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UW-Madison honors Academic Staff Excellence Award winners

April 10, 2012 By Stacy Forster

Photo: Christopher Velden

Christopher Velden, senior scientist in the Space Science and Engineering Center at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, is pictured with the rooftop array of satellite dishes atop the Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Science Building.

Photo: Bryce Richter

Eight University of Wisconsin–Madison professionals have been honored with the 2012 Academic Staff Excellence Awards in recognition of their achievements in leadership, public service, research, teaching and overall excellence.

Winners were recognized by the Academic Staff Assembly on April 9 and will attend a reception with Interim Chancellor David Ward later in the month.

“Academic staff members make vital contributions to research, teaching, outreach and administration at UW–Madison, and the university is well served by their work,” Ward says. “I want to congratulate the winners and thank them, as well as all academic staff, for their service and dedication to the university.”

The winners are:

Photo: Erlin Barnard


Erlin Barnard, faculty associate, Department of Languages and Cultures of Asia, Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Service to the University

UW-Madison offers instruction in more than 80 languages, and Erlin Barnard has worked to raise the level of teaching in a dozen of some of the less commonly taught ones, including Thai, Indonesian, Hmong, Persian, Urdu and Pashto.

Her greatest achievement, her nominators say, is the way she has professionalized the field of teaching less commonly taught languages. She has fostered training for teaching assistants and lecturers of languages for which there are often few available teaching materials, as well as helped form instructional goals, student assessment plans and program evaluations.

“Thanks to Dr. Barnard’s work, the teachers are improving the national profile of UW–Madison,” says Ellen Rafferty, professor in the Department of Languages and Cultures of Asia. “She is a careful and knowledgeable scholar and an exacting, persistent, yet gentle mentor who guides the professional development of the language teachers in a respectful manner.”

Photo: Susan Knight


Susan Knight, assistant faculty associate and outreach specialist for the Center for Limnology, Robert and Carroll Heideman Award for Excellence in Public Service and Outreach

Leading outreach efforts for the Trout Lake Station, a field station for the Center for Limnology, Knight works with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to support research and public education on aquatic plants in northern Wisconsin, particularly invasive ones that threaten the health of the state’s lakes.

For the past two years, Knight has juggled her outreach duties while serving as interim director of the station. In addition to working with local residents, Knight coordinates hands-on limnology experiences – whether that means conducting formal workshops, leading elementary and middle school students in an exercise or getting in a boat with a novice biologist who just wants to learn more about lakes. She’s known for her ability to make science fun and use a sense of humor to communicate complicated ecological concepts.

“She provides a friendly, highly informative face of UW–Madison to residents of Vilas, Oneida and neighboring counties far from Madison,” writes Steve Carpenter, director of the Center for Limnology.

Photo: Andrew Lokuta


Andrew Lokuta, associate faculty associate School of Medicine and Public Health, Department of Neuroscience, Chancellor’s Hilldale Award for Excellence in Teaching

For undergraduate student Sabine Knoppke-Wetzel, Andrew Lokuta sparked an educational awakening, much like the one she experienced as a child when watching Bill Nye the Science Guy.

“I often see students like me, who fall in to the rhythm of class work and forget that learning isn’t just about getting ready for the exam,” Knoppke-Wetzel says. “Dr. Lokuta reminded many of us to remember our childhood curiosity, and to encourage it.”

Much of Lokuta’s teaching has been in Physiology 335, a requirement for many undergraduate and graduate students, and over his career, Lokuta has taught more than 11,400 students. His creative, entertaining and enthusiastic teaching style is infectious, prompting his students to question themselves and those around them. Along the way, he’s become a leading national teacher of physiology in both lecture and laboratory settings.

“Dr. Lokuta is strongly committed to teaching conceptual and critical thinking, while he makes certain that students have a strong knowledge base on which they can build their careers,” say Provost Paul M. DeLuca Jr. and Vice Provost for Teaching & Learning Aaron Brower.

Photo: Nancy McDermott


Nancy McDermott, director of the Social Science Computing Cooperative, WAA Award for Excellence in Leadership: Individual Unit Level

Research, teaching and learning in the social sciences depend heavily on a way to run complicated statistics, and at UW–Madison, that means using the services of the Social Science Computing Cooperative. The cooperative, under McDermott’s direction, provides critical support to 20 research agencies, departments and schools across campus.

Those who work with McDermott say she has an ability to easily embrace and manage change. By keeping the cooperative at the forefront of technology, she has helped UW–Madison faculty, staff and students remain leaders in their areas of research.

