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UW-Eau Claire faculty and staff receive 2019 excellence awards

Eight University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire faculty and staff members were recognized for excellence during the university's academic year opening meeting Aug. 27.

Chancellor James Schmidt presented 2019 excellence awards to:

  • Dr. Norah Airth-Kindree, associate professor of nursing.
  • Jack Connell, facilities maintenance specialist-advanced.
  • Dr. Mary Beth Leibham, professor of psychology.
  • Dr. Ling Liu, associate professor of accounting and finance.
  • Cheryl Lochner-Wright, senior study abroad coordinator.
  • Dr. Jennifer Muehlenkamp, professor of psychology.
  • John Reichert, academic advisor, Advising, Retention and Career Center.
  • Jodi Thesing-Ritter, executive director for diversity and inclusion.

Each honoree received a university medallion and $1,500. All seven of the UW-Eau Claire Foundation excellence awards for faculty and staff are funded by Markquart Motors and Markquart Toyota of Eau Claire. The award honoring the 2019 UW System Board of Regents Excellence in Teaching Award nominee is funded by the Arnold and Lois Domer Foundation of Eau Claire.

Norah Airth Kindree

Dr. Norah Airth-Kindree

Dr. Norah Airth-Kindree received the Excellence in Teaching Award. Airth-Kindree, a member of the nursing faculty since 2005, was nominated for the award by several of her former students. They described her exceptionally caring, encouraging nature as well as her high standards for academic and clinical work.

April Schwinn, a 2017 nursing graduate, was especially impacted by Airth-Kindree’s dedication to teaching while also providing mentorship, encouragement and support.

"Norah is an amazing teacher and woman," Schwinn wrote. "I learned so much in the classes and clinical I had with her. She was a great sounding board when I needed it. I found the place I want to be in my nursing career because Norah pushed me. She has always encouraged me to push myself to achieve what I worked so hard for."

Julia Turner, a 2015 nursing graduate, also recognized Airth-Kindree’s outstanding teaching and leadership attributes.

"Norah was extremely knowledgeable, and it was evident in her teaching," Turner wrote. "She was organized and prepared every day. She had a huge heart for both patients and her students. Norah was someone I looked up to throughout the program as the type of nurse I wanted to become."

Jack Connell

Jack Connell

Jack Connell received the University Staff Excellence in Performance Award. Nominators said Connell, a facilities maintenance specialist-advanced in UW-Eau Claire’s facilities department who has served 26 years at the university, has had a much broader impact than his service as a team member in the campus electrical and mechanical shops.

Kelly Holzer, UW-Eau Claire University Staff Council chair and a program associate in Continuing Education, described Connell as an "accidental leader" who is looked to and trusted by many, not seeking the limelight but rather "preferring to work beneath the surface of a thing, hammering away at the important details that keep the engine of our campus churning."

Connell has supported the success of his fellow university staff members through his leadership roles with the University Staff Council, the Wisconsin State Employees Union and numerous campus committees. Holzer said Connell also is devoted to UW-Eau Claire’s student-focused mission. Chris Buckley, UW-Eau Claire facilities shop supervisor, added that Connell is customer-service oriented, right down to the campus maps he keeps in his university vehicle, always at the ready for lost campus visitors.

Anita Spahn, a university staff member in the facilities department and former chair of the University Staff Council, also commended Connell for his leadership: "In his role as University Staff Council chair, he improved the council’s relationship with University Senate and Student Senate, strengthening the shared governance of this university. He leads by example and has the university’s best interest in mind."

Mary Leibham

Dr. Mary Beth Leibham

Dr. Mary Beth Leibham, professor of psychology, was honored as UW-Eau Claire’s 2019 UW System Board of Regents Excellence in Teaching Award nominee. Leibham, who has been a member of the psychology faculty since 2005, was commended by her nominators for her exceptional enthusiasm for and mastery of teaching and her unrivaled dedication to her students as an instructor and advisor.

“Dr. Leibham’s reputation as an effective educator is unparalleled on our campus,” said Dr. Jeffrey Goodman, associate professor of psychology. “She has had a profound impact on the thousands of students she has taught and mentored as attested to by the consistently high ratings she receives on students’ numerical ratings of, and narrative feedback about, her instruction. Her classes, and her sections of classes are sought out by our majors and by students from every college of the university.”

