Faculty, Staff and Adviser Awards

Each year, UWRF honors faculty, staff and advisers for their commitment to teaching, advising and research, commitment to the university and longstanding service. Award nominations and announcements happen throughout the year - explore below for information on the nomination processes, awards criteria and current and past honorees.

UWRF Section Separator


Distinguished Teaching Award

Excellence in teaching is valued above all endeavors at UWRF. To recognize this essential mission, the university initiated the Distinguished Teaching Award in 1965. It is the most prestigious honor bestowed on campus. Chosen by current students and alumni (graduated within the last five years), our distinguished teaching recipients represent talented and caring educators who make a difference. The recognition wall honors that select group of individuals who have demonstrated excellence in their profession.

According to the fall 1970 WSU-RF Falcon Features, "the award originated as a grant to the State University System from the Johnson Foundation. Formerly given every other year, an additional grant from the Murphy Foundation has made it possible for each of the nine state universities to make the award annually." 

The purpose of the UWRF Distinguished Teaching Award is to recognize excellence in the teaching of undergraduate and/or graduate students. All tenured and tenure-track faculty and instructional academic staff with a minimum of three years teaching experience at UWRF are eligible for the award. 

Award winners are noted as supportive, positively impactful educators who are effective at helping students learn and provide inclusive environments. The winner is honored at the Chancellor's Award Reception each fall, is an honored speaker at fall Commencement and receives a stiped from the Chancellor's Office. Previous honorees are not eligible. Funding is provided by the UW-River Falls Foundation.

2024 Recipient: David Bonko, Assistant Professor, Marketing Communications

David Bonko honored with Distinguished Teaching Award

When David Bonko teaches students in his marketing communications classes at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, he does more than simply instruct them about the topic.

Bonko, an assistant professor of marketing communications who has taught at the university for the past 26 years, also designs his curriculum to include experiential learning. That means instead of just discussing marketing and communications topics, Bonko’s students put those concepts into action.

For instance, each year his students select a nonprofit charity and then design and carry out a marketing campaign in which they raise awareness about and donations and money for that charity. Last semester students in Bonko’s Sales Promotions and Event Planning raised $2,500 for an Arizona-based organization to provide free wigs for people undergoing cancer treatments that cause them to lose their hair.

“I focus a lot on experiential application and experiential learning,” Bonko said. “It’s more than just telling students ‘Learn this.’ It’s teaching them about why information they are learning is relevant, why it is going to make a difference in their futures. It’s really about learning by doing, and students seem to like that.”

Dave Bonko Headshot. White man with slightly greying hair poses for a head shot wearing a dark grey sport coat with a grey button up shirt in front of a neutral backdrop.

Bonko’s hands-on teaching style has earned him the 2024 Distinguished Teaching Award at UW-River Falls, the highest honor a faculty member can receive on campus. The award was established in 1965 to recognize teaching excellence.

Awardees are nominated by current and former students and selected by the Distinguished Teaching Award Committee. As part of winning the award, Bonko will address students at the December graduation ceremony.

Bonko said he was very surprised to learn that he had been chosen for the distinguished teacher honor.

“UW-River Falls has so many great teachers. When I heard I was even being considered, I was like ‘really?’ Then to be selected, well, I am quite honored and humbled,” Bonko said.

The key to being an effective educator, Bonko said, is connecting with students. Getting to know them and what motivates them is important, he said, and leads to learning.

“I believe if a student trusts you, they'll learn from you. Trust creates a mutually beneficial relationship where both the instructor and student do not want to disappoint each other,” he said.

Flexibility with his curriculum is another key to helping his students learn effectively, Bonko said. Being open to adjusting class lessons to fit what students want to learn and what they feel they need to work on engenders their buy-in, he said.

“I don't hold myself to a syllabus,” Bonko said. “You have to be really flexible. The students have a say in what they are going to learn.”

Ensuring that his lesson plans are relevant to students matters, he said, especially as they are increasingly inundated with information through social media and other sources. He has retained an excitement about marketing and communications throughout his career and he hopes that transfers to his students. He has another ingredient to his teaching success.

“Humor always helps,” Bonko said. “If you can get the students laughing, it can create a fun atmosphere in which they want to learn.”  

Bonko’s current and past students praised his dedication to teaching marketing and communications effectively. His patience and dedication to helping students learn at a deep level are admirable, they said, and set them up for success in their careers. He is especially effective at teaching problem-solving skills, they said.

