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Nine students honored with Chancellor’s Award 

May 13, 2020 – The University of Wisconsin-River Falls recently bestowed its highest non-academic honor on nine students. The Chancellor’s Award for Students recognizes students who have demonstrated outstanding leadership, excellence and service, both on campus and in the community. Recipients must also have shown a commitment to UWRF’s core values, as well as positive and inspiring personal traits and contributions in areas such as undergraduate research, inclusivity and global education.

“You’ve had tremendous impact at UWRF and have prepared well for the journey ahead,” wrote Chancellor Dean Van Galen in notifying students. “Having distinguished yourself through leadership and service as a student, go confidently into the future knowing you have the potential to positively impact the lives of many others.” 

Recipients must be juniors, seniors or graduate students and can receive nominations and letters of support from UWRF faculty or advisers, UWRF staff, external organization leaders, fellow students or be self-nominated. A selection committee comprised of appointees from the chancellor’s staff, academic colleges, student support staff and the Student Government Association (SGA) considers every nominee and selects finalists for interviews. After the interviews, the committee submits its recommendations to the chancellor, who makes the final decisions.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, this year all selection committee meetings and interviews of finalists with their nominators were performed online. The university was also not able to celebrate the students with a formal ceremony on campus at which the recipients receive a medallion to wear with their commencement garb in recognition of the prestigious award. The medallions were instead mailed to students along with a certificate of achievement and personal note from the chancellor.

The 2020 student recipients are: Whitney Baehr, Rachel Harris, Kiana Johnson, Mirza Naveed, Tate Schlichting, Bryanne Stites, Paul Tietz, Faith Velez, and Amarea Witt.

Meet the 2020 Chancellor’s Award for Students recipients:

Whitney Baehr is a senior elementary education major from Withee. Her first leadership role at UW-River Falls was with Hall Council, followed by membership in the Aspiring Educators Organization. 

“What Whitney has balanced so well in her leadership roles is not only engaging in high profile opportunities such as being an Orientation and Transition Leader, Falcon Guide, and Chancellor’s Student Ambassador, but also finding time to engage in activities related to the field of education while sharing her passion for learning with others,” remarked one nominator.

Whitney’s interest in global education brought her to both travel and teach abroad during her International Traveling Classroom and Guy Healy Japan experiences. Her passion to experience new cultures, teach children from Japan the English language, and share with others as a peer adviser in the Office of International Education speaks to her inclusive nature. She has also helped UWRF’s international students feel more at home as a volunteer in the International Friendship Program.

Whitney consistently earned recognition for her strong academic work with inclusion on the Dean’s List, Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society and the UWRF Honors Program. 

During the summer, Whitney works with students at the Wisconsin Farmers Union Kamp Kenwood and has served as a teaching assistant in her home school district in Owen and provided one-on-one language assistance to students in Baldwin. 

Rachel Harris is a senior psychology and communications major from Minneapolis. Rachel earned accolades from UWRF faculty for her passion for research. She was accepted into the McNair Scholars Program when she was a junior which created the opportunity for her to participate in numerous research projects collaborating with multiple faculty and other students. She has already presented her research locally, regionally and nationally and was a winner of the WiSys Quick Pitch competition at UWRF in 2017.

“As a McNair Scholar, I cannot say enough about Rachel’s strong work ethic and intellectual ability,” remarked a nominator. “She has ambitious goals and has proven she will follow through on the steps needed to achieve those goals.”

As a UWRF student, Rachel has served as a mentor in numerous capacities including as a psychology peer mentor to incoming students, as a resident assistant, as an Orientation and Transition Leader, as a Student Success Services mentor and as a teaching assistant for the challenging Advanced Research Methods course in the Psychology Department. Her engagement and service include participation in the Black Student Union organization as well as volunteering with the Sexual Assault Response Team. 

Based on her academic strength, Rachel was awarded two scholarships, including the Promising New Major Scholarship and the Constance Schollmeier Scholarship. Rachel has been accepted into two graduate programs and has upcoming interviews scheduled at two additional schools. 

