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Alumni, friends of UW-Eau Claire to be honored with Alumni Association awards

| Gary Johnson

Photo caption: The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Alumni Association honored 12 alumni and friends of the university.

Twelve Blugold alumni and friends of the university will be honored with University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Alumni Association awards on Friday, May 19.

Honorary Alumnus Award

The Honorary Alumnus Award is presented to non-alumni or non-degreed alumni who have demonstrated great love of and service to UW-Eau Claire or the greater community.

Mary Jane “MJ” Brukardt

Mary Jane (MJ) Brukardt

Mary Jane "MJ" Brukardt

Brukardt, who will retire in July, has been a UW-Eau Claire staff member since 2007. She serves as chief of staff to the chancellor and executive director of marketing and planning at UW-Eau Claire, following positions reporting to the presidents of Eastern Washington University, UW-Milwaukee and The Johnson Foundation, a national operating foundation located in the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Wingspread conference center. Prior to her career in higher education, Brukardt served in marketing positions for a number of nonprofit organizations, including the Florentine Opera Co. in Milwaukee.

“Her scope of influence and impact on the university is extensive,” says Kimera Way, CEO of the UW-Eau Claire Foundation. “The quality and volume of work she has produced for the university is unmatched. She is the embodiment of collaboration and collegiality.”

During her tenure at UW-Eau Claire, she helped to facilitate planning at the university, college and departmental levels, based on collaborative engagement by faculty, staff, students, alumni and external stakeholders. She has facilitated the development of six institutional strategic plans and assisted university leadership in three restructuring initiatives over the past 16 years.

“Her support to me has been invaluable, anchored in her passionate commitment to our students and to the people of our campus community,” Chancellor James Schmidt says.

In addition to her work for UW-Eau Claire, Brukardt has facilitated and helped to develop strategic plans for Saginaw Valley State College, Michigan; the School of Business at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, New York; the College of Business at Texas Women’s University in Denton, Texas; and the National Women’s Hall of Fame in New York. She also has consulted with the College of Education and Human Service Professions at the University of Minnesota Duluth, the UW-Eau Claire Foundation and the Pablo Foundation. She also has provided strategic consultation for the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

Brukardt is the author of two books, a monograph and numerous articles on institutional planning and change management. She served on the board of directors for the Network for Change and Continuous Innovation in Higher Education.

She received her bachelor’s degree in English literature from Wilfred Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, and her master’s degree in philanthropic studies from Indiana University. She considers UW-Eau Claire her “academic home.”

Mark Stoering

Mark Stoering

Mark Stoering

Stoering’s career spanned nearly 40 years, predominately in the technology, electric and gas utility sectors. He retired at the end of 2022 after 33 years at Xcel Energy, where he helped lay the foundation for the company’s industry-leading clean-energy strategy. From 2012-22, Stoering served as president and CEO of Xcel Energy’s Wisconsin and Michigan operating company, headquartered in Eau Claire.

Stoering says it was an exciting decade that brought significant change to the industry and many new products and services to Wisconsin customers, including nation-leading renewable energy and carbon-reduction programs. He proudly highlights the opportunity to partner with federal, state and local officials, including UW-Eau Claire Chancellor James Schmidt, Foundation CEO Kimera Way and others, in making shared initiatives successful to help support the local community, advance economic development and environmental stewardship.

Stoering was actively involved in initiatives that promote UW-Eau Claire and the Eau Claire community. Through the Xcel Energy Foundation and the company’s local philanthropy, he supported thousands of dollars in funding for UW-Eau Claire over the years and advocated for a first-of-its-kind sustainability project for the County Materials Complex. Xcel Energy was a significant donor to the Pablo Center at the Confluence project, and Stoering served on the Eau Claire arts board, which is the Pablo ownership entity, and numerous other boards including the Gateway Industrial Park Corp.

In his advice to new graduates, Stoering suggests they trust and invest in themselves.

