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Seven faculty and staff recognized for excellence

| Diane Walkoff

Seven University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire faculty and staff members were recognized for excellence during the university's academic year opening meeting Aug. 22.

Chancellor James Schmidt presented 2017 Excellence awards to:

  • Dr. April Bleske-Rechek, professor of psychology
  • Dr. Ruth Cronje, professor of English
  • Miranda Cross-Schindler, assistant director of Continuing Education and former military benefits/veterans program manager
  • Joanne Erickson, academic department associate in English
  • Dr. Christopher Johnson, associate professor of computer science
  • Dr. Sean McAleer, professor and chair, philosophy and religious studies
  • Dr. Nicholas Phillips, associate professor of music

Each honoree received a university medallion and $1,500. All six of the UW-Eau Claire Foundation excellence awards for faculty and staff are funded by Markquart Motors and Markquart Toyota of Eau Claire. The 2017 UW System Board of Regents Excellence in Teaching Award nominee is funded by the Arnold and Lois Domer Foundation of Eau Claire.


Dr. April Bleske-Rechek

Dr. April Bleske-Rechek was honored as UW-Eau Claire's nominee for the 2017 UW System Board of Regents Excellence in Teaching Award. Bleske-Rechek, who joined the UW-Eau Claire psychology faculty in 2003, was recognized by her nominators for her enthusiasm for teaching, genuine concern for students and her commitment to using evidence-based assessment to improve student learning.

According to current and former students, Bleske-Rechek consistently provides exceptional and often life-changing learning opportunities. Her stellar teaching abilities were recognized in 2010 when she received UW-Eau Claire's Excellence in Teaching Award.

Bleske-Rechek's teaching extends from the classroom to her research lab, where more than 90 students have had the opportunity to work collaboratively with her. Her research in the field of individual differences and evolutionary psychology has been widely published in prestigious journals and shared at numerous professional conferences.

“Her effectiveness as a research mentor is tied to her student-first mindset and to her belief that research mentoring is a natural extension of her traditional classroom instruction,” UW-Eau Claire Provost Patricia A. Kleine said.

"I can state without reservation that Dr. Bleske-Rechek is the most dedicated, gifted and supportive teacher I have had the pleasure to work with at any university," said Dr. Doug Matthews, chair of the UW-Eau Claire psychology department. "She is, in my opinion, the best the UW System has to offer. Her teaching transforms lives, which in turn, transforms the world."


Dr. Ruth Cronje

Dr. Ruth Cronje received the Excellence in Service Award. Cronje, who joined UW-Eau Claire’s English faculty in 2000, was recognized by her nominators for her exceptional commitment to community service in the areas of social issues, including health care and poverty; environmental issues and citizen science; and campus-community partnerships and civic engagement.

One of Cronje's most successful community initiatives relates to health care for low-income residents. As a founding member of the Community Connections Team, a collaboration between UW-Eau Claire and Marshfield Clinic, university students and community volunteers help assess patients' needs and connect them with community resources.

"Dr. Cronje's vision to change the mindset of students as it relates to poverty, social injustice and the social determinants of health is clear in her dedication to the program and to student learning," said Dr. Narayana S. Murali, executive director of Marshfield Clinic. "The Community Connections Team would not be possible without the tremendous support and leadership from Dr. Cronje."

Many of Cronje's publications and nearly all of her funded student-faculty research collaborations have directly involved community service or university-community partnerships. Even with her high level of community and professional engagement, Cronje's service to the English department and university remains strong as demonstrated by her prolific committee work.

"She serves us all by being an effective and visionary leader, a committed and generous civic engagement expert, and an active and innovative contributor to community efforts to solve real community problems," said Dr. Garry Running, professor of geography. "There is no finer example of a faculty member steeped in service to our students, our campus community and our community at large than Dr. Ruth Cronje."


Miranda Cross-Schindler

Miranda Cross-Schindler received the Excellence in Performance Award for Administrative and Professional Academic Staff. Cross-Schindler, who joined UW-Eau Claire’s academic staff in 2011, was commended by her nominators for her commitment to student success and her leadership in providing high-quality educational support services to student veterans.

"Miranda's position requires a broad range of knowledge and expertise in the intricacies of military education benefits," said Tessa Perchinsky, UW-Eau Claire registrar. "She is a leader among fellow certifying officials and maintains a high level of proficiency, knowledge and productivity despite constant state and federal regulatory changes. She remains respectful, patient, courteous and sincere even in the most challenging of situations."

While Cross-Schindler's work primarily relates to UW-Eau Claire student veterans, she also has demonstrated exceptional leadership throughout the UW System.

"Miranda's exemplary direct work with student veterans deserves to be celebrated and awarded in its own right," said Dennis Rhodes, program and policy analyst for UW System Administration. "In addition, Miranda has emerged as leader in statewide efforts to effectively, efficiently and humanely administer a complex and intertwining mix of state and federal veterans' benefits. Friendly, warm, approachable and with a deep knowledge of veterans' benefits, student services, academic advising and prior learning, Miranda is a 'go to' resource for colleagues across the UW System."