Kiana Johnson is a senior field biology major from Janesville. During her time as a UW-River Falls student, she has been a campus leader in sustainability-related activities through her work with the Resource Management Club, Sustainability Working Group, We Bike River Falls, and the Sustainability Office. She has also held leadership roles in the residence halls, performed a broad variety of volunteer service and is an inductee into the Phi Kappa Phi National Honor Society.

“Kiana has elevated the sustainability efforts on campus to new levels which would not have been achievable without her service and leadership,” reads one of Kiana’s nomination letters. “This includes receiving the STARS Gold rating which landed UWRF on the Sierra Club's List of Cool Schools and the Princeton Review's List of Green Colleges and Universities. These wonderful distinctions for our campus would not have been possible without Kiana's efforts.”

Kiana’s has an impressive record of Study Abroad experiences including most recently a Peru Andean Immersion where she lived and worked with a family in the Andes Mountains, immersing herself in Peruvian culture and the Spanish language. She also performed field work and research in sustainable management internationally both as part of the Bahamas Tropical Restoration program and the Costa Rica Sustainability Education Abroad program.

As an intern at the Nature at the Confluence in South Beloit, IIl., she was responsible for the daily operations of an environmental learning center where she raised monarchs, maintained walking trails and facilitated events focused on land stewardship, local history, and environmental engagement.

Mirza Naveed is a senior computer science and information systems major from Cottage Grove, Minn. A successful internship at 3M last summer helped Mirza land his dream job. As an IT analyst intern, he was in a position to proactively troubleshoot issues and optimize end-user experiences for 83,000 global workstations. Following the internship, Mirza was offered a full-time job with the company and now joins the ranks of other successful UWRF students who’ve been hired before graduation.

“Mirza is one of those student employees we get once every four years,” wrote one of his nominators. “He’s incredibly motivated, always asking for additional challenges, and never unwilling to help in whatever way he can. His creativity is the perfect complement to the delivery of technical information.” He has served as a natural and caring mentor to new student staff, and even applies his kitchen talents by baking new hires their favorite dessert.

Mirza augmented his academics this year by participating in the Explore Italy J-Term Program and served as the public relations chair on Chancellor’s Student Ambassadors Executive Leadership Team, taking the group’s social media presence and recruiting efforts to new heights. In addition, Mirza spends countless hours as a coach and mentor for his high school’s robotics team, demonstrating his commitment as an outstanding role model and an inspiration to all.

Tate Schlichting is a senior political science major from Superior. Dedicated and passionate about making sure students’ voices are heard at all levels of the university, Tate served as both vice president and president of the Student Senate during his junior and senior years at UWRF and was senator both his first and second years. 

Tate’s leadership was instrumental in creating, managing and delegating projects to benefit the SGA and student organizations, including the new Student Success Center in Rodli Hall. Tate’s work with SGA also saw him overseeing student fee budgets totaling over $51 million. He has an engaging and competent student advocate, serving on numerous campus committees and remaining undaunted during interactions with campus leadership, elected officials and UW System Regents. 

“Tate’s work on bylaws have not just been updates to reflect the current functions of SGA but also given new life to SGA and has allowed it to be more efficient internally and more effective externally,” a nominator wrote. 

As a member of the Dean’s Council within the College of Arts and Sciences serving as the student representative for political science, Tate maintained rigorous academic performance while performing a high level of civic engagement. He is a member of the Honors Program and is currently completing his capstone course.

Bryanne Stites is a senior elementary education major from Prescott. Bryanne is viewed as a student with the ability to inspire, motivate and influence the lives of others. She has impacted new and current students in memorable ways as a Falcon Guide and Orientation and Transition Leader and was nominated eight times for the Resident Assistant of the Month award by her peers. 

In a letter supporting Bryanne’s nomination, it was cited that even after her graduation, “[Bryanne’s] legacy of character and passion will continue to be present at UWRF in the students who have had the opportunity to interact with her.”

