Recognition – On Wisconsin For UW-Madison Alumni and Friends Thu, 27 Jun 2019 17:02:25 +0000 en-US hourly 1 ‘Writing Emotion’ at Hallmark Tue, 28 May 2019 14:48:04 +0000

Jason Tracy

If you’ve been to a wedding, baby shower, funeral, or birthday party in the last 13 years, you’ve probably crossed paths with Melvina Young ’90, MS’92, PhDx’07. She’s a quiet party presence — she usually arrives hidden in an envelope — but Young’s voice always leaves a heartfelt impression on the guests of honor.

Young is a senior creative writer at Hallmark, where she says she writes much more than greeting cards. “I write emotion across formats that have deep, authentic resonance for people,” she says. “I write gift and children’s books, internet content, keepsake copy, women’s empowerment editorial, and for Hallmark’s community-support efforts. I believe in the company’s mission to touch every life in a meaningful way.”

Young’s work is infused with a sincere sense of compassion for people who are experiencing major milestones. She writes regularly for Hallmark’s Mahogany collection, aimed at African American consumers, and credits her ability to craft personal messages that resonate with diverse communities to both her personal background and her academic training. Young grew up in rural Lepanto, Arkansas, during segregation, and she enrolled at the UW in the late 1980s, an era when campus was roiling from a series of racial incidents. She participated in the student movement that resulted in a new Multicultural Student Center and an ethnic studies requirement for all undergraduates, among other diversity and inclusion initiatives.

“I went to campus and found a language for things that explained my lived experience and helped me formulate an identity built in strength,” she says. “Everything you encounter is what makes you.”

Young also found faculty mentors at the UW who encouraged her to transition from activist to academic, and she earned a master’s degree in African American studies and completed PhD coursework in women’s history and U.S. history. She then left Madison to become a college instructor and eventually landed in Kansas City, Missouri, where she decided to apply her skills in a different industry.

“In my scholarship and teaching, I focused on relationships from a broad socio-historical perspective because I felt if you could understand the root causes of certain injustices and relationships, then you could build connections and coalitions that would actually effect change,” she says. “I discovered at Hallmark, I could actually achieve a similar goal through words that touch people emotionally one to one.”

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A Hundred Trucks to Call Her Own Tue, 28 May 2019 14:48:04 +0000

Renee Meiller

Nancy Spelsberg ’99, MBA’06 will gladly nudge students toward industrial engineering. And it’s not just because she’s a graduate of the UW Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISyE) and a member of its advisory board.

“You can go into business, you can go into engineering directly, or you could do just about anything,” she says.

Spelsberg is living proof of those words. Never in her wildest dreams would the president and part owner of BCP Transportation have imagined herself running a trucking company. Spelsberg worked her way up at Alliant Energy during a decade-long tenure, but she had dreamed of owning a small business since high school — an ambition she traces to childhood visits to her uncle’s road construction operation and limestone mine in West Virginia.

Her experience in the evening MBA program in the Wisconsin School of Business only strengthened her resolve. The trick? Finding the right opportunity. Spelsberg sent letters to some 75 small manufacturers across south-central Wisconsin to inquire about buying them out. Most didn’t reply; Badger Custom Pallet did. When the pallet manufacturer decided to revisit operating its own trucking company in 2011, it asked Spelsberg to run the Deerfield, Wisconsin–based business.

“It was an opportunity to start something from scratch,” she says. “I kind of thought, ‘If I don’t do it now, I’ll always look back and wish I would have tried it.’ ”

BCP has grown from four trucks and fewer than 10 employees to more than 100 trucks and a team of 140, while also adding warehousing and an equipment maintenance and service shop. The company hauls freight all over the lower 48 states, even delivering the UW football team’s equipment for road games.

Spelsberg has introduced a number of sustainable strategies to reduce fuel costs and carbon emissions. All of BCP’s trailers are outfitted with side skirts to reduce aerodynamic drag, and the company has installed auxiliary power units in its trucks to provide electricity, heating, and cooling without idling overnight.

She’s also turned to UW–Madison ISyE students to find operational efficiencies through the department’s senior design course. Those team projects hone the kind of continuous improvement mentality that she gained from her own engineering education.

