MADISON – The University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents will honor two professors and one academic department at its Nov. 6 meeting with the presentation of the Regents’ 16th annual Teaching Excellence Awards. It is the highest recognition bestowed on members of UW System’s faculty and academic staff for outstanding career achievements in teaching.

The 2008 recipients are:

  • Douglas Heil, Professor of Communication at UW-Oshkosh
  • Nate Splett, Associate Dean of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences and Professor of Agricultural Economics at UW-River Falls
  • The Department of Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science at UW-Stout

The number and quality of nominations for the awards made the process of choosing the winners a significant challenge, said Regent Danae Davis of Milwaukee, who chaired the selection committee.

“Once again, we have the tough challenge of choosing among excellent nominees,” Davis said. “Though an enviable duty, we are thrilled with the caliber of talent in our colleges and universities as reflected in this year’s winners.”

Other Regents on the selection committee were Jeffrey Bartell, John Drew, Colleene Thomas, José Vásquez, and Betty Womack.

Award recipients are singled out for their strong commitment to teaching and learning; use of effective teaching strategies to enhance student learning; and for having significant impact on students’ intellectual development.

“Preparing 173,000 students to succeed in the knowledge economy is a big job,” said UW System President Kevin P. Reilly.  “Fortunately, we have exceptionally talented professors and instructors who are not only experts in their respective fields, but also gifted teachers who make a positive impact on the lives of everyone they touch.”

“Students always come first” is the guiding philosophy for UW-Oshkosh communications professor Douglas Heil, who puts the theory into practice with his perpetual open-door policy and the extensive, detail-rich feedback he regularly provides his students.

In teaching film production and narrative scriptwriting, a fulfilling reward often intersects with an almost insurmountable obstacle, according to Heil.

“The reward is that students choose to major in Radio-TV-Film out of unadulterated passion, which is a great privilege to foster. The obstacle is the exceptional difficulty in securing a career in this field,” Heil said. “The challenge of teaching in this field, therefore, is to assist each student in pursuing his or her dream while simultaneously preparing each for an alternative Plan B, Plan C and Plan D.”

In tribute to Heil’s efforts, communication department chair Kay Neal points out that his students are consistently accepted into highly competitive programs and many are engaged in successful careers.

“They point to him as being instrumental in inspiring them to succeed by imparting knowledge, skills, creativity, and a strong work ethic to allow them to succeed in a very cut-throat industry,” Neal said.

UW-River Falls Professor of Agricultural Economics Nate Splett considers himself a partner in his students’ learning experience. “My challenge to students is to meet their greater purpose as the caretakers and shapers of our humanity, environment, and ideals,” Splett said.

Splett, also the Associate Dean of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences, is well-known for balancing theory with real-world applications and for using a variety of teaching techniques and humor to help keep his students engaged.

“Students appreciate his ability to use practical examples to illuminate theory, his patience, and his willingness to work with them outside of class until the fog of confusion lifts,” said department chair David Trechter.

“Somehow the minutes seemed to tick by faster in his classes than others,” said former student Michael Brenner.

Splett’s influence extends well beyond the classroom in helping students prepare for the challenges, known and unknown, that lie ahead once they move beyond the college campus.  Splett was previously awarded UW-River Fall’s highest honors in both teaching (2006) and advising (2005).

UW-Stout’s department of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science serves a broad spectrum of students, from those who are majoring in Applied Mathematics and Computer Science to those interested in general education or other technical classes offered by the department.

Addressing that full range of student needs, the department’s faculty and staff are noted for their active involvement in curriculum revisions and the effective use of technology to enhance teaching and learning.

“Department members actively seek out new ideas, put them into practice, study their impact, and share their results. This spirit pervades the department and leads to dynamic classroom experiences for our students,” according to testimony nominating the department.

Two members of the department – Dr. Chris Bendel and Dr. Jeanne Foley – were also recognized by UW-Stout for their outstanding teaching in recent years.

Among the department’s initiatives, the creation of the Math Teaching & Learning Center in 2004 and a major revision of beginning and intermediate algebra courses have resulted in improved student retention and success rates.

“There is every attempt made to make the learning environment comfortable for students and yet to push them towards success,” said UW-Stout student Stephanie Boyd.

The UW System Board of Regents will honor these outstanding teachers and academic department with the 16th annual Regents Teaching Excellence Awards during a ceremony on Nov. 6 in Madison.  Winners receive a stipend of $5,000 to be used for professional development.

Media Contact

David Giroux UW System (608) 262-4464