“Know you will have to take some risks that will likely feel uncomfortable,” Stoering says. “Try to embrace them and the challenges they present. Many of those very experiences will significantly form who you are personally and professionally.”

He recommends graduates surround themselves with a strong team and overcommunicate shared goals.

“Support your team, allow and facilitate each member’s contribution to team success,” Stoering says. “Winning as a team positions you to successfully address the next challenge.”

Nobuyoshi “Nobu” Yasuda

Nobuyoshi Yasuda

Nobuyoshi "Nobu" Yasuda

At the age of 3, Yasuda started to play the violin. His love of music has never diminished as he has been a professor of music and director of the University Symphony Orchestra at UW-Eau Claire for 32 years.

Yasuda has been an active violin soloist and chamber musician throughout the U.S. and Japan. He has conducted such orchestras as the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Osaka Philharmonic in Japan and Hannover NDR Philharmonic in Germany. With the Chippewa Valley Symphony Orchestra, he enjoys sharing the joy of making music with its enthusiastic musicians.

His reputation as an inspiring teacher and conductor led to his invitation to conduct the Wisconsin High School State Honors Orchestra and the Illinois All-State Orchestra. He was a conductor of the 2022 National Association for Music Education All-National Honor Orchestra.

“Nobu is the driving force behind the University Symphony Orchestra and the Chippewa Valley Symphony — he is synonymous with those two organizations,” Kimera Way, Foundation CEO, says. “His passion for his music, conducting and inspiring musicians of all ages is contagious. Nobu is a bright light who has indelibly impacted UW-Eau Claire and a light that future generations will struggle to emulate.”

Yasuda, who will retire after this spring semester, was the inspiration that led to the creation of the Cohen String Quartet Scholarship Fund that provides full scholarships to the quartet’s four members. The scholarship has been a tremendous recruiting and retention tool for the music and theatre arts department’s ability to attract exceptional string musicians to UW-Eau Claire.

Yasuda’s motto in life is, “Do your best right now, right here. Make it your habit.” He advises people to let their curiosity and imagination lead them to explore on their life journey.

“And keep dreaming, keep learning and your life will be exciting,” Yasuda says.

Outstanding Recent Alumnus Award

The Outstanding Recent Alumnus Award is given to two recipients this May and acknowledges the special achievements and great promise of alumni who are within 15 years of their graduation from UW-Eau Claire.

Dr. Gresham Collom ’15, bachelor’s degree in criminal justice

Dr. Gresham Collom

Dr. Gresham Collom

Collom is an educational policy researcher and educator in St. Paul, Minnesota, and this fall, he will be an assistant professor at St. Cloud State University in the higher education administration program. He also is a researcher in UW-Madison’s Student Success Through Applied Research Lab, where he was awarded a $500,000 research grant to lead a project to increase access to scholarships and grants for Indigenous American college students.

As a doctoral student and postdoctoral researcher at the University of Tennessee, Collom partnered with state agencies and national foundations, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to conduct research on the state’s free-college programs (Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect). He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Tennessee and UW-Whitewater, and spent several months working for a nonprofit organization and research center, Research for Action.

Collom, a first-generation college graduate and a member of the Stockbridge-Munsee Mohican tribe, says he is the beneficiary of policies and programs established to support marginalized populations as they pursue postsecondary education. Through his research, Collom has been committed to improving educational systems for low-income and minority populations, as he believes education can be a driving force to improve equity and educational opportunities.

“I was not the best student while at UWEC,” Collom says. “I changed my major (and preferred career) multiple times, frustrated many professors and took two extra years to earn my bachelor’s degree. But the lessons I learned as a college student at UWEC, both academically and personally, shaped who I am today.”

Collom credits criminal justice professors Dr. Randall Beger and Dr. Justin Patchin for making him feel like he belonged on campus and in the academic program.

“I try to emulate their behaviors when I teach as an adjunct instructor now, and always try to find the positives in my students’ work,” Collom says.

