Seven named distinguished alumni

Alums will share their ‘La Crosse Experience’

Graduates from four decades will receive distinguished honors from UW-La Crosse.

Most of the alumni will return to campus Friday, Sept. 22, to share how the “La Crosse Experience” shaped their lives. They will participate in a “My La Crosse Experience” panel from 2-3 p.m. in Strzelczyk Great Hall in the Cleary Alumni & Friends Center. Following the panel discussion, there will be refreshments and an opportunity to network. The event is free and open to all.

Along with the panel, the seven will receive their awards from the UWL Alumni Association during a brunch and ceremony beginning at 9 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 23. Tickets are $25 per person. Reservations are required by Friday, Sept. 15, at  https://www.uwlax.edu/alumni/events/uwl-alumni-awards-brunch–ceremony/registration/?event_id=1186

The honors and those receiving them include:

The Maurice O. Graff Distinguished Alumnus Award

Recognizes outstanding achievement of alumni who have brought honor and distinction to the university. Long-time administrator Maurice O. Graff instituted the honor in 1977.

Shelmina Abji, ’85.

Shelmina Abji, ’85

  • Empowerment speaker; passion for accelerating success of girls and women.
  • United Nations Foundation Girl Up Board Member.
  • Angel investor of early tech start-up companies.
  • Former vice president of IBM.
  • Former co-chair of the Asian Executive Diversity Council.
  • Board member of Young Women Empowered.
  • Bachelor’s in mathematics from the University of Poona, India.
  • Bachelor’s in computer science from UWL, 1985.

Rada Distinguished Alumnus Award

Recognizes alumni who have graduated within the last 20 years, achieved professional distinction and taken part in humanitarian activities. Professor emeritus Ron Rada and his wife, Jane, created the award in 2002.

Patrick Gonzales, ’05.

Patrick Gonzales, ’05

  • High-impact, peer-reviewed researcher in microbial genetics and genomics, addressing problem of antibiotic resistance.
  • Researcher at University of Alabama, Birmingham; Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota; Washington University, St. Louis.
  • Taught at Washington University, 2010-11, 2014; and UWL, 2003-05.
  • Community involvement in Boy Scouts of America, March of Dimes, Craig Elementary Parent-Teacher Organization.
  • Doctor of Philosophy – molecular genetics and genomics, Washington University in St. Louis, 2015.
  • Master’s in biology – cellular and molecular biology concentration from UWL, 2005.
  • Bachelor’s in biology from University of California-Los Angeles, 1994.

Hollie Nyseth Brehm, ’08.

Hollie Nyseth Brehm, ’08

  • Assistant professor of sociology, The Ohio State University, since 2014.
  • Ohio State Alumni Award for Distinguished Teaching, College of Arts and Science Outstanding Teaching Award, 2016.
  • Best Dissertation Award, University of Minnesota, 2015.
  • Named to the inaugural list of “30 Top Thinkers Under 30” by Pacific Standard.
  • Master’s (2012) and doctorate (2014) in sociology from University of Minnesota.
  • Double majors, sociology and political science; double minors, international studies and Spanish, from UWL, 2008.

Parker Distinguished Multicultural Alumni Award

Recognizes outstanding alumni who have contributed greatly to improve multiracial culture and understanding on campus and in their careers. History Professor Emeritus James Parker initiated the award in 1997.

Jessica McMunn, ’05.

Jessica McMunn, ’05

  •  Filmmaker and producer of mainly social justice oriented works including the award-winning “Soleil.” Currently in post-production of her first feature film, “Raise Your Hand.”
  • Stage manager for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
  • Stage Manager for Oscar de la Hoya’s Golden Boy Productions company.
  • Awards: James Bridges Award in Film Direction; Jack Nicholson Distinguished Director Award; Mary Pickford Award; Motion Picture Association of America Award; UCLA Spotlight Films Award Winner; Director’s Guild Association Student Minority Award.
  • Bad Robot Minority Fellowship.
  • Bachelor’s in Theatre, with a minor in Latin American Studies, from UWL, 2005.
  • Completing a master’s in production-directing from University of California Los Angeles.

Burt and Norma Altman Teacher Education Award

Honors and recognizes outstanding educators and the significant contributions they make to children and communities. Professor Emeritus Burt Altman and his wife, Norma, long-time supporters of teacher education, created the award in 2015.

Wayne W. Welch, ’56.

Wayne W. Welch, ’56

  • Distinguished, long-time educator, researcher and author in science education.
  • Professor at University of Minnesota, 1974-95. Currently, professor emeritus.
  • Served as an educational and evaluation consultant for numerous international and national projects.
  • Fulbright Research Scholar to New Zealand; Fulbright-Hays Lecturer to Israel.
  • Master’s in education from University of Pennsylvania, 1960; master’s in physics from Purdue University, 1963; doctorate in science education from UW-Madison, 1966.
  • Bachelor’s in secondary education from UWL, 1956.

Lisa Koenecke, ’91.

Lisa Koenecke, ’91

  • Passionate advocate for youth and school counseling.
  • Counselor at River Bluff Middle School, Stoughton.
  • Past president of the Wisconsin School Counselor Association.
  • Board of Directors, American School Counselor Association.
  • Wisconsin Gay Straight Alliance of Safe Schools Educator of the Year, 2013.
  • Kohl Fellowship Award, 2016.
  • Master’s in school counseling from UW-Whitewater, 2008.
  • Bachelor’s in psychology from UWL, 1991.

Christopher Gleason, ’02.

Christopher Gleason, ’02

  •  Instrumental Music Teacher, Patrick Marsh Middle School, Sun Prairie, since 2004. La Crosse Logan Middle School, 1999-2004; East Troy Middle School 1997-1999.
  • Founder, Kalahari Band Festival.
  • Semi-finalist for the 2017 Grammy Music Educator Award; Wisconsin representative for National Teacher of the Year Award; Michael G. George Distinguished Service Award; Kohl Teacher Fellowship; Melvin F. Pontious Sparks in Music Education Award.
  • Masters of Education in Professional Development from UWL, May 2002.