Leibham is not only committed to educating her students, but also to sharing her knowledge with colleagues at UW-Eau Claire and across the UW System. An expert on developmental learning and theories of academic engagement and motivation, Leibham presents regularly on those topics and has served as a faculty fellow for UW-Eau Claire’s Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, where she continues to serve as a valued instructor.

“Dr. Leibham epitomizes excellence in teaching,” Goodman said. “The tenets of her teaching philosophy, with its emphasis on promoting the growth, well-being, learning, and success of others is exemplified by her approaches in the classroom, commitment to students and dedication to elevating the quality of teaching and learning among faculty on our campus and across the system.”

Ling Liu

Dr. Ling Liu

Dr. Ling Liu, associate professor of accounting and finance, received the Excellence in Scholarship Award. Liu has been a UW-Eau Claire faculty member since 2008. Her nominators said that through her remarkable body of scholarly work — focusing on such areas as analyst forecast accuracy, supply chain activities, credit derivatives and stock returns, and the overall impact of accounting practices on firms — she has made contributions that will have a resounding impact, both nationally and globally.

Since 2008, Liu has authored or co-authored more than 30 refereed articles — with 17 having been published in the past five years. As of the writing of one nominator’s letter of support, Liu's works had been cited more than 1,300 times, including citations by many leading academic journals.

“Dr. Liu has made many contributions through her scholarly activities and has a clear, strong stream of research,” said Dr. Kristy Lauver, associate professor and chair of the department of management and marketing. “She makes numerous contributions each year that have a direct impact in her field. Her findings help guide organizations in their decisions on how to best influence employee and organizational performance.”

Nominators recognized Liu as a role model for interdisciplinary and international work, and as one who inspires inquisitiveness in others, mentoring undergraduates at UW-Eau Claire and Ph.D. students at other universities, as well as supporting colleagues in their research efforts. "Dr. Liu’s achievements and service in research truly exemplify the very essence of university faculty excellence in scholarship," said Dr. Raj Aroskar, former chair of the accounting and finance department. 

Cheryl Lochner-Wright UWEC Study Abroad Coordinator

Cheryl Lochner-Wright

Cheryl Lochner-Wright, a senior study abroad coordinator in the Center for International Education, received the Administrative and Professional Academic Staff Excellence in Performance Award. Nominators commended Lochner-Wright, who has served for 25 years in UW-Eau Claire’s Center for International Education, as a respected member of both the UW-Eau Claire and larger international education communities.

"Cheryl has been a constant force in building a study abroad program that results in UW-Eau Claire being recognized regularly by the Institute for International Education as a leading institution for total study abroad participation,” said Colleen Marchwick, director of the Center for International Education and Lochner-Wright’s longtime colleague.

“In addition, Cheryl envisioned and developed an initiative that resulted in more underrepresented students studying abroad. She also has worked tirelessly as the campus Fulbright advisor to increase the number of students applying for and receiving this prestigious award,” Marchwick said. Lochner-Wright’s efforts as Fulbright advisor resulted in UW-Eau Claire ranking fourth among all U.S. master’s-level universities for its number of students who receive Fulbright grants.

Lochner-Wright’s nominators praised her humility and generosity in sharing her experience and knowledge. "Cheryl remains humble and modest about her accomplishments,” wrote Jenna Krosch and Courney Brost, Lochner-Wright’s colleagues in the Center for International Education. "She always credits the work of others on projects and never talks about her own success. We are proud to put forth Cheryl’s nomination for this award. She is truly deserving of this recognition."

Jennifer Muehlenkamp

Dr. Jennifer Muehlenkamp

Dr. Jennifer Muehlenkamp, professor of psychology, received the Excellence in Service Award. Muehlenkamp, an internationally recognized expert and scholar in the field of suicidology, was recognized for her life-saving service to the university community and throughout the Chippewa Valley and state of Wisconsin. 