Collom reminds UW-Eau Claire’s spring graduates that they shouldn’t be afraid to fail. He recalls being scared to tackle tasks he wasn’t good at during his college years.

“I struggled and failed while at UWEC,” Collom says. “I’ll assuredly fail again, and that’s OK. It just means I’m still trying.” 

Martha Seroogy ’09, bachelor’s degree in communication

Martha Seroogy

Martha Seroogy

Seroogy is an arts marketer with over a decade’s experience in the music and entertainment industries. She currently is the vice president of marketing and partnerships at Blue Note Entertainment Group, where she oversees publicity and promotions for over 450 concerts and events annually throughout Hawaii and California.

Seroogy lives in Honolulu, Hawaii, and directs marketing and business development at Blue Note Hawaii, a 350-seat venue located on Waikiki Beach, presenting live music of all genres and comedy year-round. She has had the privilege of working with artists such as Jeff Goldblum, Kenny G, George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic.

In addition to the Hawaii venue, Seroogy leads marketing and publicity for the Blue Note Jazz Festival in Napa, California, an event curated by pianist Robert Glasper and hosted by comedian Dave Chappelle. The three-day, 12,000-capacity festival features jazz, R&B and hip-hop icons.

Seroogy was inspired to pursue a career in the music industry through her experiences at UW-Eau Claire, where she managed the jazz studies office and served as the student festival director for the Eau Claire Jazz Festival. Post-graduation, in 2009, she worked as communications director for the festival and held part-time positions with the Chippewa Valley Youth Symphony, Amble Down Records and Grammy-winning indie band Bon Iver.

“I was never the most outgoing person growing up, and when I fell into a leadership role with the Jazz Festival it helped me to realize what I’m capable of,” Seroogy recalls.

Seroogy, who minored in music at UW-Eau Claire, is an active violist whose highlights include performances with rapper Eminem, ukulele artist Jake Shimabukuro, and classical music stars Lang Lang and Joshua Bell with the Hawai‘i Symphony Orchestra.

Seroogy urges graduates to be prepared, patient, curious and willing to learn from their mistakes and successes.

“Become part of your community,” Seroogy says. “Volunteer or join boards that interest you. Make connections and find people who inspire you. Your biggest asset is your network. You never know what opportunities may arise.” 

President’s Award

The President’s Award, given to two recipients this spring, recognizes outstanding professional and personal achievements and service to UW-Eau Claire.

Keith Donnermeyer ’75, bachelor’s degree in accounting

Keith Donnermeyer

Keith Donnermeyer

Donnermeyer “embodies what it means to be a true Blugold,” says Kimera Way, Foundation CEO, describing the alumnus who was successful in his professional life while volunteering for nonprofit organizations before and after his retirement.

He worked for the public accounting firm Deloitte & Touche in Milwaukee, San Francisco and Sacramento for most of his career, being admitted as a partner in 1987. As a national leader of Deloitte’s life science & health care practice, he served in a number of industry capacities, including as dean and one of the program developers for the University of California, Berkeley, BioPharma Executive Institute from 2007-13; a presenter and the chair of the CBI Life Sciences Accounting & Reporting Congress from 2012-15; and a member of the board of directors of the BayBio Association in San Francisco for nine years. He also served on the boards of the American Red Cross and Ronald McDonald House in Milwaukee and chair of the Sacramento and San Francisco chapters of the American Heart Association.

Donnermeyer has served on the UW-Eau Claire Foundation board of directors since 2015. As past chair, he guided the board during development of the Sonnentag project and construction of the Flesch Family Welcome Center.

Donnermeyer and his wife, Char, whom he met the week of UW-Eau Claire graduation in 1975, also have consistently responded to requests for support to invest in UW-Eau Claire and its students with their gracious, kind and generous gifts, Way says.

In reflecting on his time at UW-Eau Claire, Donnermeyer recommends that new graduates be more concerned with what they want to do in life, rather than what they want to be. He suggests focusing on mentoring others and making wherever you work a better place than you found it.

