Students and teachers recognized for outstanding achievements by Alliant Energy Foundation and UW System

By UW-Rock County

MADISON – Four UW System students and three UW System teachers have been recognized by the Alliant Energy Foundation and the University of Wisconsin System for their outstanding achievements.

“Congratulations to these impressive students and inspiring instructors,” said UW System President Ray Cross. “We are proud to partner with Alliant Energy to recognize their outstanding efforts to enrich their communities and create a dynamic educational and learning experience.”

“These awards are part of Alliant Energy’s investment in education and our shared future,” said Julie Bauer, Executive Director of the Alliant Energy Foundation. “It is an honor to build on the legacy of these two awards and recognize the students and faculty for all of their hard work.”

The 10th annual Alliant Energy/Erroll B. Davis, Jr. Academic Achievement Award recognizes the outstanding scholarship and community-service efforts of students from traditionally underrepresented minority groups who are pursuing a degree in business or engineering at UW-Madison or UW-Platteville. Both institutions are within Alliant Energy’s service area. The 2016 recipients are:

  • Janerra Allen, senior, UW-Madison. Last summer, Janerra completed a project investigating neuroplastic brain changes in stroke patients associated with rehabilitative therapy using a brain-computer interface system. She currently serves as an assistant researcher for UW-Madison’s neuroimaging research program. Allen is president of the National Society of Black Engineers–Wisconsin Black Engineering Student Society. She expects to earn her Bachelor of Science degree in Materials Science and Engineering in May 2017, along with a certificate in Integrated Studies in Science, Engineering and Society.
  • Catherine Finedore, senior, UW-Madison. Finedore was part of a student team that developed an Infant Cardio-Respiratory (CaRe) monitor for use in developing countries. The team was invited to India for three weeks to meet students, doctors, and nurses. During the visit, the device was used with newborns, which helped team members learn its strengths and modify the design accordingly. She expects to earn her Bachelor of Science degree in Biomedical Engineering in May 2017, along with a certificate in Design Studies.
  • Nicole Maala, senior, UW-Platteville. After studying abroad in Sweden and Australia, Maala welcomed international students to UW-Platteville as an orientation leader. She has interned at John Deere and Rockwell Automation, and had a cooperative education experience at Georgia-Industry where she earned academic credit, while learning real-world skills as an engineering project manager. Maala has also served as a tutor and peer mentor for the UW-Platteville Directives for Retention Initiatives and Valuing Education Network (DRIVEN) Scholars Program, which serves underrepresented students.  She would like to focus on mobility devices from wheelchairs to exoskeletons. She expects to earn her Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering Physics in May 2017 with an emphasis in Bioengineering Design and Controls and a minor in Spanish.
  • Angela Yang, senior, UW-Platteville. As the oldest child in her family, as well as a first-generation college student, Yang wishes to serve as an exceptional role model for her younger siblings. This past summer, she travelled to China and South Korea, and she is currently studying abroad in Thailand. Yang is active in several clubs at UW-Platteville, holding leadership roles in the Asian Students in Action (ASIA) Club, the Hmong Club, and the International Student Club. She expects to earn her Bachelor of Arts degree in May 2017, double-majoring in Business Administration and International Studies with a minor in French.

The 24th annual Alliant Energy/Underkofler Excellence in Teaching Award recognizes outstanding commitment to student success. The awards are presented to teachers from UW System campuses located within Alliant Energy’s service area. The 2016 recipients are:

  • Kristin N. Plessel, Associate Professor, Chemistry Department, UW-Rock County. Dr. Plessel uses a teaching method called Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL) which she employs in all of her classes. In a POGIL classroom, students work in small groups on specially designed activities, learning not only the material, but also skills such as working in a team and analyzing data. Dr. Plessel shares her expertise by leading workshops offered nationwide on facilitating POGIL in the classroom. For her use of POGIL, she was recognized with the Gil Sedor Excellence in Teaching Award in 2014 and with the Arthur M. Kaplan Fellows Award in 2011.
  • Jennifer B. Smilowitz, Clinical Associate Professor and Medical Physicist, School of Medicine and Public Health, UW-Madison. Dr. Smilowitz developed the first lab-based course on the physics of radiotherapy treatment planning. She has taught this course to graduate students, medical residents, and veterinary radiation oncology residents for 10 years. In 2015, Dr. Smilowitz traveled to China as a member of the UW-Madison faculty to teach in the China Top Physicist Development Project. In 2013, she implemented a Clinical Preceptorship program in Madison to train students from the UW-La Crosse Medical Dosimetry program.
  • M. Keith Thompson, Professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, UW-Platteville. Dr. Thompson’s graduate specialty was structural engineering and his early research interests included behavior and design of bridges and the mechanics of reinforced concrete. Dr. Thompson was an active member of the American Concrete Institute, helping to develop portions of the Building Code for Structural Concrete. Working with colleagues at UW-Platteville, he has secured grants from the National Science Foundation and other agencies to explore new curriculum; student retention initiatives; and programs to enhance success of first generation, female, and underrepresented minority students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) majors.

About the Awards

The Alliant Energy Foundation established an endowment in 2006 to honor Erroll B. Davis, Jr.’s distinguished record of public service. Davis, the first African-American leader of a “Business Week 1000” company, is a former chief executive of Alliant Energy and a former member of the UW System’s Board of Regents. He was interim Superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools from 2012 to 2014. The award program is administered by the UW System Office for Academic and Student Affairs.

The Underkofler awards are given as a tribute to the energy company’s long-time senior executive, the late James R. Underkofler (1923–2015), who was a staunch proponent of excellence in undergraduate teaching. The award program is administered by UW System Academic Programs and Educational Innovation and funded through an endowment established by the Alliant Energy Foundation.

For more information about each of the 2016 recipients, see the awards program online.


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