Seven faculty and staff recognized for excellence

| Julie Poquette

Seven University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire faculty and staff members were recognized for excellence during the university's academic year opening meeting Aug. 25.

Chancellor James Schmidt presented 2015 Excellence Awards to: 

  • Janice Henderson, custodian in Custodial Services;
  • Melissa Boellaard, clinical agency coordinator in the College of Nursing and Health Sciences;
  • Dr. Ali Abootalebi, professor of political science;
  • Dr. David Jones, professor of English and liberal studies program director;
  • B.J. Hollars, assistant professor of English;
  • Dr. Jeffrey Goodman, associate professor and director of undergraduate studies in psychology; and 
  • Dr. Tali Lee, professor of biology.

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 2015 UW System Board of Regents Excellence in Teaching Award nominee is funded by the Arnold and Lois Domer Foundation of Eau Claire.

Janice Henderson received the Excellence in Performance Award for Classified Staff. A UW-Eau Claire employee since 2010, Henderson currently is a custodian in McIntyre Library who goes beyond the requirements of her job description because of her love for UW-Eau Claire, its faculty and its students, said those who nominated her for the Excellence in Performance Award. 

Library staff cited examples of Henderson going the extra mile: cleaning an entire display when asked to replace a single light bulb, bringing coffee to a student pulling an all-nighter and bringing homemade soup to a staff member going through a stressful time. 

"I know that the little things that Jan does reverberate across campus," said Eric Jennings, assistant professor in McIntyre Library, in his nomination letter for Henderson. "Having a library that is clean makes its environment one in which students are more likely to study and be productive. That helps out faculty in the classroom and also helps create a sense of place for students as they become alumni. Showing that she cares for the staff and students also demonstrates that the little things in life can have a big impact on others." 

Melissa Boellaard received the Excellence in Performance Award for Administrative and Professional Academic Staff. As the clinical agency coordinator for pre-licensure programs in the College of Nursing and Health Sciences, Boellaard works with more than 300 agencies to secure the clinical placement of all UW-Eau Claire undergraduate nursing students.

According to her nominators, Boellaard brings to her work the mind and heart of a nurse educator and clinical instructor, a role she filled in the College of Nursing and Health Sciences beginning in 2005 until taking on her current position. 

"We have traveled to many agencies together as we create new partners and also maintain existing relationships," said Linda Feeney-Schroeder, clinical agency coordinator for post-licensure programs in the College of Nursing and Health Sciences. "Melissa is very professional and respectful in her communication with these agencies. She understands the needs of the different nursing classes, and she is able to articulate this to others very well. I think agencies have a new respect for UWEC when they see the caliber of the person who comes to talk with them." 

Dr. Ali Abootalebi received the Excellence in Teaching Award. Selection for the honor is based on a survey of recent UW-Eau Claire alumni. Abootalebi, who teaches in the area of international politics and is a prolific scholar on Middle Eastern politics, has been a member of the political science faculty since 1997.  

"It is no surprise to his colleagues that Ali has won this award," said Dr. Stephen Hill, professor of political science. "It has always been evident to us that Ali's students value not only his knowledge and expertise in his field, but also his personal warmth, his deep dedication to their learning experience and, of course, his always-present sense of humor. Many of the students Ali has taught over the years obviously cherish him not only as a mentor, but also as a personal friend. Alumni visiting the department will invariably be doing so to visit with Ali."

Abootalebi recently co-authored an introduction to world politics text to provide an accessible introduction to the discipline in a clear format that students could follow through the semester. This has encouraged students to be better prepared for class and has allowed him to dedicate more class time to discussions of topical issues, Hill said. 

Abootalebi said his teaching philosophy "is to teach students how to think critically, question everything and know that knowledge is worthwhile only if it leads to wisdom," adding, "What drives my passion for teaching is the hope that I may make a difference in my students' lives in securing a more responsible future."

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. 

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 writing about." 

Dr. Jeffrey Goodman 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. A student nominator recalled that while enrolled in a class with Goodman, she happened to mention that she had never created her four-year graduation plan. Even though she was not a psychology major, Goodman immediately set up a time to meet with her, work through her degree audit and help her plan her academic path. 

"He didn't have to do this for me, but he did and has done so for other students I know," the student wrote. Goodman, in his role as director of the psychology department's undergraduate program, is an important resource for the university's nearly 500 psychology majors as well as for advisers across campus who work with students.

"While this in and of itself could qualify Dr. Goodman for this award, it is the attentiveness to his charge as an adviser that sets him apart," said Jake Wrasse, Student Senate president.

Dr. Tali Lee was honored as UW-Eau Claire's nominee for the 2015 UW System Board of Regents Excellence in Teaching Award. Lee, who has taught in UW-Eau Claire's biology department for 11 years, was cited by her nominators as an exemplary teacher who receives outstanding reviews from students even though her classes are challenging and require hard work. Nominators also noted she receives high praise from her peers for her innovative teaching strategies in the classroom, lab and field — and for her willingness to share those strategies with colleagues. 

One of Lee's nominators, now pursuing a doctoral degree, knew Lee as a professor, academic adviser, research adviser and mentor during his undergraduate years at UW-Eau Claire. 

"Her support, guidance and enthusiasm for my growth as an independent thinker, scientist and person has been unwavering," said Adam Schneider, a 2012 biology graduate who is now a doctoral candidate in biology at the University of California, Berkeley. "She has fostered my joy for science and has helped develop my intellectual abilities in ways that will serve me well professionally and personally." 

Photo caption: UW-Eau Claire 2015 Excellence Award recipients, from left, are Dr. Jeff Goodman, Janice Henderson, Dr. Ali Abootalebi, B.J. Hollars, Dr. Tali Lee, Melissa Boellaard and Dr. David Jones.