MADISON, Wis.  – The University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents honored two professors and one academic department as winners of the Regents’ 18th annual Teaching Excellence Awards on Friday.  The awards are the UW System’s highest recognition bestowed on members of its faculty and academic staff for outstanding career achievements in teaching.

Regent Danae Davis, who chaired the selection committee, noted that while each of the winners goes about their work in unique ways, they also share several striking characteristics. “They have a distinct philosophy of teaching and learning; a willingness to adapt and innovate in order to meet the needs of students; a passion for their discipline; and a commitment to constant self-examination and improvement,” Davis said.

See the UW System news release of Aug. 12.

Jennifer Szydlik with Regent Bartell

Jennifer Szydlik with Regent Bartell

The first award-winner, math professor Jennifer Szydlik, was recognized for her outstanding work as a teacher and author at UW-Oshkosh for over 15 years.  Dr. Szydlik “helps us see numbers in a whole new light,” said presenter Regent Jeffrey Bartell, noting that students report leaving her classes not only with a newfound appreciation of the beauty and logic behind mathematics, but also with skills widely applicable to life and learning.

Szydlik told Regents that she considers the classroom as a “full contact zone,” a place where students and teachers alike wrestle with ideas.  She used her time with the Board to do a little “full contact teaching” of her own, recalling a recent newspaper article that listed the highest-paid UW System employees – predominantly athletic coaches, administrators, and researchers.

“Why on these lists of the most highly paid, the most highly valued employees of the UW System are there no professors known first and foremost for their teaching?” she asked, adding that the tangible incentives – compensation, promotion, and prestige – are often slanted toward researchers.

“Teaching is such important work,” Szydlik said. She thanked the Regents for their recognition, adding that the Regents teaching award is “a powerful expression of support for teaching.”

Paul Thomas with Regent Womack

Paul Thomas with Regent Womack

Paul Thomas, a professor of Physics and Astronomy at UW-Eau Claire for more than two decades, received the second Regents award for teaching excellence. In presenting the award, Regent Betty Womack said Thomas “consistently earns high praise from students even as they acknowledge him to be one of the most demanding and challenging teachers around.”

Thomas said his goal is “to take students on an intellectual journey, a voyage of exploration.” An ardent advocate for liberal arts education, Thomas lauded the interdisciplinary approach embraced by his UW-Eau Claire colleagues and many others around the UW System.

“When a business major who says she’s weak in math can address fundamental issues of planetary formation and the origins of life in the universe, then I’d say that we’re doing our job,” Thomas said.

Thomas, a first-generation college student, said he has never forgotten his debut to the public university system. “My proudest experience has been to watch the intellectual growth of my students in my classes and my lab,” he said.

UW-Platteville Dept of Biology with Regent Vásquez

UW-Platteville Dept of Biology with Regent Vásquez

The third teaching excellence award was presented by Regent José Vásquez to the Department of Biology at UW-Platteville. “Students rave about the dedication, collaboration, and personal mentoring of the faculty,” Vásquez said.

Accepting on behalf of the department, Professor Jeffrey Huebschman said, “Good things beget good things, and that’s truly what has happened here.” He noted that the number of students majoring in Biology at UW-Platteville has more than doubled in the past 10 years, now topping 380 students. “Along with that growth, there has certainly been an increase in things like undergraduate research, scholarship of teaching and learning, the grants that are coming in,” he said.

He told Regents it’s difficult to come up with a formula for department success, but in his experience, it’s the people and their shared motivation to see their students do well that make the UW-Platteville Biology department shine.

“We measure our success not in grants or publicity or salaries. We measure our success through the lives of our students, and when we see them succeed, however that may be, in life, in our classes, in the world, we take great pleasure in that,” Huebschman said.

Regents recognize departing colleagues

Patricia Brady and Regent Smith

Patricia Brady and Regent Smith

UW System General Counsel Patricia Brady, who is retiring after 31 years of service to the University, was saluted with a resolution of appreciation from the Board.

Regent Brent Smith noted Brady’s great loyalty and contribution to the UW System and her “unflappability” in whatever situations arise. The job of general counsel, he said, demands intellectual power, good judgment, and the ability to juggle a lot of audiences or clients. “When you put all this together, she has made tremendous contributions to this System and to the state, and all of us will miss her as a colleague and as an advisor,” Smith said.

