EAU CLAIRE – The University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents today honored the recipients of the second annual University Staff Excellence Awards. These awards recognize exceptional service to the university and are the UW System’s highest recognition bestowed on members of its university staff.

“We are honored to recognize two individuals and one program that help to make our UW institutions so respected and second to none,” said Regent Kyle Weatherly, chair of the awards selection committee. “Their outstanding work – along with the work of university staff systemwide – strengthens and invigorates not only our UW institutions, but the communities in which they serve.”

Award recipients are selected for superior performance resulting in significant contributions to the department and university; use of positive personal interaction to manage work changes; and a consistently innovative approach that improves productivity and work quality. Each recipient is awarded $7,500 to support professional development or program enhancements.

Photo of Nicole Owen, recipient of Board of Regents 2022 University Staff Excellence Award

Nicole Owen

The 2022 recipients include two individuals and one program:

Nicole Owen, Academic Department Associate, Department of Mathematics, UW-Eau Claire

Nicole Owen, who serves as the academic department associate for one of the largest departments at UW-Eau Claire, told Regents she is truly humbled and honored to receive the award and thanked them for making the award a reality for university staff.

“We (university staff) are the backbone, we are essential and we are important,” Owen said. “However, we often seem to be the most humble and underappreciated part of the community. I say, don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself, be confident, be assertive.”

“I truly believe it’s not about making it through the day but learning and enjoying the day and realizing you are part of the bigger picture,” Owen said. “Ask yourself, where can I make a difference? After all, we are all here for the students we serve.”

Photo of Jo Johnson, recipient of Board of Regents 2022 University Staff Excellence Award

Jo Johnson

Jolanda “Jo” Johnson, Assistant Director of Payroll and Benefits, Human Resources, UW-Stout.

“I am thrilled to represent UW-Stout and the entire hardworking university staff,” said Johnson, who has worked in the Human Resources office at UW-Stout since 1999.

She saluted the vital support, hard work, and dedication that her HR colleagues have for each other, as well as all employees at the campus.

“Pay roll and human resources are often considered back office or invisible,” she said. “But it wouldn’t be possible if we weren’t great at what we do. I’m so proud of what we do.”

Custodial Services, UW-River Falls

“We have a very dedicated, friendly, outgoing, wonderful staff that we enjoy working with every week,” said custodial supervisor Missy Davis, who was joined by fellow supervisor Jackie Bennett in representing the UW-River Falls custodial services staff. “

Photo of Missy Davis (left) and Jackie Bennett, accepting the Board of Regents 2022 University Staff Excellence Award on the behalf of UW-River Falls Custodial Services

Missy Davis (left) and Jackie Bennett accept the Board of Regents 2022 University Staff Excellence Award on behalf of UW-River Falls Custodial Services

Whether it’s a coffee spill or someone sick, a big event, or we have to empty a dorm, we pride ourselves on how we handle situations and collaborate.”

“We see the dirt, the grime, the setting up, as the service side of things. And we work in people’s ‘home’ in the dorms,” she said. “It’s about making connections and making people feel special. That’s what we do behind the scenes.”

Other members of the University Staff Excellence Awards selection committee included Regents Scott Beightol, Jennifer Staton, and Dana Wachs.

Panel explores value of economic development collaborations

“The University of Wisconsin System – and our 13 universities – can and must play a key role in helping Wisconsin maintain a strong and vibrant economy,” said UW System President Jay Rothman. “To do this most effectively, the university needs a committed and productive partnership with the state’s business community to better understand and plan for workforce needs, both now and in the future.”

See UW System video: Collaborate with the UW

A panel representing businesses along the I-94 corridor, moderated by Steve Jahn, Executive Director of Momentum West, highlighted and discussed the impact and opportunities presented by university-business collaborations.

“The war for talent is very real, and we work really hard to be good corporate citizens by doing our part,” said Jennifer McHugh, vice president for Community Engagement, Royal Credit Union. “We know if students are a success, we will be, too.”

Panelists agreed personal relationships are essential to the success of university-business partnerships. “In order to build those relationships, you have to have a common goal or synergy such that each group feels like they’re gaining from that particular interaction,” said Jeffrey Cernohous, CEO/COO of Interfacial. “You have to start small and create common understanding, so that people [who are] part of both organizations are being rewarded for successes.”

Cernohous also noted that Interfacial has leveraged different universities for different things, “But why those collaborations have been successful is because of individuals,” he said. If his company needs an intern with a specific skill set, for example, personal connections are invaluable.

