Meet the UW-Rock Community
Assistant Professor of Communications & Theatre Arts
"Put yourself out there and try the things that scare you. It’s the best way to grow," advises Zac Curtis, who was recently named an Arthur M. Kaplan award winner for his innovative improvements in instruction to UW-Rock County students.
Curtis was honored for his ability and willingness to provide students with the confidence and techniques needed to overcome their fears and make their ideas heard through both his public speaking and theatre courses. In his Introduction to Public Speaking course, Curtis pushes his students’ comfort levels by having them speak both in the intimate classroom environment, and in a large theatre venue. Students comment that he pushed them to be better speakers while creating a comfortable and fun environment.
In his Introduction to Theatre Course, Curits has developed a project based on the Federal Theatre Project’s Newspaper Theatre in which students work throughout the semester to create, write, design and act a play based on current event headlines, with a goal of creating theatre that promotes social change.
Curtis was also honored for broadening theatre education and bringing entertainment to the larger Rock County community by co-writing and directing the original play On a Turtle’s Back: The Legend of Urashima Taro, which was performed on the campus last November.
Curtis has a bachelor’s degree in theatre and communications from Colorado State University, a master’s degree in theatre production from Central Washington University and a master of fine arts degree in directing from the University of Idaho. He joined the UW-Rock County faculty in 2012 and lives in Janesville with his wife and two children.
Chemical Engineer & Site Manager, Air Products
“Go forward with confidence, for if you have done well at UW-Rock County, you will do well wherever you go if you are committed to it,” says Greg Linder to current UW-Rock County students and those considering attending the campus. Linder is UW-Rock County’s 2014 Outstanding Alumni Award recipient.
Linder is a chemical engineer and site manager of Air Products in Milton, a company that supplies more than a hundred chemical products found in things you may use every day, from the gasoline, paint and steel in your car to the cleaning agents in your home.
What stands out about Linder is he is committed. Committed to education. Committed to his career. Committed to his wife Nancy of 40 years. Committed to community service. And committed to UW-Rock County.
Every student has a unique story of how and why they ended up at UW-Rock County and where they will go after they leave here. Linder’s story is somewhat familiar in that he was one of the many students that did not go to college directly out of high school. His not-so-great high school grades led him to start work after graduation. A year of working minimum-wage jobs was an eye-opener, however, and he realized he needed to commit to his education if he wanted a different life for himself and his young bride.
Linder enrolled at UW-Rock County because it was affordable, he didn’t have to relocate and it had a great reputation even back in the 1970s. He continued to work part-time while attending college and earned a 4.0 grade point average. He intended to go into electrical engineering, but he fell in love with chemistry thanks to professors Lloyd Goding and Marty Stabb and he decided to go into chemical engineering instead.
After graduating from UW-Rock County, Greg went on to UW-Madison where he earned his degree in chemical engineering and then held jobs at DuPont in North Carolina and Delaware. He ended up back in Wisconsin when a contact he met through a UW-Rock County internship called him about a position available at what is now ABITEC in Janesville. He managed that facility for five years and then went to Tomah Products in Milton, which was bought out by Air Products in 2006 and currently employs 54 people. He’s been there for 21 years and now manages the plant’s maintenance, production, laboratory and warehousing operations. Along the way, he also earned a master’s degree in business administration from UW-Whitewater.
He’s been actively involved on the board of the Milton YMCA and with the Milton Area Chamber of Commerce and has been a friend to the UW-Rock County campus as well.
UW-Rock County Student
"What I love about literature is that there are so many ways for everyone to connect with the text. My Count of Monte Cristo could be completely different from your Count of Monte Cristo; it’s that sort of subjective relationship that I love to discuss with others," says University of Wisconsin-Rock County student Francisco “Frank” Martinez of Evansville.
