Six Staff Members Receive College of Letters & Science Awards

Six members of the Department of Chemistry were among the 13 individuals honored with College of Letters & Science staff awards for 2016-17. The awards are given annually to recognize staff contributions to the College of Letters & Science and its associated units. Read on to learn about this year’s awardees:

Tony Jacob, Chemistry Learning Center Director
Judith Craig Distinguished Service Award

If students are stumped by chemistry, they won’t be after meeting with Tony Jacob. As director of the Chemistry Learning Center since 2011, and the associate director for sixteen years before that, Tony has used incredible teaching skills and a profound passion for supporting students to help them excel in chemistry.

Tony leads a team that tutors and mentors chemistry students, with a focus on closing equity and opportunity gaps and encouraging students from historically underrepresented groups to pursue majors in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. He has also launched peer mentoring tutor programs in physics and biochemistry and shared his expertise with committees across campus. And in 2015, he established the CLC Encouragement Awards Fund to honor students who have overcome adversity while taking chemistry.

Students Mamawa Konuwa and Andrew Rose have experienced Tony’s support. “When Tony wasn’t enthusiastically discussing unit conversion and the molecular orbital theory, you could find him advising students about their schedules, or simply being an open ear for anyone in need,” they wrote. “He truly goes above and beyond for all of his students, past and present. So importantly, Tony continues to inspired confidence and instill hope that we can succeed in the STEM field as people of color.”

Karen Stephens, Organic Chemistry Path Coordinator
University Staff Award

More than 1,000 undergraduates take an organic chemistry course each semester, and recruiting strong graduate students plays a big role in the UW-Madison Chemistry Department continuously ranking among the top ten chemistry departments in the country. 

“There is just one classified staff member whose primary job is to serve the Organic Division, and thank goodness that person is Karen Stephens!” says professor Samuel Gellman. “She is one of the most dedicated, intelligent, proactive and thoughtful staff members I have encountered in my nearly 30 years at UW-Madison.” 

Each year, Stephens coordinates recruitment of Organic Path graduate students, overseeing the travel and on-campus experiences of more than 50 prospective students from around the country (and world). And she helps guide the students who pursue studies here, becoming an essential source of both information and encouragement along the way.

Arrietta Clauss, Graduate Student Services Director
Academic Staff Mid-Career Award

Sometimes a person’s impact is felt more than seen, and that has certainly been the case with Arrietta Clauss. Since joining the chemistry department, she’s created electronic-based systems for the admissions process, graduate student records, recruiting and communications.

She has also transformed Chem 901, a valuable introduction course for new graduate students. She’s also worked to improve the diversity among graduate students, recruits faculty to talk to them about their work and life experiences and is proactive in bringing representatives from companies to campus to meet chemistry graduate students in person.

Since Arrietta has come on board, the department has noticed a steady increase in students coming in to talk about resumes, interviews and post-graduation plans. As professors Thomas Brunold and Daniel Fredrickson attest, “Arrietta has become the go-to person in our department for career advice.” 

Mark Wendt, Physical Chemistry Laboratory Director
Academic Staff Mid-Career Award

Physical Chemistry labs used to be quiet spaces, where students carefully followed instructions on their own. Today, the labs are buzzing with energy, as students work together to shape and execute experiments.

These lab courses have long been capstone experiences for chemistry majors, but they were hardly students’ favorites — until Mark Wendt transformed them utilizing collaboration, experimentation and technology.

Mark has created online pre-lab quizzes and videos, and in the lab, he encourages students to explore and make their own decisions. They not only learn more, but also gain skills as independent researchers.

“Mark turned the classes upside down, placing the students at the forefront of their own education,” says chemistry professor Gil Nathanson. “He has turned our most feared lab class into a place where curiosity and questions are encouraged and nurtured.”

Libby Dowdall, Communications Specialist
Academic Staff Early Career Award

Some communicators build bridges. Libby Dowdall is helping erect a new building.

Libby joined the chemistry department in 2012, in a new position created to establish a communications and alumni relations strategy. She quickly defined the role, translating the impact of the department’s research and teaching to broad audiences.

In the spring of 2015, when a $110 million chemistry building project was scrapped from the governor’s biennial state budget proposal, Libby took even bolder action.

“She coordinated news stories, video production, outreach to alumni, outreach to Wisconsin companies and myriad other tasks,” says department chair Robert McMahon.

“These efforts helped persuade members of the Joint Finance Committee to include the Chemistry Building Project in the biennial budget,” making it the only state-funded building project to be approved.

Brian Esselman, Organic Chemistry Assistant Laboratory Director
Academic Staff Early Career Award

When Brian Esselman studied computational molecular modeling as a Ph.D. student, this technique used to predict chemical reactivity was the domain of highly trained experts, not undergraduates. That all changed when he helped develop a new curriculum for organic chemistry lab students.

Now, the technique known as CMM is part of all organic chemistry lab courses.

“I am confident that his expertise, commitment and sheer zest for the project has helped to provide UW-Madison undergraduates with one of the (if not the) most rigorous and authentic introductions to CMM in the nation,” says lab director Nicholas Hill.

Brian also brings innovation to the organic chemistry courses he teaches, pioneering new technologies to enhance and improve student learning.