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PEA department rewards civic engagement

Megan Hanna, Life Editor
January 30, 2013
Filed under News

For the fourth year in a row, the Public and Environmental Affairs department recognized the efforts and accomplishments of some of its students through the Public and Environmental Affairs Outstanding Student and Outstanding Teaching Assistant awards. The 2012-13 recipients are Alex Moeller, Ashley Skalecki, Tiffany Bowring, Michael Hengels and Heba Mohammad.

The Outstanding Student Award recognizes students who have excelled academically and plan to enter a career of public service. The Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award is given to dedicated TAs who plan to enter a teaching or public career.  According to Katia Levintova, associate professor of public and environmental affairs and head of the committee that chooses the recipients of the awards, the process is very selective. Students must be nominated by a member of the PEA faculty and have at least a 3.25 GPA.

However, good grades alone won’t guarantee selection.

“It’s not enough to be a wonderful student,” Levintova said. “You have to put your efforts where your mouth is.”

Levintova and the PEA faculty value involvement outside of the classroom and look for students who share similar values.

“The faculty places a lot of emphasis on civic engagement,” Levintova said, “and we wanted to recognize students who not only succeed academically but who are involved in the university and community.”

Levintova said many PEA students participate in campus organizations such as Student Government Association and the Public and Environmental Affairs Council. Others volunteer in the community, working for nonprofit organizations, or hold various internships.

Through these two awards, Levintova said the PEA faculty is able to pay tribute to their students who are giving back. She also sees the awards as a way to show the faith the faculty has in the recipients and their future success.

“By highlighting these students,” Levintova said, “it’s like a foretelling of things to come.”

After students are nominated, the final recipients are chosen by a committee of PEA faculty. This year’s selection of two recipients of the Outstanding Student Award and three recipients of the Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award was very rare, according to Levintova. Typically one student for each award is selected but Levintova said the committee was unable to decide among the finalists this year.

“They were all stellar,” Levintova said. “It was very difficult to decide. If I had to pick out of the two or three, I wouldn’t be able to.”

Senior public administration majors Alex Moeller and Ashley Skalecki tied for the 2012-13 Outstanding Student Award. Levintova said they are both civic leaders.

Moeller is president of the Civics Club and a member of the Spanish Club. She also majors in Spanish and hopes to work for a Spanish nonprofit organization after graduation, but said she can picture herself in various careers.

“I just want to have a job that I love going to,” Moeller said, “and to make a difference while doing it.”

Moeller expressed gratitude for this award, citing it as a source of encouragement.

“It’s always a great feeling to be noticed for some of the things you do,” Moeller said. “It gives me an extra boost of motivation.”

Skalecki, who also minors in political science, works on campus for the Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium and plans to attend graduate school for public administration after graduation.

“Through this recognition,” Skalecki said, “I know that I chose the right path for my life.”

The recipients of the 2012-13 Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award are Tiffany Bowring, Michael Hengels and Heba Mohammad.

Bowring is a sophomore planning to double major in social work and human development. She was a TA for Global Politics and Society with Professor Dallas Blaney and said the experience taught her valuable skills in teaching and communication.

“I am very thankful for this experience,” Bowring said. “And this award is going to encourage me to strive for even greater goals and serve as a constant reminder that I am capable of anything I set my mind to.”

Hengels is a senior majoring in political science and theatre with a minor in global studies. He was a TA for Levintova’s Political Behavior course. Levintova was impressed with Hengels’ performance, especially his increased role when she was on maternity leave.

“I wouldn’t trust just anyone,” Levintova said.

Mohammad, junior history and political science major with a minor in environmental policy and planning, was also a TA for Levintova in Global Politics and Society. Among her many goals, Mohammad is interested in attending graduate school and pursuing teaching in higher education and was grateful for the opportunity to work with Levintova.

“Watching and participating in the amount of time and effort Dr. Levintova put into teaching was striking,” Mohammad said, “and allowed me to begin grasping what it means to be in higher education.”

All five students will be formally recognized in a gathering in May. The annual event, which is open to all students, celebrates graduates, interns, honors students and various other students and their accomplishments from the PEA department.

“It’s nice to end the year reflecting on the good work students have done,” Levintova said. “It gives the feeling that we’re all doing something worthwhile.”