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Student Personnel Association honors nine for service, dedication

April 22, 2009 By

The Student Personnel Association (SPA) honored nine university staff members at its Outstanding Achievement Awards luncheon on April 15. This year’s honorees were:



Suzanne Bader

Student status examiner, Department of Botany, Frontline Award

Bader is credited for coming up with out-of-the-box solutions designed to help students with their transition to a large university.

She has worked to boost diversity in the student population by securing funds from the Graduate School to support minority recruitment efforts at national conferences and has accompanied a team of representatives to the College of Menominee Nation to learn how to help its students make the transition to UW–Madison.

“Undergraduates and graduates alike come to her for professional and sometimes personal guidance and always walk away with answers to their questions and a spring in their step,” says professor Donna Fernandez.

Fernandez says it is not just Bader’s knowledge, attention to detail and efficiency that her department and students have come to depend on, but her welcoming presence and supportive attitude as well.

“She doesn’t care who you are when you come into her arena — in her eyes we are all equal in deserving her attention,” says colleague Mary Smith, senior student services coordinator in the Institute for Cross-College Biology Education.



JoAnn Disch

University services program associate, Office of Academic Affairs, School of Veterinary Medicine, Norman Bassett Award for Outstanding Achievement in Student Services

Colleagues say Disch exemplifies all of the characteristics that any administrative member of the university community could hope for: impeccable professionalism; complete competence in her work; an unwavering positive outlook on life, her colleagues and her work; and a deep respect for the value of the university in the lives of Wisconsin citizens.

She has worked at the School of Veterinary Medicine since 2004, after 12 years of employment at the Graduate School.

Christopher Olsen, associate dean for academic affairs at the School of Veterinary Medicine, describes Disch as “one who stands out as an extraordinarily competent, caring, and effective individual who has the remarkable ability to immediately and fully shift her assistance to resolve a variety of problems.”

“JoAnn took the concept of service to a new high, providing a caring attitude and always giving the time to work with the students and faculty on any issue they brought into the office,” says Susan Hyland, retired associate dean for academic affairs.



Kevin Helmkamp

Associate dean, Offices of the Dean of Students, Chancellor’s Award

Helmkamp responds to some of the most difficult student issues on campus while remaining committed to the university as an institution for learning. He supervises Student Assistance and Judicial Affairs (SAJA) and works with Associated Students of Madison and the Student Organization Office.

Helmkamp oversees student discipline, works with student organizations and is the point person for safety and threat assessment issues.

Yvonne Fangmeyer, director emerita of the Student Organization Office, describes Helmkamp as a thoughtful and reflective student services professional.

“Student learning, student development, and helping students find their passion and purpose are at the heart of his thinking and his actions,” says Fangmeyer. “He is a driving force in moving divisional staff from a place of merely providing service to a place of seeing themselves as educators.”

Brittany Wiegand, chair of the Associated Students of Madison, notes that Helmkamp is respected by students because of his approach to working with them — that of developing a collaborative partnership of mutual respect.



Barbara Kautz

Coordinator of Greek life and student involvement, Center for Leadership and Involvement, Excellence in Student Affairs

Kautz engages students with issues ranging from leadership development to responding to major crises, including fire and the norovirus. She provides leadership on the university’s Alcohol and Other Drug Task Force and the Subcommittee on Sexual Assault, Dating/Domestic Violence and Stalking. She has effectively engaged many students and student groups in difficult conversations about those important issues as well.

Assistant dean of students Tonya Schmidt describes Kautz as “the most upbeat, positive, available, levelheaded, open-minded, hardest-working, caring, compassionate, relatable, resilient and willing to listen.”

Panhellenic graduate adviser Rachel Nitzarim says that at a recent national conference, Kautz could not go anywhere without colleagues from other campuses engaging her in conversation.

“Her impact has reached other Greek life offices nationwide,” says Nitzarim.

Dean of Students Lori Berquam says Kautz has been described as the “rock of reliability in the Student Organization Office and one of the brightest stars in our field.”