Martinez was selected by Sigma Kappa Delta, the national English honor society for two-year colleges, to present at their annual convention held February 26-March 1, 2014, in Savannah, Georgia. He was chosen from 26 students who applied and will be part of a four-person panel discussing “Against the Current: Life-changing Literature.”
Martinez is a member of the Delta Gamma chapter of Sigma Kappa Delta, the UW-Rock County chapter advised by John Pruitt, UW-Rock County Associate Professor of English. Students are invited to apply for membership to Sigma Kappa Delta if they have completed at least two college courses in English language or literature and have at least a B average in English and general scholarship.
“The judges were very impressed with the submissions from students around the country and it is an honor to be chosen to present at the national conference,” says Pruitt. “This was a great opportunity for Frank to share with other students his thoughts on books that have changed his life and also to meet some authors, read their work and interact with them.”
Sara Juarez Koch
UW-Rock County Advisor
"As a UW-Rock County student, I really got to know people. Some of my professors even came to my wedding and I am still friends with classmates I met here -- that's why I was excited to come back here to work," says Sara Juarez Koch.
Koch started out as a UW-Platteville student after high school, but found that it wasn't a good fit for her at the time. After taking a break for a year and working, she enrolled at UW-Rock County after a friend recommended it. Soon, she was enjoying her classes, meeting new people and recommending the campus to her friends, one of which later became her husband.
She was involved in the Multicultural Student Union on the campus and enjoyed taking classes from such professors as George Jones, Robert Storch and the late Julia Hornbostel. She ended up earning not just her Associate of Arts and Science degree, but also an English Department award at her graduation ceremony.
Koch transferred to UW-Whitewater after graduation and earned a bachelor's degree in Spanish with a minor in teaching English as a second language to adults. She worked at Blackhawk Technical College and the Job Center before landing a position at UW-Rock County Student Affairs as an advisor in 2003. She's been helping students one-on-one to meet their educational goals since then. Some of her advice to students comes from her own experiences as a student here.
"Go to your classes," she tells students often. "That's how you get to know your professors and how they get to know you. It's a small school, so when you don't show up, they notice. But, remember, your instructors are people, too. Don't be afraid to get to know them and to ask for help when you need it."
In December, Koch earned a Master of Science in Education in adult education with an emphasis in counseling from UW-Platteville. She's already found that this education has enhanced her work as an advisor. "I'm more aware of different issues that can affect students and know what I can help them with, such as study skills and relationship or anxiety issues, and when I need to refer a student to other resources, such as the mental health counseling we have on campus."
UW-Rock County Alumnus
"Believe in yourself and surround yourself with people who believe in you. Talk to your professors. Get the help you need to succeed – it’s right there on the campus.” That’s advice to students from UW-Rock County alumnus Kevin Reilly of Janesville, the 2014 TRIO Alumni Award recipient.
Kevin Reilly earned an Associate of Arts and Sciences degree from UW-Rock County in 1992 and a bachelor’s degree in sociology from UW-Whitewater in 1995. He is currently Child Protective Services Supervisor for Jefferson County Human Services where he supervises a staff of eight social workers and two family development staff members who have a caseload of more than 150 abused or neglected children. He’s also been active in the Rock Trail Coalition, Friends of Rockport Park and the City of Janesville Leisure Services Advisory Committee
“In high school, I wasn’t a great student and I was told growing up that college just wasn’t going to happen because we didn’t have the money,” says Reilly. He did enroll at UW-Whitewater, but lacking preparation and motivation, he didn’t do well, left school and spent the next few years in low-paying jobs. He credits his wife, Amy, who also attended UW-Rock County, for encouraging him to go back to school and believing he could be successful at it.
Reilly found the smaller classes, the mix of people and the extra tutoring available on the UW-Rock campus made for a more comfortable environment. He also notes that the guidance of a UW-Rock County instructor, the late Julia Hornbostel, was what put him on the path to success. “She changed my life,” he says of his former Composition instructor. “She taught me how to write and how to study and, even when I wasn’t in her class anymore, she still checked in with me. I’m sure she did that with other students, but it made me feel special,” says Reilly.