Former UW-River Falls student Luke Affolter had Bonko as an adviser from 2009-13. He credits Bonko as a major reason he enjoyed his time at the university.

“He is engaging in class and makes learning fun while still making sure we learned what we needed to learn,” Affolter said. “He is, without a doubt, a shining star at UWRF.”

Bonko said he never envisioned himself teaching at a university. After graduating from St. Thomas University with bachelor’s and master’s degrees, he worked as a retail representative for Sports Illustrated, Time and People magazines. He subsequently was employed by a small startup Major League Baseball licensing firm before working for a nonprofit. He decided to teach as an adjunct professor and discovered he loved educating students.

Nearly three decades later, Bonko is teaching at UW-River Falls and is as excited about connecting with students and educating them about marketing communications as ever. He is especially proud of his students, who have hosted 19 fundraising events since 2011, helping a variety of organizations raise $60,000 for good causes in the process.

“These kids work so hard to do good for this world,” Bonko said. “You're trying to encourage the next generation of community volunteers, and I’m lucky that I get to be a part of doing that.”

Nominations due by March 15, 2024. Previous honorees are not eligible.

Nomination Guidelines

  • The recipient can be nominated by all current students and alumni of UWRF.
  • Nominators, please reflect upon the various teachers you have had at UWRF and select the one who most challenged and motivated you to learn.
  • Please list the name of that teacher on the survey and answer the questions listed in reference to that person.

Selection Procedure

  • The Distinguished Teaching Award Committee is charged with selecting the Distinguished Award recipient. The committee will be chaired by the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) Director (or designee) and will also include the Provost (or designee), a tenure-track or tenured faculty member selected by the Faculty Senate, an instructional academic staff member selected by the Faculty Senate in consultation with the Academic Staff Council and a previous Distinguished Teaching Award recipient nominated by the CETL Director and confirmed by Faculty Senate.  All faculty and academic staff appointments will serve for three years.
  • The committee's selection will not be based solely on the number of nominations received but will also consider the survey responses. The committee will use a rubric approved by the Diversity and Inclusivity Committee to evaluate those survey responses. 


Adviser of the Year

The award for Adviser of the Year was established in 2000 to recognize an outstanding faculty adviser with nominations by current students and alumni. Those nominations are then considered by the Faculty Senate Advising Committee, which makes the final selection. Previous recipients are not eligible.

2024 Recipient: Chris Hergenrader, Assistant Professor, Animal Science

Commitment, caring earn Hergenrader 2024 Adviser of the Year honor

As an academic adviser, Chris Hergenrader takes a different approach with each student he works with and strives to individualize their academic plans in a way that will help them have the best chance at success after graduation.

Hergenrader, an assistant animal science professor at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, provides every one of his students a commitment that is the same: doing whatever is needed to assist them.

“You do it to help the students,” Hergenrader said. “You try to go the extra mile for them. It’s about doing the absolute best that I can for students, to give them the opportunities that they need and want.”

Hergenrader’s deep caring for his students and his willingness to go to extra lengths to help them succeed hasn’t gone unnoticed. He has been named the 2024 Adviser of the Year at UW-River Falls. 

Established in 2000, the annual award recognizes excellence in advising undergraduates. Nominations are made by current students and alumni and are reviewed by the Faculty Senate Advising Committee which makes the final selection.

Hergenrader came to UW-River Falls four years ago, just as the coronavirus pandemic began. Teaching and advising students was especially difficult, he said, when coursework occurred online. From the beginning, he worked hard to connect with students. Getting to know them individually and their backgrounds is key to successfully advising students, he said.

Chris Hergenrader headshot. A white man with glasses is wearing a blue suit coat and blue button up shirt while posing for a headshot in front of a neutral grey backdrop.

“You truly do need to get to know your students. Every one of their paths looks different,” Hergenrader said. “Some of them come from a farm, some from a metro area. Some are strong in academics, some struggle. No two students are the same. If you get to know them personally, you can help them individualize a path that allows them to find success.”

Being responsive to students’ needs is another key to successfully advising them, Hergenrader said. Sometimes that means being willing to respond to late-night and early morning messages, he said. Other times it means taking an extra minute to respond to a question because a failure to get back to them in a timely manner will prompt stress.

“College is hard for a lot of students,” he said. “If you can be that consistent presence in their college careers, that is very meaningful for them. You need to help these students fight through the times that are tough.”