At UW-Eau Claire, Muehlenkamp led the establishment of a foundational infrastructure for suicide prevention — work that extends far outside the realm of typical faculty service and that has required "crossing silos." Her work in this regard has received national recognition, including her nomination for the American Association of Suicidology’s Scientist Citizenship Award.

"I have seen Dr. Muehlenkamp work beyond the scope of meeting grant specifications in her efforts and am impressed by her selfless dedication to helping all of us on campus improve the quality of programming and support provided to students struggling with mental health concerns,” said Deborah Newman, UW-Eau Claire associate director of housing and residence life.

Beyond campus, Muehlenkamp has led trainings and served in a consultant role to help school districts, local and state-level health service agencies, police departments and health providers across Wisconsin improve their ability to respond to individuals in distress and prevent suicide.

"Dr. Muehlenkamp is a gifted advocate for mental health and suicide prevention,” said Barb Bigalke, executive director of the Center for Suicide Awareness, headquartered in Kaukauna. "Our state should be honored to have such an expert right here in our backyard who is so willing to help those of us 'on the frontlines' of suicide prevention.”

John Reichert

John Reichert

John Reichert, an academic advisor in the Advising, Retention and Career Center, received the Excellence in Advising Award. Recipients of this award are chosen through a selection process of the Student Senate that includes nominations from current students.

Reichert has served in the ARCC since its opening in 2016. Previously he was a residence hall director at UW-Eau Claire from 2012-16. Nominees recognized Reichert for his attentiveness and skill in helping students navigate their often-complex course registration decisions, while staying focused on a four-year graduation for all students.

"John has always put students first,” wrote 2019 graduates Branden Yates and Madeline Forrest, who served as UW-Eau Claire's 2018-19 student body president and vice president, respectively. "He has steered many students in the correct direction, helping them graduate in four years. What has impressed us most about John is his ability to help students with complicated course curriculum."

In addition to Reichert’s ability to effectively guide students, he has contributed significantly to the ARCC.

"John has had an extremely positive impact in the ARCC and on campus," said Angie Swenson-Holzinger, ARCC associate director. "He has been the coordinator of the Four-Year Contract Initiative from the beginning and continues to take on significant leadership with the related processes, tracking and training."

Jodi Thesing-Ritter

Jodi Thesing-Ritter

Jodi Thesing-Ritter received the Excellence in Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Award. Thesing-Ritter is UW-Eau Claire’s executive director of diversity and inclusion. Previously she served the university in a variety of roles, from residence hall director to leadership positions in the Dean of Students Office, since 1994.

Thesing-Ritter’s nominators noted her deep commitment to leading diversity initiatives across campus and within the community. As founder of Blugold Beginnings, Thesing Ritter has developed precollege access programs, learning communities and scholarships for thousands of students from underrepresented or marginalized populations. As founder of the Civil Rights Pilgrimage, Thesing-Ritter has attended 21 of the 22 trips that have taken place. More than 1,900 students and hundreds of faculty, staff and community members have participated in this often life-changing experience.

"I did not anticipate that my life would be so profoundly affected,” said Quincy Chapman, director of Housing and Residence Life, about his experience on the Civil Rights Pilgrimage to seminal sites of the Civil Rights movement. "It created in me a new sense of urgency to use my skills and influence to create better outcomes on our campus. This trip is one of the reasons that the campus has been able to aggressively pursue our newest EDI goals. The foundation had been laid by Jodi's earlier work.”

Thesing-Ritter’s tireless focus on advancing the lives of all students through positive communication, mentorship and community building was noted by many of her nominators.

"Jodi's top attribute is her passion to promote an environment free from bias and discrimination at UW-Eau Claire," said Staci Heidtke, associate director of Career Services. “She coaches and mentors colleagues, students and employees to make the incredible efforts needed to facilitate academic and community events that promote diversity, respect and inclusiveness. Jodi is a strategic thinker, relationship builder and advocate for those who need advocacy."

Top photo caption: UW-Eau Claire's 2019 Faculty/Staff Excellence Award recipients are (from left) Dr. Norah Airth-Kindree, Dr. Ling Liu, John Reichert, Jack Connell, Dr. Mary Beth Leibham, Dr. Jennifer Muehlenkamp, Jodi Thesing-Ritter and Cheryl Lochner-Wright.