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

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

The seven will receive their awards from the UW-L 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 or by calling 608-785-8489.

Maurice O. Graff Distinguished Alumnus Award

Shelmina Abji, a 1985 graduate, is an empowerment speaker with a passion for accelerating success of girls and women. She’s United Nations Foundation Girl Up Board Member, Angel investor of early tech start-up companies, former vice president at IBM, former co-chair of the Asian Executive Diversity Council, board member of Young Women Empowered. She has a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the University of Poona, India, and bachelor’s degree in computer science from UW-L.

The Graff 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.

Rada Distinguished Alumnus Award

Hollie Nyseth Brehm (2008) and Patrick Gonzales (2005) will receive the Rada Distinguished Alumnus Award.

Brehm has been an assistant professor of sociology at Ohio State University since 2014. She was named to the inaugural list of “30 Top Thinkers Under 30” by Pacific Standard, and earned master’s and doctorate degrees in sociology from University of Minnesota.

She graduated with majors in sociology and political science, and minors in international studies and Spanish from UW-L in 2008.

Gonzales is a published researcher in microbial genetics and genomics, addressing problem of antibiotic resistance. He has done research at the University of Alabama, Birmingham; Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.; Washington University, St. Louis.

He earned is Ph.D. ini molecular genetics and genomics at Washington University in 2015. He earned his master’s degree in biology with a cellular and molecular biology concentration from UW-L in 2005, and earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from UCLA in 1994.

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

Parker Distinguished Multicultural Alumni Award

Jessica McMunn (2005) is a filmmaker and producer of mainly social justice oriented works, including the award winning “Soleil.” Her first feature film, “Raise Your Hand,” is in post-production.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in theatre, with a minor in Latin American Studies, from UW-L, and she’s completing a master’s in production-directing at UCLA.

The 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.

Burt and Norma Altman Teacher Education Award

Lisa Koenecke, Christopher Gleason and Wayne Welch will receive the Burt and Norma Altman Teacher Education Award.

Koenecke (1991) is a counselor at River Bluff Middle School in Stoughton, Wis., and a passionate advocate for youth and school counseling.

She earned a master’s degree in school counseling from UW-Whitewater in 2008. She earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from UW-L in 1991.

Gleason (2002) has been an instrumental music teacher at Patrick Marsh Middle School in Sun Prairie since 2004.

The founder of the Kalahari Band Festival, Gleason was a semifinalist for the 2017 Grammy Music Educator Award. He completed a master’s of education degree in professional development from UW-L in May 2002.

Welch (1956) is a longtime educator, researcher and author in science education. He was a professor at the University of Minnesota from 1974 to 1995.

The Fulbright Research Scholar to New Zealand and Fulbright-Hays Lecturer to Israel has a master’s degree in education from the University of Pennsylvania (1960), master’s degree in physics from Purdue University (1963) and Ph.D. in in science education from UW-Madison (1966). He earned his bachelor’s degree in secondary education from UW-L in 1956.

The award recognizes outstanding educators and the significant contributions they make to children and communities. Professor emeritus Burt Altman and his wife, Norma, longtime supporters of teacher education, created the award in 2015.


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