“There’s always something that could be done better or more efficiently,” she says.

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Nicolaas Mink Tue, 26 Feb 2019 16:45:59 +0000

Bethany Goodrich

Nic Mink ’02, PhD’10 is mad as halibut, and he’s not going to take it anymore. Mink likes fish. But he very much prefers his fish to be good fish. The world has too much bad-tasting seafood, he argues, and it doesn’t have to be that way.

“Seafood is a $20 billion industry,” he says, “and yet out of every 10 pieces of fish you buy at the grocery store, how many are bad? How many are just okay? Maybe 5 out of every 10? Why do we put up with this?”

To address this deficiency, Mink founded Sitka Salmon Shares, a community-supported fishery (CSF) that delivers seafood straight from the Alaskan boats to subscribers around the country.

Though he describes himself as a fishmonger, Mink didn’t study mongery at the UW, nor did he study aquaculture or economics. He earned his bachelor’s and doctorate in history — in particular, environmental history — and in his academic life, he teaches part time at Knox College in Illinois. But between grad school and teaching, he moved to Sitka, Alaska, to live out the Wisconsin Idea.

“I wanted to take my intellectual endeavors out to do good,” he says. “That really resonated with me. I wanted to see environmental studies in real life. The humanist in me wanted to learn about food and food systems and food justice.”

One of the things he learned was that fisheries tend to commoditize their products: that fishermen usually sell to just a few large corporations that value quantity over quality. Mink wanted to bring a different model — one that valued quality, connected fishermen to consumers more directly, and ultimately gave diners a better meal. He wanted, in other words, to bring to seafood the same ethos that underlies community-supported agriculture (CSA).

In a CSA, consumers buy shares in a local farm, which then supplies food directly to them. After returning to the Midwest, Mink founded Sitka Salmon Shares, which, similarly, sells memberships to consumers around the nation. Fishers in Sitka, who have an ownership stake in the business, deliver high-quality fish — not just salmon, but also cod, crab, halibut, and more. The company flash-freezes the fish and ships it to subscribers.

“It’s an artisanal product,” Mink says, and, at typically $18 or $20 per pound, the price reflects it. “But it’s worth it. We have fish that are substantially different than what you’d find even at a Whole Foods. We see this as an everyday luxury item.”

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Nancy Baym Tue, 26 Feb 2019 16:45:59 +0000

Kelly Davidson Studio

As a student, Nancy Baym ’86 followed her favorite bands around the country, exploring the relationship between musicians and fans firsthand — long before she knew it could become a career. She became friends with R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe, and during a spring break trip to Nashville, she and her roommate gave Alex Chilton (a member of the ’70s power-pop band Big Star) and his bass player a ride to Memphis. “While we were awestruck at this legendary musician,” she says, “we realized how human he was. And that relationship always stayed with me.”

During Baym’s doctoral program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she focused on analyzing audience subcultures. She later worked as a communications professor at Wayne State University and the University of Kansas before becoming a principal researcher at Microsoft Research New England.

Baym channels both her interest in communication and her passion for music into her new book, Playing to the Crowd: Musicians, Audiences, and the Intimate Work of Connection. She interviewed bands and artists such as UB40, the Cure, Billy Bragg, and Nacho Vegas. She chose musicians “to illustrate the wider phenomenon where social media has made people feel the need to be maintaining quasi-intimate relationships with customers or those they might do business with in the future.”

It’s no longer just a one-way street where fans buy albums and engage with musicians only at meet-and-greets or concerts, she says. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have torn down that barrier to create a new kind of artist–audience relationship.

One conclusion from the book: “You don’t have to think of audiences as potential friends to think of them as coparticipants in creating new social and moral orders through your interactions.”

Baym has mined this field before, in her 2015 book, Personal Connections in the Digital Age. It applies more than 20 years of her research on how social media and internet culture have influenced our relationships with one another. “It’s a more nuanced conversation on how we respond to new technologies and what happens to language and identity when we increasingly talk with each other online,” she says.

As for her next project, she will only say it’s focused on Microsoft Office’s paper-clip mascot Clippy, a chatty digital assistant that was discontinued in 2007 and “has found an afterlife as a meme on craft sites such as Etsy.”