Under Cross-Schindler's leadership, UW-Eau Claire has repeatedly received national recognitions for its support of student veterans. Most recently the university was designated as a Military Friendly School for 2017 by Victory Media; was named a top school in the 2017 Military Advanced Education & Transition Guide to Colleges & Universities; was named to the Military Times Best for Vets: Colleges 2017 list; and was named among the top 10 percent nationally and No. 2 in Wisconsin in College Factual's Best Schools for Veterans ranking.


Joanne Erickson

Joanne Erickson received the Excellence in Performance Award for University Staff. Erickson, who has served at UW-Eau Claire for the past 28 years, currently is the academic department associate in the English department. She previously worked in Duplicating Services (now Printing Services), the University Bookstore and in the philosophy and religious studies department. Erickson's nominators noted that she epitomizes excellence in overall job performance and has served thousands of students, faculty, staff and community members during her time at the university.

English faculty members and colleagues from across campus commended her professionalism, collegiality and ability to remain calm while expertly juggling a variety of projects. As the English department ADA, Erickson directly supports 45 faculty and staff. She is responsible for scheduling the department's 200-plus courses, which involves organizing course offerings and schedules, as well as managing the particulars of the university's CampS system.

Erickson's nominators from across campus also commended her "legendary proofreading skills." In addition to proofreading most material in the English department, she also consistently informs other units on campus of typos in publicly displayed material.

"It is difficult to do justice to the incredible work that Joanne does, the caring manner in which she treats colleagues, students and community members, and the positive impact she has on the students, faculty, staff and guests at UW-Eau Claire," said Dr. Erica Benson, chair of the English department. "The ease with which the English department functions, the congenial environment in the department office and the strong relationships English shares with other units on campus are largely due to Joanne's performance and her commitment to UW-Eau Claire."


Dr. Christopher Johnson

Dr. Christopher Johnson received the Excellence in Teaching Award. Selection for the honor is based on a survey of recent UW-Eau Claire alumni.

Johnson, who joined UW-Eau Claire’s computer science faculty in 2011, is recognized by former students for his ability to teach complicated concepts clearly, for the excitement he brings to the classroom and his passion for teaching and learning.

In addition to his teaching and research, which focuses on programming languages, computer graphics, game development and 3D printing, Johnson is committed to student learning beyond the classroom.

"Dr. Johnson goes far and above the normal call that is expected from a professor,” said Kevin Breunig, a 2016 computer science graduate. “While being both wise and competent in all subject matters that he teaches, he stays involved with students outside the classroom as well, encouraging them to attend events and showing them how to further increase their knowledge. He is an amazing role model to those who know him.”


Dr. Sean McAleer

Dr. Sean McAleer received the Excellence in Advising Award. The recipient of the advising award is chosen through a selection process of the Student Senate that includes nominations from current students.

McAleer, who joined the UW-Eau Claire philosophy and religious studies faculty in 2003, is recognized by students and colleagues as an exemplary advisor who works actively to help students make judicious decisions about their academic careers. Students appreciate his availability and willingness to spend the time necessary to answer their questions thoroughly.

The current Student Senate president and vice president, Katy McGarry and Nick Webber, expressed their appreciation for McAleer's advising, noting that he consistently goes "above and beyond" and applaud his consistency, dedication and helpful spirit.

"Dr. McAleer strikes just the right balance of empathy and expectation of student responsibility," said Dr. Marc Goulet, administrative officer in the College of Arts and Sciences. "He delivers sound advice and critique in constructive ways."


Dr. Nicholas Phillips

Dr. Nicholas Phillips received the Excellence in Scholarship Award. Phillips, a music and theatre arts faculty member since 2007, is an exceptional soloist and collaborative artist, performing throughout the United States and internationally.

One of Phillips’ most innovative CDs, “American Vernacular: New Music for Solo Piano,” completed in January 2014, exemplifies the scholarship award’s emphasis on achievement, innovation and productivity. The project included 10 new works written for Phillips by 10 significant American composers. It has been featured on prestigious lists such as “Classical Playlist” in The New York Times, was named album of the week on the New York City classical music station WQXR and was featured on Chicago’s classical station WFMT.

Phillips regularly presents at the annual College Music Society International Conference, among other professional conferences. His scholarly interests also have extended to faculty-student collaborative research projects focusing on investigations into specific artistic works, performance practices, pedagogical issues and work with student composers.

“Dr. Phillips’ activities and accomplishments in the area of creative activity are stunning,” said Dr. Alan Rieck, former chair of the music and theatre arts department. “He is an excellent model for our students as a soloist and collaborative pianist, and his work has had impact locally, nationally and internationally while bringing tremendous recognition to UW-Eau Claire.”

Top photo caption: UW-Eau Claire's 2017 Faculty/Staff Excellence Award recipients are (from left) Miranda Cross-Schindler, Dr. Ruth Cronje, Dr. Nicholas Phillips, Dr. Sean McAleer, Dr. Christopher Johnson and Joanne Erickson. Not pictured: Dr. April Bleske-Rechek.