Individuals from both business and universities tend to be already highly engaged and engrained in their local communities and because they’re visible and known, that facilitates making connections to build joint efforts, said Brian Elwood, general manager of Customer and Community Service at Xcel Energy.

Pete Koenig, program manager for Nolato Contour, said engaging with faculty is also important. “Those folks taking the time and effort to get to know the people they’re serving and preparing students for, then they know the kind of things we’re up against. That way we have a really good understanding of what we need from one another.”

Regents asked what business and universities can jointly do to help keep college graduates and employees in Wisconsin.

Cernohous suggested that offering longer-term internships so participating students – aka future employees – have a solid understanding of both the job and the career path to get there, can be a potentially beneficial strategy for retention after graduation. “By having that continuity, we want interns at the moment they receive their degree, they’re running and contributing and engaged, a part of our team.”

McHugh agreed. “We try to hire them as sophomores and juniors. We like connecting with students at a young age and growing their careers right here in Northwest Wisconsin.

Koenig said his company tries to offer interns the opportunity to shadow a variety of different jobs. “When they finish that first year of internship, they really know what they like to do. When they complete their degree, they are really ready to come into the workforce.”

Panelists said employers are also using incentives like tuition reimbursement programs to attract employees or upgrade skills of existing employees, reinforcing the connection with universities.

Bryan Barts, director of Career Services at UW-Stout since 2014, said businesses and universities are finding new ways to connect students with employers, both in-person and virtually, using options like Handshake and Career Connect. Traditional career fairs remain popular, he said, noting that a recent event at UW-Stout featured more than 400 employers. He added that companies are also taking great advantage of opportunities to build relationships with students early and often to gain a competitive advantage.

Barts said Career Services can also help businesses stay up to speed with the best practices and current trends that are important to students and future employees.

“As business people, we are aligned with you,” McHugh told Regents. “I do not remember a time when universities priorities were not on the list when talking to elected officials. That sends a powerful message. We stand with you and appreciate all that the universities do for us.”

In other action, the Board of Regents:

  • Approved a resolution of appreciation for UW-Eau Claire’s hosting of the September 2022 meeting;
  • Approved a proposal to rescind Regent Policy Document 22-2, which provides guidelines on the disposal of works of art. After review, it was determined this subject is more appropriately addressed at the System level;
  • Approved a Bachelor of Business Analytics at UW-La Crosse, which will prepare students to succeed in a data-driven world, providing exposure to software platforms and techniques used to store, transform, manipulate, analyze and interpret small and large sets of data;
  • Approved UW-Madison’s request for authority to complete the design and construction of the Engineering Hall Mechanics Lab 1313 Renovation project for an estimated total project cost of $2,063,000 Gift/Grant Funding;
  • Approved UW-Platteville’s request for authority to sell a 1.028-acre parcel of land with improvements located at 895 W. Main Street, Platteville. The property, purchased in 1997, includes a single-family home which has been used as the chancellor’s residence since 1997;
  • Approved a request by UW-La Crosse for authority to transfer a .02-acre parcel of land to the City of La Crosse in exchange for a .04-acre parcel of land located in La Crosse County. Both parcels are vacant;
  • Approved a request by UW-Madison for authority to increase the scope and budget of the Rowe WHAM Plasma Physics Lab Electrical and Cooling upgrade of $991,000 for an estimated total project cost of $2,555,000 gift/grant funding;
  • Approved UW System’s request for authority to construct two All Agency maintenance and repair projects at an estimated cost of $7,986,600 ($2,899,000 General Fund Supported Borrowing; $3,988,400 Program Revenue Supported Borrowing; $1,099,200 Cash). The first project replaces exterior windows at UW-Madison’s Slichter Hall and Hall and the second replaces the chiller plant unit #1 in UW-La Crosse’s east plant;
  • Approved UW-System’s request for authority to construct two minor facilities renewal projects at an estimated cost of $11,118,000 ($4,260,000 General Fund Supported Borrowing; $5,872,000 Program Revenue Supported Borrowing; and $986,000 Cash). The first project repairs the Fluno Center Plaza’s underground parking garage at UW-Madison and the second replaces the heating and cooling plant boilers 3 and 4 at UW-Parkside; and
  • Approved UW-Madison’s request for authority to enter into a lease of 50,969 square feet located at 5510 Element Way, Madison, to be occupied by UW-Madison research units.

See day 2 photo gallery

Photo Credit: Bill Hoepner/UW-Eau Claire

The University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents will next meet on Nov. 10, 2022, in Madison.