Nancy Kujak-Ford

Conference services manager, Wisconsin Union, Campus Impact Award

Kujak-Ford has consistently raised the standards of conference management services by providing consistent, dependable, professional service. She has developed creative solutions to problems and loaned her expertise to departments and student organizations across the campus.

She is also an educator of student staff and has developed internship positions in her office to expose students to a new field. She serves her organization through committee work and as an academic staff representative, and she is the outgoing president of the Student Personnel Association.

“She always exceeds our expectations and the success of our conferences is due in large part to her exceptional dedication and hard work,” says Evelyn Jabri, CEO of the RNA Society.



Carren Martin

Senior student services coordinator, Center for the First-Year Experience, Norman Bassett Award for Outstanding Achievement in Student Services

Martin exemplifies what the Bassett award seeks to recognize: She provides outstanding support to new students, their families and campus colleagues through the Student Orientation, Advising and Registration program (SOAR).

The foundation she has established has transformed SOAR into a highly efficient, professional, compassionate and educational program.

Mary Schey, assistant director of admissions, says Martin is integral to the development of a orientation program for undergraduates who are new to campus.

“She seeks the input of many to ensure the program continually improves and adapts to the particular needs of all involved, ranging from students and parents to academic advisers and administrators,” says Schey.

Wren Singer, director of the Center for the First-Year Experience, says, “She is nationally known and respected in the world of orientation programs and we are lucky that she has chosen to remain on our campus as long as she has.”

Sarah Oehler

Coordinator of SOAR and First Week Programs, Center for the First-Year Experience, Campus Impact Award

Oehler has worked for the Center for the First-Year Experience since 2004. She is responsible for overall goal setting, program development and student staff training and supervision for SOAR and First (Welcome) Week programs.

“Her expert guidance of the staff has facilitated the successful orientation and registration of thousands of UW students and their families,” notes associate dean of students Argyle Wade. “She is a fine example of a dedicated new professional whose work is actively improving the lives of many UW students.”

Assistant to the provost Mo Noonan Bischof says Oehler thinks first about students and leads with her heart and her head.

“She ensures that all voices are heard and respected and she cares deeply about embracing diverse experiences so that we can learn from each other,” says Bischof. “Much of her work is behind the scenes and few people realize how critical her contributions are to students and to the university community.”



Andrea Palm

Graduate studies coordinator, Department of French and Italian, SPA Frontline Award

Palm works with prospective graduate students, coordinates their campus visits and assists those who choose UW–Madison for graduate school.

“She works indefatigably on behalf of our graduate students, both on the front line and behind the scenes,” says professor Aliko Songolo. “I think of her as our most valuable recruitment and retention tool.”

Professor of French Steven Winspur says Palm has a magical touch when it comes to dealing with others. “Her friendly demeanor, unparalleled knowledge of the academic requirements for each program, and her eagerness to help resolve difficult situations for our students means that she is the first person our graduate students seek out for advice.”

Claudia Romanelli and Anna Bachman, co-presidents of the Graduate Association of French and Italian, say the success of a first-rate university begins with staff members like Palm. “She is one of the first people a prospective student will meet in the department and she is sure to make them feel welcome. She strives to give all students, whether they be old or new, a sense of belonging.”



Michael Thornton

Professor of Afro-American studies and Asian American studies and director of the Morgridge Center for Public Service, Leadership in Social Justice Award

Thornton exemplifies the qualities his award seeks to recognize. The award is given to one who demonstrates leadership and courage while initiating, creating and supporting a more socially just learning and work environment for students and staff.

Thornton is committed to social justice as an advocate for and an ally of underrepresented populations in the community. He has served in many capacities for nearly 20 years.

Thornton was chair of the search-and-screen committee for the Vice Provost for Diversity and Climate, co-chaired the Campus Diversity Oversight Committee, and serves as the faculty director of the Morgridge Center for Public Service. He was a recipient of the 2006 YWCA Racial Justice Award.

“I have learned more about race and privilege from my conversations with him and from just knowing him than I have from any other person,” says Bernice Durand, emerita vice provost for diversity and climate.

Tags: staff awards