“Too many people obsess over things and achievements, and as a result they miss the beauty of what life is all about,” Donnermeyer says. “Don't be afraid of taking risks. That is how you grow. Most importantly, cherish your family and friends.”

Abigail Rindo ’05, bachelor’s degree in art

Abigail Rindo

Abigail Rindo

Rindo is a passionate storyteller and veteran game maker, shipping more than 20 titles on various platforms in her career. Using her skills in creative direction and design, she has helped to create memorable new game worlds and worked with some of the most beloved brands in the world on entries like Candy Crush Saga and Disney Heroes.

Rindo says her Blugold education has contributed to her agility and curiosity as she uses the illustration and art history knowledge she gained at UW-Eau Claire every day in her work.

“I would not have been able to seamlessly move between crafts in games without the scientific and academic mindset granted to me by a liberal arts degree,” Rindo says. “On any given day I could use information from my science, art or literature courses.”

Rindo says the critical peer feedback she received in her art education courses prepared her to be a gaming industry leader “and helped me ensure high-quality work when I created concept and marketing art early in my game career.”

“It also helped me build resilience when it comes to having my own work judged and critiqued,” she says.

Artist, writer and world traveler, Rindo lives blissfully in Stockholm, Sweden, with her husband and their pets. She has some advice for new Blugold graduates.

“My career path has been a bit of a winding road,” Rindo says when asked about advice to graduates. “Don't be afraid for yours to be the same. The world we live in is complex and there are a lot of interesting problems to solve in it. Try new things, follow your passions and aim for the highest possible quality in your endeavors. Look at the people you admire in your field and strive for the same level of craftsmanship in your work. Make work you can be proud of.”

Brenda Zamzow ’84, bachelor’s degree in business administration

Brenda Zamzow

Brenda Zamzow

After growing up on a farm in a small Wisconsin town, Zamzow wanted to obtain a college degree to help her see the world and create a different kind of life.

“Getting into UW-Eau Claire was one of the most exciting and proudest moments of my life to that point, and a pivotal turning point for me personally,” Zamzow says. “I learned independence, the importance of new and varied friendships, the power of networking and witnessing different views, and the joy in a seemingly endless sea of opportunity.”

Zamzow is the chief financial and administrative officer for the Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles and a key member of the executive leadership team. She is responsible for the $24 million annual operating budget; the 18 owned and leased properties; human resources and diversity, equity and inclusion for more than 150 employees; cash management and strategic investments; overseeing the outsourced technology function; and risk management. Additionally, she is responsible for the council’s annual capital expenditures budget, which includes multimillion-dollar construction projects.

Prior to joining GSGLA, Zamzow founded and led The Zamzow Group Inc., an accounting services firm providing seasoned financial professionals to clients including Sony Pictures Entertainment, Warner Bros., Ernst & Young (EY) and Southern California Edison. She spent 10 years at Fox Television, one of the world’s largest media conglomerate companies, highlighted by her work as vice president of Twentieth Century and general manager of FoxStar Productions. Zamzow began her career in the London office of EY and relocated to Los Angeles.

Zamzow was named an ICON: Women of Note by Financial Executives International, received the CFO of the Year Award from the Los Angeles Business Journal, was named to the inaugural class of the Top 40 Women of Influence by LA Biz and was included among the top 100 Women-Owned Businesses in Los Angeles.

“My UW-Eau Claire experience taught me that I was strong and capable of accomplishing some pretty amazing things,” Zamzow says. “But not alone. UW-Eau Claire taught me that to be the best you can be and to live your best life, you need to challenge yourself, you need to keep dreaming big dreams.”

Alumni Distinguished Achievement Award

The Alumni Distinguished Achievement Award recognizes distinguished service to the community, state or nation in a manner that brings credit upon the award recipient and UW-Eau Claire.