That solid foundation helped him enjoy his other classes in history and sociology and he went on to major in sociology at UW-Whitewater with the idea of going on to law school. When he graduated in 1995 with his bachelor’s degree, however, he found an opportunity in the human services field working with troubled youth, which he found rewarding and he continued in the field in various positions for the next two decades because he liked the work and the hours fit well with raising a family. He became a supervisor in 2010 and is involved in recruiting, training and retaining employees and overseeing the budget all while striving for the safety and well-being of the children that make up the department’s case load.
“Whether you are a returning adult student, a first-generation student or 50-plus and just want to take a class, you’ll find other people like you at UW-Rock County – and, if you have any motivation at all, you’ll find the individual attention you need to be successful,” says Reilly.
UW-Rock County Student
“My college experience is helping to smooth out my rough edges,” says Melissa Kelly. “What I’m learning about communication applies to every job sector. Also, I am around positive role models. I hope to become one of those myself, so that’s a good place to start.”
Wary of student loans, Kelly went right into the workforce after graduating from Beloit Turner High School in 1997 and has worked in manufacturing since then. She’s had some life experiences along the way, however, that made her decide to start a new chapter in her life. By pursuing a college degree, Kelly plans for a lifestyle that will allow her to not only be self-sufficient, but to also help her care for her parents, whom she credits with instilling her strong work ethic and providing her with stability when she needed it, as they age.
“There are a lot of educational opportunities in this neck of the woods, so I did a lot of assessments and aptitude tests so I knew exactly what I wanted to do and where I should go. I ultimately want to graduate from UW-Whitewater’s occupational health and environmental safety program, but I came to UW-Rock County first because of the Guaranteed Transfer Program, lower tuition and a good student-to-teacher ratio,” says Kelly, who attends part-time while she continues to work full-time.
While she was a good student in high school, Kelly says it was hard to jump back into school, but thanks to instructors such as Roberta Fabiani, Susan Stredulinsky and Rachelle Barr she successfully made the transition. In fact, Kelly has done so well in all of her courses over the last three semesters, she was recently inducted into UW-Rock County’s Beta Mu Chi chapter of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. She serves as the group’s secretary of public relations and recently attended a PTK leadership conference.
“The leadership conference made me think about things I’d never thought about before,” says Kelly. “There are so many exciting personal and chapter opportunities I want to share with people so they know the breadth of what PTK can offer.”
Phi Theta Kappa isn’t the only thing at UW-Rock that interests Kelly – she also was inducted into the English honor society Sigma Kappa Delta and serves as vice president of UW-Rock County’s Student Government Association.
“I’m so lucky to be here – it really is the best option for me and I really like it here,” says Kelly. “The faculty and staff are amazing and I haven’t met one yet that doesn’t actively participate and care about student learning. If you start here and put in an honest effort, you can do great things.”
Associate Lecturer of English
"I think that it's important to acknowledge our students' previous knowledge of, and experience with, technology when designing curriculum; for many incoming students, incorporating new technologies into the writing process makes that process exciting and relevant," says UW-Rock County lecturer of English Erin Ellison.
Ellison recently received an Arthur M. Kaplan Award, which recognizes innovative improvements in instruction or service to students by UW Colleges faculty and academic staff. Ellison was recognized for her dedication to providing a new format for a remedial composition course for students to help them prosper in all courses requiring a writing component. Students in Ellison’s English 099 course benefit from intimate, four-student sessions and the innovative use of digital technology as they learned the writing and revision process.
"When I started teaching composition, I noticed that many of my students wanted to use their phones or computers in class. That observation inspired me to harness that energy in a positive way," explains Ellison. "I started introducing writing-relevant iPad and iPhone apps, and teaching technology-driven writing strategies that would help students catalogue their ideas both inside and outside of the classroom."
