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A Department Committed to Excellence

| Alaina Guns

August 25, 2020
BJ Hollars

B.J. Hollars

B.J. Hollars, an associate professor of English, received the Excellence in Service Award.

Hollars, who has been at UW-Eau Claire since 2011, has been an entrepreneurial leader in the literary and creative arts community in the Chippewa Valley, says Dr. Erica Benson, professor of English and chair of the English department. Hollars is the founder and director of the Chippewa Valley Writers Guild, which is dedicated to supporting local writers’ work. His newest venture is the Midwest Artist Academy that will provide 50 high school-aged students weeklong arts-themed educational opportunities.

“The breadth, depth and intensity of professor Hollars’ service to the region’s literary and creative arts community, as well as the creative writing profession, is staggering,” Benson wrote. “I am amazed by his enduring positivity, his genuine care for others, his generous spirit and his ability to seemingly do it all.”

Jodi Thesing-Ritter, executive director for equity, diversity and inclusion at UW-Eau Claire, praised Hollars for his support of EDI work and his willingness to be of service to the campus and community.

“I have had the opportunity to work closely with B.J. on many projects in his time at UW-Eau Claire,” Thesing-Ritter wrote. “In a word, B.J. is incredible! He gives selflessly to our campus, community, students and colleagues on a regular basis.”

August 28, 2018
David Shih

Dr. David Shih

Dr. David Shih, associate professor of English, received UW-Eau Claire’s inaugural Excellence in Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Award. Shih, who joined UW-Eau Claire in 1999, was recognized by his nominators as an exceptional leader in promoting equity, diversity and inclusion efforts on campus, across the UW System, in the community and beyond by initiating new programs, communicating with diverse groups, and laying groundwork for and supporting the EDI plan.

"David's work with EDI on this campus has changed my life, teaching, scholarship and advising, and I know for a fact that so many of our students, colleagues and community members have also experienced how he 'enhances inclusion through positive communication between persons of different backgrounds,' said Dr. Joel Pace, professor of English and one of Shih's nominators. "Within minutes of meeting him, he taught me something about my area of expertise that I did not know and empowered me to place EDI at the center of my scholarship and pedagogy, where it has remained ever since. It is this selfless commitment to EDI, to spreading its important messages, and to teaching his students and colleagues to do the same that typify his career at UW-Eau Claire from the very moment he set foot on campus right up to the present."

Beyond the campus, Shih’s efforts to end racism and other forms of bias include presentations across the region, state and nation, as well as richly researched and insightful posts both on his personal blog and for Stanford University’s “Arcade.”

In the words of Mai Neng Vang, a 2013 UW-Eau Claire graduate and another of Shih’s nominators, “David’s presence and involvement on campus continues to enrich the campus community and to remind us of what an exemplary social justice educator looks like.”

August 22, 2017

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."

Joanne Erickson

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."

August 25, 2015
David Jones

Dr. David Jones

Dr. David Jones received the Excellence in Service Award. Jones, a UW-Eau Claire faculty member since 2000, was cited by his nominators for the extensive reach of his service to the university, the community and his profession — with a commitment to social justice being the common theme in his service initiatives.

During the past year, Jones served as the Faculty Fellow for Equity, Diversity and Inclusiveness; an active member of the Rapid Action Task Force for Curriculum; and a Faculty Fellow in the University Honors Program, where he helped to develop its nationally recognized holistic admissions process. He also is the new director of the Liberal Studies Program and a longtime member of his department's curriculum committee. 

In the community, he serves on the board of Clear Vision Eau Claire, is a member of Eau Claire's Juneteenth Planning Committee and served on Wisconsin's Special Commission on Violence in African American Families. He is well recognized and respected in the community as a speaker on social justice issues in a variety of public venues and to a wide range of age groups, as well as a musician whose performances are enjoyed in area entertainment venues and at community celebrations.

"In all of his extraordinary service to university and community, Dr. Jones constantly searches for new ways to achieve positive outcomes, for important new problems to solve, and for significant new venues and contexts in which to work," said Dr. Jeff Vahlbusch, director of the University Honors Program and professor of German.

BJ Hollars

BJ Hollars

B.J. Hollars received the Excellence in Scholarship Award. Hollars, who joined UW-Eau Claire's English faculty in 2011, has published eight books, two essay chapbooks, 57 web essays, five short stories and 70 book reviews — all in the past five years.

Hollars' work has been published in prestigious literary journals and recognized nationally, including awards from the Council of Wisconsin Writers, the Association of American University Presses and the Society of Midland Authors. He has received three nominations in the past four years for the national Pushcart Prize. Hollars' nominators noted the synergy between his scholarship and his teaching.

"Whenever B.J. steps into the classroom, he brings his enthusiasm for writing and research," said Dr. Erica Benson, associate professor and chair in the department of English. "He models how to be a successful writer; he shares his research and writing with his students and invites them to take part; and he demonstrates how to be curious and find topics worth