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Chris Burt Tue, 26 Feb 2019 16:45:59 +0000

Nicolo sertorio

Chris Burt ’83 was drawn to the UW in 1973 by its world-renowned meteorology department. Although he’d been studiously recording the weather since age six, at UW–Madison, his scholastic dreams stalled against the rigors of meteorological math. So he left school for a brief stint in farming and then toured Asia. Smitten by Thailand, he reenrolled at the UW in 1979 to earn a degree in international relations. After graduation, he entered the travel guide business in Bangkok just as Thailand became a popular tourist destination.

Burt jumped into the U.S. market with the Compass American guidebook series and sold that venture to Random House in 1992. He moved to the Bay Area and remained as publisher until 2001, when he reconnected to his weather enthusiasms. Burt created an extreme weather guide, working from a photocopied 1971 compendium of record-breaking weather compiled by one of his mentors. He updated the data and packaged it as Extreme Weather: A Guide and Record Book.

First enchanted by epic snowfalls, Burt’s passion now includes the outer limits of all climatic events. He survived Bangkok’s biggest rain event — 16 inches in 10 hours. “My house went underwater,” he recalls. “I remember sitting in my bedroom, and the house was literally shaking from the intensity of the rainfall.”

But that’s nothing: “I’d love to have been in Unionville, Maryland, when that one and a quarter inches of rain fell in 60 seconds,” Burt says of a record-holding 1956 storm. “I just can’t imagine what that would be like. That’s just ridiculous.”

The book helped launch him from meteorological dropout to a blogger at Weather Underground, a popular website for weather junkies. One of his blog posts even led to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) overturning a 90-year-old statistic of the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth (136°F at El Azizia, Libya, in September 1922).

Burt’s investigation found critical flaws in how the heat was measured, prompting the WMO to conduct its own investigation and confirm his findings. The record fell by default to the 134°F observed in Death Valley, California, on July 10, 1913. The upset led to national media coverage and landed Burt an ad hoc membership on the WMO’s World Weather and Climate Extremes Committee.

“The increase of extreme weather events is definitely not our imagination,” Burt warns. “The heat waves are definitely as extreme as they have ever been in history and more frequent all over the world.”

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Alannah McCready Tue, 26 Feb 2019 16:45:59 +0000

Priscilla Priebe

Long before she led the UW women’s hockey team to two NCAA Division I championships, goalie Alannah McCready ’10 was a member of several boys’ youth hockey teams in Blaine, Minnesota.

“When I was growing up, there were no girls’ teams for me to play on,” says McCready. Her persistence to follow her passion and play anyway — a virtue that would serve her well off the ice, too — eventually led to a full athletic scholarship with the Badgers.

After graduating, McCready got a job doing PR for a sports management company in New York. She loved it, but her interest in music — something she’s pursued since she was young — felt like her true calling. At the UW, she spent her few spare moments writing songs.

Her uncle Willie Wisely, a recording artist in Los Angeles, recommended her to Nashville music producer Dan Hodges, who in turn reached out to her with an opportunity to record some tunes.

“I was looking for validation that I was going to make the right decision,” McCready says. “I knew that if I didn’t take that opportunity when it came available to me, that I might not ever do it. So I wanted to jump in, full force ahead, and see if I could make it happen.”

She decided to move to Atlanta to pursue music full time. Several years and two albums (including last year’s Ricochet Heart) later, McCready is touring and making good on that goal.

“I’ve gotten messages from people [about] how the songs have impacted them,” she says. “That’s what we do it for.” Many of these songs, such as “Enemies with Benefits,” draw from her own romantic history. That’s especially true for her 2015 debut album, Love Hangover.

“In college I had some tough relationships,” she says. “So the first album really pulls from those relationships.”

McCready gained something else from her college days: the self- discipline she learned from playing hockey.

“When you’re an athlete, you have to be very self-motivated and very disciplined with your everyday schedule,” she says. “[This] really helped in transitioning to be a musician, because being an independent musician is all self-driven. If you don’t do it yourself and motivate yourself, it’s not going to happen. No one’s going to do it for you.”

