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Six to be honored with Alumni Association awards

| Gary Johnson

Photo caption: From left, Chancellor James Schmidt, Noah Wiedenfeld, Bill McCoshen, Adrienne Thunder (who accepted the award on behalf of her aunt Charity Thunder), Hugh Jones, Heidi Gurung and Mark VanderWerf.

Six alumni and friends of the university will be honored with University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Alumni Association awards on Friday, Dec. 15.

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.

Bill McCoshen

Bill McCoshen

Bill McCoshen

McCoshen has been one of UW-Eau Claire’s “strongest advocates and cheerleaders,” says Kimera Way, CEO of the UW-Eau Claire Foundation. As a partner in Michael Best Strategies in Madison, he has worked with the Blugold Real Estate Foundation and the university on securing state funding for Pablo Center at the Confluence and was instrumental in advocating for the $341 million in state funding for the Science and Health Sciences Building. McCoshen also helped facilitate the collaboration established between UW-Eau Claire and Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

“Bill believes in the power of collaboration and is always ready to offer insights, ideas and, most importantly, open doors,” Way says. “In addition to his advocacy on behalf of UWEC, he has provided invaluable introductions to organizations and individuals that have led to wonderful connections benefitting our students.”

McCoshen had a successful career in state government, serving as former Gov. Tommy Thompson’s chief of staff, campaign manager and secretary of the Department of Commerce. He remains the youngest person in state history to hold the position of gubernatorial chief of staff at age 27, and cabinet secretary at age 29. Before joining Michael Best Strategies, McCoshen was managing partner of a government relations and public affairs firm.

As commerce secretary, McCoshen became very familiar with Eau Claire. “It was clear that Eau Claire had something special going. The university, technical college, chamber of commerce, economic development association and all local lawmakers, regardless of party, worked together to benefit the community and region.”

McCoshen’s advice to Blugold graduates is to take risks and make sacrifices to achieve career goals. “Professional development and advancement can look like the stock market,” McCoshen says. “It isn't a straight upward trajectory.”

Outstanding Recent Alumnus Award

The Outstanding Recent Alumnus Award acknowledges the special achievements and great promise of alumni who are within 15 years of their graduation from UW-Eau Claire.

Noah Wiedenfeld ’12, bachelor’s degree in political science

Noah Wiedenfeld

Noah Wiedenfeld

Wiedenfeld has worked for the city of New Richmond for the past eight years, presently serving as city administrator overseeing all day-to-day operations of the local unit of government. He has been recognized with the Emerging Leaders Award from the Wisconsin City/County Management Association and the Salute to Local Government Jean B. Tyler Leader of the Future Award from the Wisconsin Policy Forum.

Wiedenfeld was described by his award nominator as a person who is positive, optimistic and authentic and “has a unique ability to develop trust and respect for everyone he encounters.”

While at UW-Eau Claire, Wiedenfeld says he had several “amazing experiences” that included serving as a Campus Ambassador and resident assistant, participating in student-faculty research and studying abroad. Wiedenfeld recommends that all Blugolds remember their core values and the people who made them who they are today.

“You may not realize how impactful or transformative your experiences at UWEC are until several years from now,” Wiedenfeld says. “Stay in contact with the classmates, friends and faculty that you’ve had the opportunity to get to know. Pay it forward by encouraging and engaging with future UWEC students and recent graduates.”

President’s Award

The President’s Award recognizes outstanding professional and personal achievements and service to UW-Eau Claire.

Charity Thunder ’75, bachelor’s degree in sociology

Charity Thunder

Charity Thunder

Thunder is being honored posthumously for her advocacy for Native American students as a counselor in the School District of Black River Falls. She is remembered for her work building meaningful learning opportunities for both Native and non-Native communities in the school district, and for her contributions to education, traditions and community building.

Thunder was an advocate for education on many fronts, including playing an important role with a Black River Falls community group during the contentious treaty rights controversy in the 1990s. She also worked with Native American youth in the resource center of the Ho-Chunk Nation Department of Social Services and was a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation Clan Mothers.

Adrienne Thunder, who is accepting the award on behalf of her aunt, says she was able to attend UW-Eau Claire because of the influence of Charity Thunder. Adrienne Thunder described her aunt as a person with “a good heart, a good sense of humor and a beautiful spirit.”