Addressing the Board, Brady said, “There really never has been a dull moment on my job. The issues here are complex and interesting, and you’re working with so many people who are smart and talented that it makes it a pleasure to work through the issues and problems that there are.”

The Regents also recognized UW-Milwaukee Chancellor Carlos Santiago, who recently announced he would be leaving to become CEO of the Hispanic College Fund, a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C.  Santiago has served as UWM’s leader since July 2004, spearheading a renewed emphasis on the institution’s research mission.

Carlos Santiago and Regent Vásquez

Carlos Santiago and Regent Vásquez

Regent José Vásquez of Milwaukee presented the Board’s resolution of appreciation to Santiago, noting that “it takes very unique, talented individuals to be successful in that climate of Milwaukee city and Milwaukee County in terms of the politics, the economics, the business community, the private sector, and the unions. It really is a cauldron of opportunity and challenging environment.” He added that in his observation, Carlos has been very successful.

Santiago told Regents that he has mixed emotions in leaving UW-Milwaukee. The huge strides made by the institution in working towards its transformation from a university that does research to a research university are particularly gratifying, Santiago said, and he thanked the faculty, staff, and students at UW-M and the Board for their support in that quest.

He noted that when he started in 2004, UW-Milwaukee did not even make the list of top 200 public and private research universities in the country. In the latest rankings, posted in 2007, the university was ranked 189th.  “I think the goal should be to break the top 100 list,” he said.

“UWM is on its way and it will do great things for the city, the region, and the state,” Santiago said, adding that access and research define UW-Milwaukee.

In other business, the Board:

  • Approved expansion of the charter contract for the Milwaukee College Preparatory School (MCPS) to take over operation of the Academy of Learning and Leadership (ALL), a charter school recently terminated by the City of Milwaukee;
  • Approved the amendment to the charter school contract with the Milwaukee College Preparatory School, to allow MCPS to expand for two years to a second site in order to accommodate the students who were displaced by the termination of ALL’s contract with the City of Milwaukee;
  • Approved UW School of Medicine and Public Health’s appointment of Dr. Patrick Remington to the Oversight and Advisory Committee of the Wisconsin Partnership Fund for a Healthy Future;
  • Approved the proposed M.A. and Ph.D. programs in Linguistics at UW-Milwaukee;
  • Approved amendments to the Regent policy addressing interim appointments, clarifying the protocols and processes for appointments of UW System Chancellors, Senior Vice Presidents, and Vice Presidents;
  • Approved changes to the Board’s agreement with WiSys to allow licensing revenues from WiSCAP-funded projects to be allocated differently from general WiSys funded projects;
  • Approved a resolution allocating $2 million from the funds appropriated under Wisconsin statute to the WiSys Technology Foundation for the purpose of making grants and otherwise providing support for the Wisconsin Small Company Advancement Program (WiSCAP), as provided in the C.O.R.E. Jobs Act;
  • Approved a five-year Athletic Apparel, Equipment, and Sponsorship Agreement between UW-Madison and adidas America, Inc.;
  • Approved a six-year Data Research Analysis Agreement between UW-Madison and Pfizer, Inc.;
  • Approved a request by UW-Milwaukee to purchase the 11-acre Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital campus at a cost of $20.2 million;
  • Approved a request by UW-Madison to construct the Wisconsin Institutes for Medical Research Center Tower project;
  • Approved a request by UW-Madison to adjust the scope and budget of the Wisconsin Energy Institute Phase I Project and authority to construct the project;
  • Authorized a request from UW-Madison to lease space for the Belleville Family Medicine Clinic;
  • Approved a request by UW-Oshkosh to increase the scope and budget of the New Residence Hall Project by $1.7million PRSB;
  • Approved a request by UW-Stout to increase the budget of the Memorial Student Center Renovation project by $1-million program revenue supported bonding and to construct the Project; and
  • Approved a request by UW-Superior for a small increase to the budget of the Rothwell Student Center Project.

The Board then moved into closed session.

Photo credit: James Gill


The UW System Board of Regents will hold its next meeting October 7-8, 2010, on the UW-Oshkosh campus


Related: Read August 19 (day 1) news summary