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Two honored with McDowell Alumni Achievement Awards

May 7, 2012

The University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Multicultural Student Center will name John Francis and Kabzuag Vaj as the 2012 honorees of the McDowell Alumni Achievement Award at this year’s Multicultural Leadership Awards and Graduation Celebration.

The event will be held on Monday, May 7 from 7-9 p.m. in the On Wisconsin Room on the first floor of the Red Gym.

Now in its second year, the McDowell Alumni Achievement Award, named after the inaugural recipients, Candace and Charles McDowell, honors UW–Madison alumni who identify as persons of color, embody the Wisconsin Idea, and enhance the Wisconsin Experience.

Photo: John Francis


Francis, an environmentalist, is currently a visiting professor at the Nelson Institute for Environmental Sciences and is famous for being the Planetwalker, after he spent 22 years walking and 17 years in silence in response to an oil spill. More than two decades ago, he received his Ph.D. in land management, which he earned in complete silence, from UW–Madison. He has authored two books about his experiences and is focused on creating a more inclusive view and collective approach to environmental sustainability.

Photo: Kabzuag Vaj


Kabzuag Vaj is the co-founder and co-executive director of Freedom Inc., a Madison non-profit organization that empowers low-income communities of color to address root causes of violence against women, gender non-conforming people, and youth and restore power through leadership development and community organizing. This past October, during Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Vaj was recognized by the White House for her work in ending domestic and sexual violence on a local level.

The annual Multicultural Leadership Awards and Graduation Celebration are a MSC tradition that also recognizes student leaders, organizations, campus partners and graduates for their community and campus involvement.

More than 50 graduates, representing different programs and departments across campus, are honored at the celebration.

Awards acknowledge emerging, established, and behind-the scenes leaders, excellence in social justice, outstanding student organizations and programs, as well as outstanding faculty or staff member. The awards salute and support relationships formed at the center and student contributions to making higher education at the university and community a more inclusive place.