Hergenrader oversees the UW-River Falls companion animal program, a job that often facilitates connections with students. He sometimes brings his dogs June and Lenny to school, where the animals are popular with students.

“It helps that June and Lenny are the stars,” he said. “The students so much appreciate the animals being there and helping to reduce their stress.”

Hergenrader’s students have high praise for his advising abilities. They describe him as especially kind and exceedingly committed to helping them find their best academic path.

When Chesney Eschbach transferred to UW-River Falls, she felt lost. But Hergenrader became her adviser and quickly made sure she was linked to services she needed to find success.

“I have never had an adviser care so deeply about my success,” said Eschbach, a sophomore from Decatur, Ill, majoring in animal science. “He meets with me as soon as he can and takes my feelings into consideration regarding classes. He encourages me to push myself and believes in me when I don’t believe in myself.”

Mariah Burd, a senior animal science major from Moorhead, Minn., said Hergenrader makes himself available to provide advising not only to his current students but to any student who asks to meet with him.

“Dr. Hergenrader has always been approachable and communicated well when I come to him with my academic career options,” she said. “He has been working hard with other professors to expand the companion animal program here at UWRF by helping create new courses that will help students be more prepared to enter the companion animal field.”

Hergenrader said he was influenced by his adviser during his undergraduate years at Iowa State, a man who “was always there for me” who helped Hergenrader get into graduate school. Hergenrader later worked as a veterinarian, owned a veterinary hospital, and taught life sciences in high school before teaching in higher education. He credits his varied background with helping him relate well with students.

He is humble about receiving the Adviser of the Year award and sees it as evidence that he is doing right by his students.  

“This (award) isn’t a me thing,” he said. “The students deserve the credit. This is a validation that I’m doing well for these students and doing my best to try to give them what they need to have success. And that’s really what I think this job is about.”

Nominations due by March 15, 2024. Previous recipients are not eligible. 

Purpose and Eligibility: The purpose of the UWRF Adviser of the Year award is to recognize excellence in the advising of undergraduate students. Full-time, tenure-track facility and professional staff with a minimum of four years of academic advising at UWRF are eligible. An adviser may receive the award only once. 

Nomination Procedure: Eligible nominators include all current students and alumni of UWRF. An online nomination form will be made available through the university website and advertised electronically to current students and alumni. 

Selection Procedure: The Advising Committee will review the nominations. The committee’s selection will not solely be based on the number of nominations received but will also take into account student and alumni comments in order to address disparity in advising loads in different departments. The committee will use a rubric approved by the Advising Committee to evaluate the qualitative feedback provided by nominators as part of the selection process.

Recommendation to the Chancellor: The committee’s annual recommendation to the chancellor will consist of a single adviser’s name.

Award Presentation: Of the nominations, the only name to be announced will be the adviser selected for the award. The award presentation will be made at the Chancellor’s Award Reception. It is recommended that a monetary prize accompany the award.

Improvement of Academic Advising: The Advising Committee will evaluate the nominations to gain insight on what students and alumni consider to be criteria for outstanding academic advising. These insights will inform development of faculty and student outcomes of advising, tools for their assessment and plans for their achievement.


University Excellence Award in Research, Scholarly and Creative Activities

The University Excellence Award in Research, Scholarly and Creative Activities is intended to recognize noteworthy UWRF faculty or academic staff for outstanding achievements in research and/or creative activities over many years while at UWRF. Research or creative achievements done with undergraduate students at UWRF is particularly valued for this award although all achievements are considered in the evaluation process. Award winners will receive a stipend and are honored at the All-Campus Awards Reception in the fall.

2023 Recipient: Jill Coleman Wasik

In recognition of her high-level, water-related research for the past decade at UW-River Falls, Environmental Science Associate Professor Jill Coleman Wasik is the recipient of the 2023 University Excellence Award in Research, Scholarly and Creative Activities.

The award recognizes quality research with students and dissemination of that research through presentations and publications. It also is a recognition of creative approaches and the ability to obtain grant funding to conduct research projects. The award, announced during the fall Opening Meeting, was presented for the first time in 2023 and its honoree is chosen by university administrators.  

Coleman Wasik’s projects have covered a wide array of water topics, from a first-of-its-kind effort to identify microplastics in the environment, to investigating regional surface and groundwater quality, to projects that address the social and human dimensions of water quality and land management. 

Much of her work has involved UWRF students for whom Coleman Wasik has created high-quality research opportunities that lead to important contributions to water quality in northwest Wisconsin.

