unit review processes, updating the Handbook of Faculty and Academic Staff Rules and Procedures, maintaining the Academic Affairs Web site, and helping coordinate the new employee orientation that occurs every fall.
Over the years, Schulner has had the opportunity to work with a vast number of UW-Eau Claire faculty members and she said that collaboration with her colleagues continues to be a positive influence in her life. "Whenever anything happens that's something good, you feel like you were a part of it along with everyone else who works here," Schulner said.
Though Schulner generally does not work directly with students, she said working internally with her fellow faculty members towards the common goal of helping students learn is the most rewarding aspect of UW-Eau Claire.
Like Schulner, Scott Lester, the 2010 Excellence in Scholarship Award recipient, said collaboration with the faculty at UW-Eau Claire had a hand in helping him become the educator and researcher he is today. As a professor of management, Lester teaches a number of human resource classes, maintains membership to a number of committees including the Equity Scorecard Process, and regularly writes and publishes scholarly articles that stem from his extensive research.
Lester said that when he arrived as a new faculty member at
UW-Eau Claire in 1997, he was assigned faculty members in his department who acted as mentors and helped him adapt to the UW-Eau Claire environment.
"I have been blessed with good mentors," Lester said. "They made it a smooth transition."
These initial mentors encouraged Lester to get involved and conduct research through collaboration. Lester said he has collaborated with 15 members of his department and produced a number of publications as a result.
"I think collaboration makes research more enjoyable," Lester said. "By collaborating and building on people's strengths you get a better product."
Lester also said one of the main reasons he was drawn to UW-Eau Claire was because it offers a balance between teaching and research responsibilities.
Paul Thomas was also looking for something balanced when he considered teaching at UW-Eau Claire, and he found just that in a liberal education system. Thomas, a professor of physics and astronomy, received the
UW System's 2010 Regents Teaching Excellence Award. Only two faculty or academic staff members in the UW system are honored with this prestigious award every year.
Thomas was in graduate school when he was introduced by his fellow students to the concept of a liberal arts education. "They explained to me what their experience was and I found that just wonderful…far superior," Thomas says. "I still think that today and I'm really proud to be a part of that."
Thomas is currently utilizing the benefits offered by a liberal arts university by collaborating with a fellow professor of English to create a course focusing on presentations of science on stage and in video. Thomas said he hopes to complete the course preparation within the next two years.
With a liberal education system, a variety of opportunities are provided for involvement in the student-faculty community. Theresa Wells, UW-Eau Claire academic advisor and senior lecturer in the department of management and marketing, has also discovered the opportunities of a liberal educational system. Honored with the Excellence in Advising Award, Wells currently advises students and teaches both core and upper level management courses. Wells also advises the UW-Eau Claire chapter of APICS, the Organization for Operations Management, which is a student group on campus.
"One of the greatest achievements for me is watching so many students go through APICS and become leaders," Wells said.
Wells helps promote self confidence in her students through her advising, and she can watch the assurance unfold through her 18 years of work with APICS. "I love when they become more self confident," Wells said. "That to me is something I hope I am fostering—that you can do anything, don't limit yourself."
Professor of Biology, Dr. Paula Kleintjes Neff also said it is the students that make
UW-Eau Claire a great university, and she finds self-fulfillment in seeing them achieve.
Kleintjes Neff received the Excellence in Service Award. In addition to teaching biology courses and doing research in conservation biology, she and her students have collaborated with a number of non-profit and government environmental agencies to conserve biodiversity through habitat restoration and management. Kleintjes Neff said she hopes her students see her see her as a role model for environmental stewardship and in turn, better appreciate and protect the environment.
In addition, the geographic location and biological diversity surrounding the UW-Eau Claire campus is something Kleintjes Neff said allows her students to experience a tangible teaching environment.
"To know that there is air, land and water out there that's being protected and knowing it has happened through the science education and hands-on experiences for the students, makes you feel really good," Kleintjes Neff said.
Through their years of commitment to students and faculty, and staff, as well as to research and innovation, the seven Excellence Award winners have proven that they are dedicated to continuing the mission of excellence at UW-Eau Claire.
Constance Russell, associate registrar, received the Excellence in Performance Award for Academic Staff. Russell retired at the conclusion of last year.