MADISON, Wis. – The University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents will honor this year’s recipients of the Academic Staff Awards for Excellence at its regular board meeting June 5 in Milwaukee. This is the UW System’s highest recognition bestowed on members of its academic staff.

“This year’s award winners exemplify the commitment and far-reaching impact of our academic staff across the UW System,” said Regent Janice Mueller, chair of the selection committee. “We are honored to recognize their significant and diverse accomplishments on behalf of our students, campuses, and broader communities.”

The 2015 recipients, including two individuals and one program, are:

  • Gene Clark, Coastal Engineering Specialist, Sea Grant Institute, UW-Madison. Clark, who began his service at UW-Madison as a graduate research assistant in 1984, has worked with the UW Sea Grant Institute as a coastal engineer for the past 10 years. Clark is often called upon to explain coastal science and how it affects environmental trends. Last year, he conducted a series of public forums for local policymakers, business owners, and commercial and recreational fishermen on the topic of record-low levels of the Great Lakes. Clark’s skillful personal interactions are frequently cited in thank-you letters from grateful community members whom he has helped with coastline concerns. Clark has partnered with the Milwaukee County Parks Department to provide real-time beach conditions, including warnings about rip currents in Lake Michigan. During his tenure, Clark has secured $1.1 million in additional funds for projects to improve beach safety along Lake Michigan and Lake Superior, find productive uses for harbor-dredged material (saving an estimated $125 million in landfill storage costs), and meet the challenges of failing port, harbor, and marina infrastructure. One of Clark’s long-term projects – mitigating steel infrastructure disintegration at the Port of Duluth-Superior due to microbial action combined with winter ice scour – received national attention in 2014, earning the Research to Application Award from the national Sea Grant Association. He is one of 13 people around the country who serve as experts on a team advising the National Sea Grant College Program in the area of resilient communities and economies.
  • Jennifer Elsesser, Assistant Director, Counseling Services, UW-River Falls. Elsesser, who has worked at UW-River Falls since 2002, is the primary point of contact for faculty, staff, students, and community members for counseling emergencies and concerns. She developed and instituted a triage intake system for campus counseling services to minimize wait times for students, as well as prioritize services for more serious issues and match students with counselors’ areas of expertise. Elsesser worked with the Department of Technology Services to develop an online wellness assessment for students based on the eight dimensions of wellness. She developed a highly successful pet therapy program; a variety of wellness and fitness sessions provided free of charge for students, faculty, and staff; and co-created the award-winning “iRock” program, an education series for students living on campus to help promote wellness on topics such as healthy relationships, stress management, fitness, nutrition, and career and academic development. She co-wrote three “Bringing Theory to Practice” grants from the Association of American Colleges and Universities, which resulted in more than $20,000 to fund successful projects. She received the 2009 Chancellor’s Award for Program of the Year, the 2014 Chancellor’s Award for Academic Excellence, and a Compass Award for her work in counseling first-year students. In addition to inviting national speakers on wellness to campus, she presents at professional conferences on topics such as addressing mental health from a wellness perspective and collaborative efforts to address student mental health issues.
  • Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, UW-Eau Claire. Led by Dr. Karen Havholm, the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs (ORSP) is nationally recognized for fostering learning through research, and contributing to the international community of undergraduate research practitioners. Staffed primarily by non-instructional academic staff, ORSP excels at developing faculty, staff, and students, helping them to secure grant funding for projects that advance the mission of the campus and UW System. The office provides students an opportunity to collaborate with faculty on research, a high-impact practice proven to increase academic performance, aid retention, and boost graduations rates; more than one in three students on campus participate in paid collaborative research, and many more participate in unpaid research. The office supported 2015 Rhodes Scholar Tayo Sanders II, a UW-Eau Claire senior. Recently, ORSP assisted faculty in chemistry, biology, materials science, and mathematics in obtaining five National Science Foundation awards. ORSP played a leading role in identifying ways for UW institutions to work together to develop a collaborative vision for undergraduate research, a stepping-stone to establishing the Wisconsin System Council on Undergraduate Research (WiSCUR) in 2013. Also in 2013, ORSP launched a revamped campus research event, in which more than 785 students and 450 faculty mentors shared 390 projects, nearly a 50% increase from four years earlier. The National Council of University Research Administrators selected ORSP to co-author a new edition of a publication, “Establishing and Managing an Office of Sponsored Programs at Non-Research Intensive Colleges and Universities.” ORSP members also serve on UW-Eau Claire’s Council on Internationalization and Global Engagement.

Other award committee members included Regent Eve Hall, Regent Tim Higgins, and Regent Drew Petersen.

The Regents Academic Staff Awards for Excellence will be officially presented at the Board of Regents meeting on June 5 at UW-Milwaukee. The monetary value of the award is $5,000 for each recipient.

Media Contacts

Alex Hummel UW System (608) 262-4463 ahummel@uwsa.edu
John Lucas UW-Madison (608) 262-8287 john.lucas@wisc.edu
Beth Schommer UW-River Falls (715) 425-0662 beth.schommer@uwrf.edu
Michael Rindo UW-Eau Claire (715) 836-4742 rindomj@uwec.edu