“Throughout her 10 years at UWRF, Jill’s research contributions and productivity have been exemplary,” Holly Dolliver, UWRF geology and soil science professor and chair of the Plant and Earth Science Department, wrote in a letter nominating Coleman Wasik. “The breadth and depth of [her] projects is extremely impressive.”

Foremost among Coleman Wasik’s work is teaching students. Coleman Wasik has served as mentor for 21 undergraduate research projects in addition to service as a member of the Undergraduate, Scholarly, and Creative Activities (URSCA) Council. She often incorporates undergraduate research into coursework and works to ensure opportunities for students to present and publish their research at conferences across the state and country.

Coleman Wasik said she focuses on meeting students where they are in terms of their research skills and building on them. She seeks to challenge students, whether they are new to research or have previously accomplished high-level work.

“For some, that means repeating a well-known study on a small scale on campus,” Coleman Wasik said. “For others it is designing a rigorous, regional project that results in publication.”

Through her research, Coleman Wasik has linked UWRF to partners and collaborators with the aim of improving water quality. She is well known in western Wisconsin for her work to monitor and preserve waterways. She works effectively with the regional farmer-led organization Western Wisconsin Conservation Council (WWCC) to help understand the impacts of agriculture on local waters. She has built relationships with conservation professionals, farmers, and landowners to gain a scientific understanding of issues and opportunities.

“Jill often serves as a bridge connecting groups and individuals together in synergistic ways,” Dolliver said. 

Coleman Wasik’s research, and that of her students, directly benefits the Kinnickinnic Watershed, the St. Croix River Valley and other areas. She has obtained more than $903,000 in funding from numerous sources, including the United States Department of Agriculture, Dairy Innovation Hub, Freshwater Collaborative of Wisconsin, and WWCC to support her research efforts.

She has authored numerous scientific articles and has presented her work at several conferences. Coleman Wasik also has been a moderator and panelist at various scientific events. She is a member of the Freshwater Collaborative of Wisconsin (FCW) Steering Committee and leads the FCW effort at UWRF. 

In addition, Coleman Wasik guides other campus faculty through the process of securing grant funding to support freshwater research opportunities, helping UWRF make available high-quality freshwater science programs.

“Jill has worked hard to encourage participation from a range of disciplines on our campus and is very supportive in guiding faculty through the process and advocating for their projects,” Dolliver said. “Her work benefits this university and its students in so many ways.”

Jill Coleman Wasik

Faculty and academic staff with a minimum of five years of experience at UWRF are eligible for this award. The following areas of achievement will be used when evaluating staff for this award:

  1. Demonstrated research or creative activities with undergraduate students.
  2. Dissemination of research through conference presentations and/or publications.
  3. Display of creative activities through invited exhibitions or presentations.
  4. Receipt of grant funding to support research or creative activities.


University Excellence Award in Service

The University Excellence in Service award is intended to recognize faculty that provide exceptional service to the university, their discipline and/or the community. Candidates for this award go above and beyond the required expectations of their positions. The winner of this award will receive a stipend and is honored at the All-Campus Awards Reception in the fall. Faculty with a minimum of five years of experience at UWRF are eligible for this award. 

2023 Recipient: James Graham

James Graham is the recipient of the 2023 University Excellence Award in Service at UW-River Falls, a recognition of his dedication to his students and others. 

The award was presented for the first time in 2023 and recognizes exemplary service to UWRF and/or the surrounding community. Those receiving the honor are chosen by university administrators. Graham has been an agricultural education professor at UWRF since 2001.The award was announced at the fall Opening Meeting.

Graham fills many roles to ensure students’ success and further academic affairs at UW-River Falls. In addition to serving on multiple committees and on the Faculty Senate, he spends extra time mentoring students and organizing events that offer them valuable experience and networking opportunities. Graham has attended many agriculture-related conferences and other events at which he promotes UWRF to prospective students and others. Such efforts help recruit students and inform others about the educational offerings available at UWRF. 

“I have never considered my service activities as ‘extra,’ but an extension of my role as a professor in agricultural education,” Graham wrote in an application letter for the award

UWRF Horticulture Professor David Zlesak praised Graham for his work on committees in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences. 

Graham “is routinely sought out for the wise and thoughtful perspectives he brings. Dr. Graham has a rich service record to the university through chairing and serving on many university-level committees,” Zlesak said.