Debbie Kurth ’80, bachelor’s degree in psychology

Debbie Kurth

Debbie Kurth

Kurth, originally from Lancaster, started volunteering at an early age and hasn’t stopped since. She is a civic leader in several organizations in Rancho Bernardo, a northern community in San Diego, California, where she lives, and has been inducted into the Rancho Bernardo Hall of Fame. Her support of local charities, small businesses and community enrichment has benefited the North County community for many years. She has been honored multiple times for her community leadership and volunteer work, including being recognized as the California Legislature’s Woman of the Year in 2019 for the 77th Assembly District from among 250,000 women.

Kurth was the first in her family to graduate from a four-year college. After graduation, she worked for a modeling agency in Houston, Texas, which she calls “a great opportunity doing live shows and promotions.” She earned her master’s degree in health care and was a full-time health care administrator in San Diego, running long-term, sub-acute and primary-care facilities. Kurth later made a career change and founded her own company called Business Services International, which specializes in meetings and special events worldwide. She remains president of BSI today.

Kurth says being a member of the Delta Zeta sorority at UW-Eau Claire was an important part of her college experience. She credits courses in her psychology major for helping her better understand and work with people, serving her both professionally and personally. Courses in her speech minor enhanced both her speaking and writing skills.

“My four years at UW-Eau Claire were a wonderful growing experience for me,” Kurth says, “which helped me enter the business world better prepared.”

Kurth’s advice for new graduates is to be bold and make decisions based on what is best for them, knowing mistakes will be made along the way. How one handles them is what counts.

“Don’t be afraid to try new things outside of your comfort zone,” Kurth says. “You never know what you will discover. Everyone tells you to work hard, but it’s true. If something is important to you, push yourself to see it through.”

Cinthia Rozanski ’92, bachelor’s degree in accounting

Cinthia Rozanski

Cinthia Rozanski

Cinthia Rozanski graduated magna cum laude from UW-Eau Claire with a bachelor’s degree in accounting. She came to the university from Argentina to join her then-boyfriend, Horacio Rozanski, who had arrived from Argentina a year earlier while she completed a teaching degree in Hebrew and Jewish studies. After a summer internship the year before her senior year, Cinthia received an offer to join a Big Six accounting firm upon graduation, earning her CPA license the following year. 

Cinthia and Horacio were the first students from Argentina to attend UW-Eau Claire and they were married in the backyard of longtime Spanish professor Dr. Roma Hoff.

Cinthia was a UW-Eau Claire Campus Ambassador while at school, and she is grateful for the opportunities the university gave her. She was the first college graduate in her family, and she is thankful for her amazing host family who opened the doors to this country and the kind, welcoming Eau Claire community.

The university helped shape her to dedicate herself to every opportunity to volunteer and help. Among her volunteering highlights are recording Holocaust survivors’ testimonies for the Shoah Project; participating in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program; translating documents for the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, helping immigrants with their asylum cases; chairing the development committee of the board of trustees of her daughters’ school; and volunteering countless hours through the parent associations of every school they attended.

Cinthia, who lives in the Washington, D.C., area with her husband, says she always will be grateful for the excellent education she received and the appreciation for this country’s values she learned while at UW-Eau Claire. The Rozanskis have started a scholarship for first-generation college-bound Hispanic students, to help bring more young people to the place that changed their lives.

She says she always will be grateful that she attended UW-Eau Claire and suggests that graduates be open to opportunities that arise.

“I am excited for all of you who are ready to leave UW Eau Claire and see where life takes you,” she says. “You have a solid foundation in the education you just acquired and the values you have lived by while a student here that will serve you well in life. As you follow the path ahead, remain true to what you learned here, always give back and never let fear keep you from chasing a new opportunity.”

Dr. Melissa Spagnolo Sherman ’93, bachelor’s degree in chemistry

Dr. Melissa Spagnolo Sherman

Dr. Melissa Spagnolo Sherman

Sherman says her career has been spent harnessing science to build businesses that solve customer problems profitably. She has worked in multiple diverse industries, including fashion apparel, consumer products, surgical products, health care and analytical instrumentation.

