Alumni rising: Distinguished and outstanding UW-Green Bay graduates

top-story-awardsCiting exceptional faculty and staff — many who went out of their way to help them through difficulty, pulled them aside for a bit of encouragement, or asked them questions that would lead to new paths — five UW-Green Bay alumni humbly and graciously accepted Distinguished (Bob Pyle, Constance Downs, Craig Dickman) and Outstanding Recent (JoAnn Miller, Crystal Osman) Alumni Awards Thursday evening, May 1.

The event, held on the stage of the Weidner Center for the Performing Arts, showcased UW-Green Bay’s most honored alumni as industry leaders, dynamic motivators and committed citizens.

JoAnn Miller ’01, Wisconsin’s 2013 State Teacher of the Year, expressed her appreciation for those professors who were “caring, questioning and driving.” She credited Prof. Emeritus Robert Wenger with consistent support, and the question during her undergraduate experience, “Have you ever thought about becoming a teacher?” The Kohl Teaching Fellow is a biology teacher at Oconto Falls High School, teaching college prep biology, Advanced Placement biology and is an adviser to the school’s STEM club. She is credited with using unique and wide-ranging strategies to help each student to exceed their expected potential.

When Crystal Osman ’08 was asked to select a faculty or staff member who influenced her the most, she sent the alumni office a list of 13, eventually singling-out Prof. John Katers, who presented her with her award. At UWGB, she quickly became active in student government and sustainability issues. She was a force behind the U-Pass (subsidized bus rider program) and continues with a number of volunteer causes related to sustainability and preservation. Although trying out a number of majors, it was Prof. Laurel Phoenix’s class, Environment and Society that moved her to questioning herself, “How can I make a difference?” and “How can I help change our outcome.” The program director for the nonprofit business improvement districts, Downtown Green Bay, Inc. and Old Main Street, Inc., is still working toward those answers. Crystal also recognized her partner and UWGB alumnus, Andy Rosendahl ’07, her initial reason, she said, for attending UWGB.

Craig Dickman ’82, founder, CEO and Chief Innovative Officer at Breakthrough Fuel recalled a “Business and It’s Environment” class with Prof. Michael Troyer and “Decision Making” with Prof. John Harris as just two of the formidable classes that made a lasting impression. Prof.’s Dan Spielmann, David Littig, Martin Greenburg, Jarrell Yarborough, all provided valuable lessons to the business executive that is now a partner to some of American industry’s leading brands — helping them to analyze fuel costs using advanced metrics and software and advising on ways to reduce shipping costs and cut expenses and admissions. Dickman thanked his wife, Karen Thomson-Dickman, who helped him through a difficult accounting class in his early years, and has partnered with him through 31 years of marriage.

Constance Downs ’96, said she came to UW-Green Bay in the most circuitous way, entering UW-Green Bay as an Adult Degree student, finding her path, in part, through Prof. Michael Kraft’s influence. She joined the EPA in 1999 and is the associate director of the agency’s Toxics Release Inventory Program Division — a position that brings her into contact with researchers including UWGB faculty members, and with a philosophy — in effect that public information, opinion and pressure, is the best form of regulation — that she recalls discussing in Kraft’s classes. “I have no regrets,” she said. “I loved every minute of it.”

Bob Pyle ’83, now the President and CEO of Pioneer Metal Finishing, said he never forgot what Computer Science Prof. Bill Shay did for him. Pyle recalls taking a Computer Science class, because “computers were the future.” He didn’t realize how difficult “Pascal” programing language could be. Shay committed to helping Pyle achieve an acceptable level of success. “That’s what I remember from my time, people here are unique and very special.” Pyle says he carries that lesson with him, making sure he takes the time when people are struggling, to lend a helping hand. Pyle also recognized instructor Bob Srenaski, who not only impacted him in a marketing research class at UWGB, but gave him is first job out of college and, at 24-years of age, his first exposure to boardrooms and business strategies. Pyle looks to Srenaski for advice as he leads a company of more than 1,400 employees in 14 locations throughout the Midwest and Mexico. Pyle also acknowledged his wife Jean (Wichlacz) ‘84, who he met in that difficult computer class and has remained at his side throughout his career; and his lifelong Phoenix golf team teammates.

“I could have never have dreamt this big,” Pyle said.

For complete biographies on each award winner see the full press release.

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Photos by Eric Miller, Marketing and University Communication