In a multi-stakeholder effort, Bryanne helped UWRF obtain a civil liberties grant for hosting a public forum on teachers and the First Amendment. She helped plan the forum and performed Master of Ceremonies duties, facilitating a complex discussion between the keynote speaker, guest panel and an audience of hundreds.

Bryanne is a committed Honors program student and has been inducted into the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society. Taking advantage of her Falcon Scholars scholarship, Bryanne traveled on the Experience Italy trip for two weeks during J-Term 2019. She has also given back to her community by volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters and as a Sunday school teacher.

Paul Tietz is a senior environmental science major from Waunakee. Paul was the student vice president of Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society as well as team captain of the UWRF Soil Judging Team. As a Chancellor’s Student Ambassador, Paul dedicated himself to student success and to strengthening student connections, routinely interacting with campus constituents, community members, donors, alumni, UW System regents, students, families, and many other groups. One of Paul's favorite volunteer roles was being the UWRF mascot.

“It is almost hard to comprehend the sheer number of different curricular, co-curricular and service opportunities Paul has been a part of during his time at UW-River Falls,” wrote one nominator. “Semester Abroad in Spain, Honors Program, community band, pep band, Chancellor Student Ambassadors, Freddy Falcon appearances, volunteer work, and more.”

Paul has won national attention for his research, including placing first for his poster at the Students of Agronomy, Soils, and Environmental Sciences conference in San Antonio, Texas, demonstrating that not only does Paul excel academically, but he also brings great energy and leadership to his studies. 

Faculty and friends alike appreciate Paul’s infectious enthusiasm and unwavering positive attitude and mostly his commitment to and mentoring of his teammates - investing in them and their success. 

Faith Velez is a junior psychology/social justice major from Redgranite. In her work as a member of the Recruitment and Enrollment Team, an intern for the Multicultural Visit Program, and as a resident assistant, Faith has demonstrated respect and cultural awareness in service of students of diverse backgrounds and has impacted the lives of countless students with her supportive and inclusive nature.

She has held important leadership roles with the UWRF Student Feminist Organization and the Falcon Guide Leadership Team. She has been a peer mentor in the Psychology department and served on the Psychology Club, Psy Chi and Gender & Sexuality Alliance organizations. In recognition of her leadership, Faith was chosen by the local chapter of the American Association of University Women to attend the National Conference for College Women Student Leaders.

Whether working independently or as part a team, nominators commented that Faith is skilled at articulating her vision, assessing situations, finding common ground, and moving ideas forward. 

“She models integrity and inclusivity in all she does,” one nominator wrote.

Faith has also made a in important contribution in the community through her collaboration with the St. Croix Valley Sexual Assault Response Team, interning and volunteering with them as part of crisis support, advocacy and public information efforts. Faith’s interest studying underrepresented groups and relationship dynamics resulted in psychology research presented at the annual Undergraduate, Research and Scholarly Activity Gala.

Amarea Witt is a senior biomedical sciences major from St. Paul. As a Chancellor’s Student Ambassador, Amarea worked with others to represent the university and its efforts towards inclusivity. Amarea became a peer mentor in the Aspire program, working closely with incoming freshmen who are low income, first-generation or from underrepresented minorities. 

“Amarea has shown amazing leadership and has gone above and beyond in helping make River Falls a more inclusive place,” wrote a nominator.

Amarea has also been involved with Alpha Sigma Alpha in various leadership roles and has been an active part of the Black Student Union, the National Residence Hall Honorary, the Residence Hall Association, and Hall Council. She has taken many opportunities to help underrepresented students access the supports available to them, including through the Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging office, always promoting dialogue and supporting engagement of students of color.

In January, Amarea paired her interest in global education and undergraduate research through the Taiwan Biomed Study Abroad Program where she researched zebra fish embryos to try and find a cure for heart failure. The main area of study consisted of analyzing the effects of Chinese herbs and medicines to rescue heart failure in zebra fish embryos. Upon graduation, Amarea hopes to pursue a degree in medicine.

For more information about the Chancellor’s Award for Students, email or call 715-425-0662.

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