Today, as CEO of MOBILion Systems Inc., in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, she has raised $115 million in venture capital to build the life science tools and diagnostic company that harnesses a disruptive technology to better predict, diagnose and treat disease. Sherman says she and her 80-member team “punch above our weight” in a challenging industry dominated by multibillion-dollar publicly traded companies.

“What we do is really hard – the science is difficult, the macroeconomic environment is difficult,” Sherman says. “However, getting our instruments into our customers’ hands will enable safer, more effective drugs that get to market faster, and it will allow diseases to be diagnosed earlier and with greater accuracy.”

Sherman was named a 2022 regional award winner for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award; received the 2002 Dealmaker of the Year Award from Smart Business Dealmakers; was a 2021 winner of the Women in Leadership Gold Leaf Award from the Society of Professional Women; and was a 2021 CEO of the Year finalist from the Philadelphia Alliance of Capital and Technology.

Sherman says her experiences at UW-Eau Claire were “second to none” with challenging courses, small class sizes and access to research projects early in her collegiate career. She realizes today that she was one of only a few female students in the chemistry program, but she didn’t notice at the time.

“The professors treated me with infinite respect, I was given ample opportunities, and I was told, ‘Hey, you are really good at this’ by my physics, chemistry and biology professors,” Sherman says. “I was truly supported and encouraged.”

Her advice to new graduates?

“Don't be in a rush, realize you will never know it all and consider every person you interact with as an opportunity to learn and grow,” Sherman says. “Have face-to-face interactions with people and really listen and learn. Problem-solving and networking will be your superpowers.” 

Lifetime Excellence Award

 The Lifetime Excellence Award is presented to alumni who have demonstrated longtime and successful commitment to their careers and communities. These individuals have made a positive and dramatic impact through their enthusiastic dedication to service and living their lives as a testimony to UW-Eau Claire’s motto, “Excellence.”

Horacio Rozanski ’90, bachelor’s degree in business administration

Horacio Rozanski

Horacio Rozanski

Rozanski grew up in Argentina and came to the U.S. to attend UW-Eau Claire based on the university’s strong academic rating. His then-girlfriend, Cinthia, joined him at the university a year later. He graduated summa cum laude from UW-Eau Claire with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.

“We made a completely uninformed choice,” Rozanski says of the decision he and Cinthia made to attend UW-Eau Claire, “but it turned out to be fantastic. People were so incredibly welcoming.”

Rozanski attended the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business (now renamed the Booth School) for two years to receive his MBA in 1992. In summer 1991, he earned an internship at Booz Allen Hamilton, a management and government consulting firm. Cinthia and Horacio married in 1992, and a few weeks later he rejoined Booz Allen, now full time in Cleveland.

Booz Allen has been Rozanski’s professional home for the past 31 years and counting. He had a chance to work around the world and explore multiple disciplines, from consulting to data geek to human resources to senior executive. In 2015, he became Booz Allen’s eighth CEO in the firm’s 109-year history. During his tenure as CEO, Booz Allen has been recognized as an industry leader and innovator, including in areas like cybersecurity and artificial intelligence. He also serves on the board of directors of Marriott International.

From his experiences at UW-Eau Claire, Booz Allen, and other places, Horacio has developed a passion for paying it forward. He chairs the board of Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C., and serves on the board of CARE USA, and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Committee of Conscience. Together with Cinthia, they support several philanthropic causes, from UW-Eau Claire students to medical residents, always looking to help people from diverse backgrounds reach their full potential.

“Being yourself is a process,” Rozanski says to new graduates. “Like graduating college, it is hard work. It took me decades to figure out who I am, and I’m not done yet. Then comes being comfortable showing who you are to others. And ultimately, allowing yourself to both be you and part of something bigger than just you — a family, a community, a nation. 

“You began a process of self-discovery at UWEC that will hopefully lead to self-actualization, joy and happiness. Keep going and don’t slow down. My wish for you is that years from now, you will look in the mirror and like who you see. That’s the biggest success of all.”