In addition to working closely with students, Graham enjoys working with graduates, helping them with everything from career advice to designing workshops. 

“Those close connections made here at UWRF have enhanced my ability to consistently offer my expertise and experience to our young professionals,” Graham said.

Graham also provides assistance in other ways. Recently the Wisconsin Cooperatives Association contacted Graham seeking information about proper parliamentary procedure to run meetings. 

In many ways, Graham is the embodiment of service to UWRF, Zlesak said. 

“This award is designed to honor faculty that provide exceptional service and support to all spheres within their influence – their department, college, university, community, and discipline,” Zlesak said. “For decades, service with excellence, thoughtfulness, kindness, and inclusivity in all these spheres is a hallmark of Dr. Graham.”

James Graham

Eligibility criteria for faculty include: 

  1. Service to their department, college or university.
  2. Service to their discipline.
  3. Service to their community or surrounding region.
  4. Additional service not specified in categories above.


Years of Service and Retirements

UWRF values the contributions individual employees have made to its success. Excellence is achieved by the dedication of each individual. Length of service awards are based on the years to UW-River Falls and to the State of Wisconsin. The following employees who reached a milestone year (10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40 and 45) in 2023 are listed below.  

45 Years
Linda Matzek - Registrar's Office

40 Years
Deb Toftness - University Communications and Marketing

35 Years
Pascal Ngoboka - Economics
Brian Smith - Plant and Earth Science
Joseph Hagedorn - Music and Stage and Screen Arts
Charles Corcoran - Accounting and Finance

30 Years
Kristin Tjornehoj - Music and Stage and Screen Arts
Geoffrey Scheurman - Teacher Education

25 Years
Steven Kelm - Animal and Food Science
Steven Stocker - Athletics
Yunge Dutton - Admissions
Andris Straumanis - Communication and Media Studies
Peter Rayne - Animal and Food Science
Lisa Kroutil - Chemistry and Biotechnology
Dawn Hukai - Accounting and Finance
Patti Cudd - Music and Stage and Screen Arts
David Bonko - Marketing Communications
Erick Hofacker - Mathematics
Nathan Oconnor - Animal and Food Science

20 Years
Angela Whitaker - Continuing Education
Sarah Hansen - Music and Stage and Screen Arts
Joshua See - Technology Services
Jason Meyer - Residence Life
Kelly Browning - Registrar's Office
Sean Mckuras - Athletics
Megan Sun - Accounting and Finance
Kathleen Hunzer - Academic Affairs
Julie Stucky - University Advancement
Susan Bischof - Facilities Management
Esekiel Mendoza - Heating Plant

15 Years
Todd Savage - Counseling and School Psychology
Jody Sather - Psychological Sciences
Angus McKechnie - College of Education and Professional Studies
Elizabeth Johnston - English
David Scamp - Building Maintenance
Todd Wilkinson - Psychological Sciences
Paul Shirilla - Health and Human Performance
Magara Maeda - Modern Language
Arriety Lowell - Physics
Erik Johnson - Music and Stage and Screen Arts
Cheng-Chen Huang - Biology
Stacy Furness - Health and Human Performance
John Fischer - History and Philosophy
Grace Coggio - Communication and Media Studies
Melanie Ayres - Psychological Sciences
Geraldine Padellford - Continuing Education
Mark Huttemier - Counseling and Health Services
Karen Knapton - CHILD Center Daycare
Amber Wirth - CHILD Center Daycare

10 Years
Margret Krasin - Music and Stage and Screen Arts
Karl Fleury - Police Department/Parking
Shane O'Malley-Potting - Technology Services
Jessica Wekkin - Exploratory and Tutoring Services
Craig Homan - Building Maintenance
Leanne Van Allen - Business Administration
Matthew Quade - Facilities Management
John Schellhorn - Police Department/Parking
Tanya Armstrong - Police Department/Parking
William Erickson - Computer, Information and Data    Sciences
Kurt Torgersen - Chemistry and Biotechnology
Dwight Swenson - Continuing Education
Todd Mueske - English
Ivan Konev - Music and Stage and Screen Arts
Sierra Howry - Agricultural Economics
Jennifer Hafer - Economics
Kenneth Giske - Animal and Food Science
James Cortright - Psychological Sciences
Melisa Rivera - Teacher Education
Wendy Riester - Agricultural Education
Michael King - Technology Services
Vanessa Luther - International Education
Debra Hare - Continuing Education
Amanda Collura - Registrar's Office