 “The SSCC is unmatched as a computing environment for social science research and training in both the facilities it makes available and the support it provides,” says Adam Gamoran, director of the Wisconsin Center for Education Research. “My productivity as a researcher has long been boosted by the SSCC environment, and I know this is the case for my students and colleagues as well.”

Photo: Seth McGee


Seth McGee, laboratory manager, Biocore (Biology Core Curriculum), Martha Casey Award for Dedication to Excellence

Few people on campus can boast that they’ve had the opportunity to teach students such broad ranging skills as how to wield a flame thrower during a controlled prairie burn, view glowing worms with a florescence microscope, or send them out to collect more than 1,000 water bottles to serve as growing containers for a plant genetics unit.

But McGee does these types of things every day in the name of student learning as lab manager for Biocore, an honors biology program that provides a broad background for students interested in any area of biological science. Making science fun is a priority for McGee, and his dedication to science inquiry and the Wisconsin Idea extends into Biocore’s outreach program, designed to enrich science education in rural Wisconsin communities.

In Biocore lab courses, students are expected to ask questions, design experiments and think critically about scientific data – none of those things are possible without McGee’s positive, can-do attitude and laboratory savvy. 

“His role and influence have elevated our lab courses to a gold standard,” says Janet Batzli, Biocore associate director.

Photo Sarah Pfatteicher


Sarah Pfatteicher, interim associate dean of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences Undergraduate Program, WAA Alumni Association Award for Excellence in Leadership: College, School or the Larger University Community Level

In a short time, Pfatteicher has gained a strong reputation as a creative, natural leader.

When it came time for the CALS curriculum to have its first overhaul in 25 years, Pfatteicher was tabbed to lead the project. The new structure streamlines the coursework from 74 curricular paths to 23 and makes academic standards more clear, all while still giving students flexibility to achieve their educational goals, say Robert O. Ray, professor emeritus of forest and wildlife ecology, and Daniel M. Schaefer, chair of the Department of Animal Science.

Pfatteicher has completed a body of scholarly work while serving in leadership roles, and in addition to her work at CALS, she has been an important contributor to university projects as varied as reaccreditation and emergency response planning.

“Sarah is a person who goes above and beyond the call to consistently find the best solution to issues involving undergrads at this university and is essential to our core mission in education,” says Nick Balster, associate professor of soil science.

Photo: Christopher Velden


Christopher Velden, senior scientist, Space Science and Engineering Center, Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Research: Independent Investigator

Hurricanes can be devastating – and deadly — in their unpredictability. But analysis techniques developed by Velden and his team from the Space Science and Engineering Center at UW–Madison have allowed forecasters to improve the accuracy of predicting land-falling hurricanes, saving lives by allowing people to better prepare for such storms.

In his three decades of work at the university, Velden and research teams he’s led have bolstered UW–Madison’s global reputation in satellite weather analysis, in particular by developing innovative ways to describe hurricanes and their environments, says Steven Ackerman, professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences. National and international leaders in environmental remote sensing have praised his work, including his extensive publication record.

“Many scientists do well in a few areas, while few excel across the board,” says Jeffrey D. Hawkins of the Naval Research Laboratory in Monterey, Calif. “He has participated in more than 10 field programs around the globe, illustrating his thirst to truly understand what the atmosphere is trying to tell us via multiple airborne/satellite campaigns.”

Photo: Xiao-Lin Wu


Xiao-Lin (Nick) Wu, computational geneticist and associate researcher, Department of Dairy Science, Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Research: Critical Research Support

Wu, who came to the university as post-doctoral associate in 2005, is key to making the UW–Madison dairy animal genetics group highly productive.

In addition to carrying out his own research, Wu provides computational and statistical support to more than 60 graduate students, post-doctoral students and visiting scientists, and offers technical assistance to more than a dozen faculty members in a range of departments.

Wu is known among his colleagues for being conscientious, bringing a strong work ethic and not being afraid to take on new problems. When George Shook, professor emeritus of dairy science, asked for help with a genetics study, Wu responded not only with a straightforward data analysis, but data analyzed by three methods. He followed up with a draft manuscript, Shook says.

“We cannot overstate Dr. Wu’s contributions to the UW Department of Dairy Science, because our programs would not be as successful and productive without his excellent support,” says Daniel Gianola, Sewall Wright Professor of Animal Breeding and Genetics.