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Chris Linehan Freytag ’87 Mon, 05 Nov 2018 20:30:15 +0000 Chris Linehan Freytag leads outdoor yoga class


Chris Linehan Freytag ’87’s first aerobics class at the UW, which she took back in the ’80s, inspired a lifelong passion for exercise — and that has led to an online fitness empire. Freytag is the founder and CEO of, a digital publishing company based in the Minneapolis suburbs. It encompasses a website, blog, newsletters, social media, and a subscription-based workout service that reaches more than 2 million women a month.

Although Freytag’s first job after college was in direct-mail marketing, she never left fitness far behind. Getting certified as an aerobics instructor was quickly followed by becoming a personal trainer. Soon she was working for Lifetime Fitness in the Twin Cities, where she still teaches everything from yoga to cardio and strength conditioning.

After developing a strong following from her classes, Freytag began selling her own workouts on VHS tapes (remember those?). Before long, she had partnered with Rodale Publishing, producing dozens of fitness DVDs and serving as a contributing editor at Prevention magazine. She gained further exposure with appearances on the Home Shopping Network and a Twin Cities morning news program.

Then came her website, which is when things exploded for Freytag. Despite her success, the former journalism major — who composed her first stories on a typewriter — hasn’t always found the digital world easy. “I’ve had to teach myself how to create a digital presence,” she says, “everything from selling online advertising to working with brands.” It also doesn’t hurt that her three full-time employees are millennials, “digitally savvy and with so many ideas for execution.”

A streaming subscription workout series called GetHealthyUTV is Freytag’s latest project. “So many people today don’t have time for the gym,” she says. Her fitness series is currently bringing what she calls the “power of the group” into 10,000 homes.

Many of GetHealthyU ’s clients are middle-aged, like its founder, and for them she has some advice:

  • Start at any time: you’re never too old.
  • Begin slowly so you don’t get injured. (Don’t start with CrossFit!)
  • Consistency is key. The quick fix no longer works in your 40s or 50s.
  • Aim for moving your body and eating right 80 percent of time. You don’t have to become obsessive.
  • Learn to love your body. And stop looking at magazines full of 20-year-olds.
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Brian Stockmaster MFA’98 Mon, 05 Nov 2018 20:30:13 +0000 Brian Stockmaster

Charlie Simokaitis

When Barack Obama appeared before cheering crowds in Chicago on the night he won the 2008 election, Brian Stockmaster MFA’98 had a unique connection to the president-elect. The majestic stage in Grant Park had been mapped out, designed, and assembled in less than two weeks under Stockmaster’s supervision at Chicago Scenic Studios (CSS), a design and fabrication firm. The lectern itself had been built only three days earlier.

“There was a sense of pride in being associated with such a moment in history. The energy of the crowd was amazing,” Stockmaster says. Although he had a ticket to go backstage, he chose to stand outside with everyone else, not wanting to get in the way.

A quiet drive to see a job done right has fueled Stockmaster’s work ethic and career. He came to UW–Madison expecting to become an engineer but studied theater technology instead, from pneumatics to architecture to electricity. Upon graduation, he honed his skills at venerable design firms in New York. He worked on Broadway shows (Aida, The Lion King, and Kiss Me, Kate among them) and cable programs, building the first big set for ESPN’s SportsCenter, before taking a position at CSS in 2005.

Preparing for large events can often get stressful. After a 20-foot-wide turntable for displaying cars malfunctioned the night before an important auto show, Stockmaster drove from Chicago to Detroit, pulled apart the elaborate set, repaired the equipment, and had everything back in place before the next morning. “It was a pretty hairy evening,” he admits.

Stockmaster gives a lot of credit for his career path to Dennis Dorn ’70, a UW professor emeritus of theater technology and a mentor to this day. “He was a tough guy, but also very patient,” Stockmaster says. “Dennis is a very thoughtful person, asks great questions, and really does listen.”

Despite CSS’s high-profile projects such as building sets for the Oprah Winfrey Show and constructing the new headquarters of the Chicago Bears at Halas Hall, Stockmaster hasn’t let it go to his head. For him, the set’s the thing — especially when the review of his handiwork could come from the commander in chief.