“It is an honor for me to accept the alumni award posthumously for my aunt, whose contributions to education and to our community are still felt today,” Adrienne Thunder says. “She epitomizes what a Blugold is: service, dedication, leadership and excellence. I am just doing my best to walk in her footsteps.”

Alumni Distinguished Achievement Award

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

Dr. Heidi Gurung, ’03, bachelor’s degree in computer science

Dr. Heidi Gurung

Dr. Heidi Gurung

Gurung is a data modeler for IEM, the world’s largest woman-owned disaster management firm. At IEM, Gurung’s research team created COVID-19 case, hospitalization and death forecasts at the county, state and national levels for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, state and local jurisdictions, as well as more than 30 European countries for the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

Gurung also has worked on numerous projects at Lockheed Martin and was a UW-Eau Claire computer science faculty member for two years.

“Her guiding philosophy is to treat everyone with respect and help rid mankind of deadly diseases,” says Dr. Jack Tan, UW-Eau Claire professor emeritus of computer science, who nominated Gurung for the award.

Gurung studied abroad while at UW-Eau Claire and says that experience gave her the courage to continue traveling as she has lived, studied and worked in multiple countries. Gurung says her instructors helped her see the larger world.

“As a first-generation college student, the opportunities available and benefits of a university education were all new to me,” Gurung says. “The faculty I had took the time to discuss educational and career choices, opening my eyes to post-graduate and career possibilities.”

Hugh Jones, ’78, bachelor’s degree in business management

Hugh Jones

Hugh Jones

Jones had a successful career in banking, including co-founding, growing and selling a new community bank and ultimately retiring as district president for M & I Bank, now BMO Harris Bank. Jones also was a leader in many community organizations, including the YMCA, the American Cancer Society and United Way.

“Hugh’s contributions to the Wausau area are immeasurable,” says John Skoug, who served on a number of community and business boards with Jones. “Any board that he participated on, he did so with an active and deep passion and total involvement.”

While at UW-Eau Claire, Jones says he participated and was a leader in multiple organizations that included managing the national championship swim team and playing with the jazz band, activities that taught him to work cooperatively to accomplish different goals.

“I observed early in my career that the most successful people always seemed to ask a lot questions; they seemed to have kind of a natural curiosity about many things and were constantly learning,” Jones says. “I looked at my degree from UW-Eau Claire to be my license to learn, kind of my ticket to my next stage of life and to the next level of learning.”

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.”

Mark VanderWerf, ’74, bachelor’s degree in marketing

Mark VanderWerf

Mark VanderWerf

VanderWerf founded AMD Global Telemedicine, one of the first companies focused on telemedicine, and has seen it flourish to help deliver health care to underserved people in more than 120 countries. The company helped create and develop the first reliable and easy to use medical devices for telemedicine and remains the world leader in this sector, as well as in related software solutions.

After AMD, VanderWerf led the areas of original equipment manufacturing and telehealth for Nonin Medical in Plymouth, Minnesota, and then became CEO of telemedicine for Banner Health in Phoenix, Arizona. During COVID-19, VanderWerf led a pandemic response planning effort for the federal government to identify and assess critical challenges and to create a plan applying telemedicine and digital health to solve those challenges. He remains fully engaged in transformation of health care and is the lead author of the recently published “What Technology Will Most Impact Healthcare in the next 3-5 years.”

“I have known Mark for many years as a leader in the telehealth industry, not only in the United States but throughout the world,” says Doris Barta, retired director of the National Telehealth Technology Assessment Center. “His visionary commitment to this field has not only helped with significant advancement in the design and functionality of telehealth technology over the past several decades, but his compassion and understanding of the needs of the health care providers have helped shape this industry into the progressive lifesaving body it is today.”

VanderWerf’s life has been influenced by a number of experiences and opportunities at UW-Eau Claire that “opened me to a palette of knowledge and an opportunity to learn/create in new areas of interest.”

“I was influenced by the UWEC motto, “Excellence,” VanderWerf says. “That inspiration stays with me every day. I have tried to instill it in my children and all those around me.”

Honorary doctorate

Pamela Matson

Dr. Pamela Matson

In addition to the alumni awards, Dr. Pamela Matson will be recognized as the third UW-Eau Claire graduate to receive an honorary doctorate from the university. Matson will receive an honorary doctorate of science for her work as a pioneer of environmental science.