For example, students aren't always excited to brainstorm ideas in their notebooks, according to Ellison, but, given the opportunity to document those same ideas in an app like iBrainstorm, the mood and productivity in the classroom changes dramatically.
"I think that as composition instructors, it's important that we not only produce students who are clear and effective writers, but students who are technology literate and know how to use technology in productive, professional ways," says Ellison.
Ellison has a bachelor’s degree in English from UW-Madison and a master’s degree in English and Irish literature from Boston College. She’s been an instructor at UW-Rock County since 2012. She and her husband live in Madison where she plays in the Irish folk band Rising Gael.
UW-Rock County Student
"Before starting at UW-Rock County, I never would have imagined how helpful the professors are. They are available to any student’s needs, whether it is with extra help on a subject, general advice, or just help getting to your next class. I have even had the opportunity to meet professors from classes I have never taken, and they have answered questions for me,” says UW-Rock County freshman Tai Pratt. “Being honest, I had envisioned that professors were scary, strict and unable to help outside of the classroom -- which is quite the opposite of what they really are.”
Another thing Pratt likes about UW-Rock County is the small community feeling. “I see familiar faces in many of my classes, so it provides comfort in a new classroom. Being involved in TRIO also strengthens that familiarity. The advisors are so helpful to guide students through college. They are not just making sure a student succeeds, but all of them actually care about their advisees,” she says.
Along with the amazing help advisors can give to a student, she also notes a surprising amount of options for students. “From the plethora of classes one can take to the clubs and sports, there is something for everyone,” says Pratt. “This semester I am taking an acting class, and I have found myself looking forward to going to it every Monday and Wednesday because of how fun it is. Also, I am happy to say that I am one of the first members to ever be on the UW-Rock County Venom Dance Team. Getting involved in the extracurricular activities and classes is very beneficial. I have met so many kind and friendly people, and I never thought that I would have. UW-Rock County also has plays, musicals, guest speakers, workshops, and more activities available to everyone. Attending school here makes it easy to get involved to become a greater version of yourself while having fun along the way.
UW-Rock County Student
"I believe the three best things about UW-Rock County are they offer classes that gear you up for your career, they encourage you to try your best in all of your classes and to not give up, and they offer tutors that will help you improve in the subjects that are most challenging," says student Shekinah McBride.
McBride transferred from UW-Parkside to UW-Rock County last spring. She’s interested in pursuing a career in medicine and has enjoyed her classes, especially learning math from Dr. Robert Hein. When she’s not in classes she also has a student job on campus and serves as a student ambassador, giving tours and helping with events.
"The environment at UW-Rock County inspires and encourages the students who attend there to set, focus and achieve their goals," she says. “At UW-Rock, you will learn the skills in time management and the ability to put your priorities in perspective."
Assistant Professor of Chemistry
“I don’t even lecture. The students guide their own learning in a collaborative classroom environment facilitated by me,” explains Dr. Kristin Plessel, a recipient of a 2014 Gil Sedor Excellence in Teaching Award.
A UW-Rock County assistant professor of chemistry since 2010, Plessel was nominated for her outstanding instruction in the chemistry program based largely on her use of the Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL) method. Plessel learned of this teaching approach through workshops as a graduate student and she became so passionate about it that she now is a certified trainer who facilitates workshops for high school and collegiate educators across the country.
This different style of teaching takes some students a month or so to get used to, but by the end of the semester even the students who didn’t like it at first are receptive to it and can see the benefit, according to Plessel.
"The POGIL method helps with retention of material and, because it is modeled on the scientific method, it is applicable for most science classrooms," says Plessel. "For example, students may be working on an activity with certain information given to them, but they must then come up with their own definitions for the results or trends they observe. Then, after they’ve taken ownership of the information, they will learn from the instructor what the actual definition for that phenomenon is."
Plessel earned her doctorate and master’s degree in chemistry from UW-Madison and her bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.