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Lester Graves Lennon ’73 Mon, 27 Aug 2018 17:33:09 +0000 Lester Lennon at the Memorial Union Terrace

Sarah Morton

If you were looking for Lester Graves Lennon ’73 back in the late ’60s, chances are you found him at Der Rathskeller.

“I basically haunted the Rath,” says the English major from New York who came to UW–Madison because that’s where smart characters in James A. Michener novels went to college. Lennon could spend hours hunkered down in the Memorial Union hangout, playing bridge or dabbling in poetry.

“When I finished a poem, I’d go around the Rathskeller showing my friends,” he says.

Beyond the Union, the written word played a defining role in Lennon’s UW experience. A standout memory is a Shakespeare course taught by English professor Standish Henning. “I love how he brought it to life,” Lennon says. And he’ll never forget meeting Gwendolyn Brooks; the first African American writer to win the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry served as the Rennebohm Visiting Professor of Creative Writing in spring 1969. Lennon took her class and came away inspired to keep putting pen to paper.

He continued writing as his path veered from the UW, first to San Francisco and Berkeley, where he worked in a student-owned record store he’d read about in Rolling Stone, and then in city jobs in the Bay area, where he picked up some finance skills. When a friend told him about an investment banking firm starting up, Lennon was ready for the challenge. He set down roots a few years later in Los Angeles, establishing himself as both an investment banker and a poet. The two pursuits, he has found, have a surprising amount in common.

“It’s all about energy, it’s all about creativity, it’s all about trying to find solutions for problems,” he says.

Lennon is working on his third book of poetry, with several pieces started at visits to the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley, where he sits on the board of directors. He also serves on the board at Red Hen Press and was part of a mayoral task force that helped appoint Los Angeles’s first poet laureate in 2012.

Through it all, Lennon has maintained a connection to campus, returning twice a year for English department board of visitors meetings. In spring 2017, he was eager to visit his old stomping grounds. He checked out the revamped Memorial Union and searched for a personalized brick that he purchased to commemorate all the hours he spent there.

Its inscription: Poetry written here.

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Andy Rosengarden ’97 Mon, 27 Aug 2018 17:33:07 +0000 Andy Rossendarden is pictured in front of a Ben and Jerry's ice cream poster

Joe Vericker

At a bakery where treats serve the greater good, keeping the fiscal house in order is a sweet gig.

Andy Rosengarden ’97 is chief financial officer of the social enterprise that owns Greyston Bakery, most famously known for the brownies in select Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream flavors. The bakery’s cookies, brownies, and blondies are also sold online and at Whole Foods. (Rosengarden recommends the Snickerdoodle.)

The heart of the bakery is the practice of “open hiring,” the signature effort of the nonprofit Greyston Foundation, which provides a suite of social services in the inner-city community of Yonkers, New York.

“We’re hiring people, no questions asked,” Rosengarden says. “No interviews, nothing. If you want a job, you come in; we give you a job.”

Open hiring is intended to help people who want to work but who struggle to secure jobs that require traditional interviews or background checks. For example, when it comes to filling out job applications, people re-entering the workforce after incarceration or experiencing homelessness can be stymied by questions about a felony record or the lack of a permanent address.

Open hiring, Rosengarden says, can be a path for people to find new opportunities through work — and for life after the bakery.

“We actually like it when people move on,” he says. “Often, they move on for better-paying positions. Also, it allows us to hire more people.”

Rosengarden joined Greyston’s executive team in 2016. After more than 16 years as an auditor and Wall Street investment analyst, he was inspired by his two young children to bring his financial expertise to the nonprofit world.

As the foundation’s CFO, Rosengarden guides the intricate finances of Greyston’s hybrid nonprofit/for-profit organization. He sees to it that corporate donations, community partnerships, and bakery income all go to support programs such as housing, workforce development, 10 community gardens, and about 100 bakery jobs.

He’s also devoting his accounting acumen toward the nonprofit’s expansion effort — the launch of the Center for Open Hiring at Greyston.

“Instead of opening bakeries all across the country or the world, we want to inspire other companies to adopt open hiring,” Rosengarden says. “You have millions of people sitting on the sidelines who want to work. This could change the paradigm in terms of how people are hired, giving [them] opportunities and second chances.”

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