Friends of the Waisman Center Annual Awards

The Friends of the Waisman Center present seven awards each year to Waisman students, staff, and and family volunteers. The awards acknowledge outstanding achievements by students, exceptional job performance, skills, and accomplishments of staff, and significant contributions by family volunteers. The awards include a plaque and a $500 check.

The awards underscore the importance of Waisman Center students. staff, and family volunteers in furthering the mission of the Waisman Center.

The awards are presented annually at the Friends of the Waisman Center annual meeting and reception.

The Waisman Center also presents several Wisconsin Distinguished Graduate Fellowships at the Friends meeting. These competitive awards are given to graduate students working with a Waisman principal investigator and supports research, training, and tuition remission for a nine-month academic year.

Wisconsin Distinguished Graduate Student Fellowships

Brittany St. John

Brittany St. John

Nominated by Karla Ausderau, PhD

Brittany is a fifth year doctoral student in Kinesiology: Occupational Science. She was nominated for this award by her mentor, Karla Ausderau. Brittany’s research is focused on two areas: investigating health disparities and factors influencing participation in health promoting activities for individuals with disabilities and their families and understanding family relationships and context to support the development of ecologically valid family interventions targeting parent and child outcomes. Brittany is committed to disseminating the importance of inclusive research methods and the significance of lived experiences of disability in understanding health disparities and barriers to health promotion. She was a Waisman Morse Scholar and LEND trainee.

As Karla states in her nomination, “Brittany exemplifies the Waisman Center’s core mission through her fervent pursuit of inclusive research, promotion of health for people with disabilities, and dedication to interdisciplinary training and collaborations. Her commitment to community partnerships and stakeholder focused dissemination efforts are the embodiment of the Wisconsin Idea. She shows promise as a future scholar and advocate for children’s development and family well being.”

Olivia SurgentOlivia Surgent

Nominated by Brittany Travers, PhD

Olivia is a fifth year doctoral student in neuroscience. She was nominated by Brittany Travers for her work in her lab. Olivia’s dissertation is focused on the developmental, psychosocial and neurobiological basis of hand grip strength on autism and why it differs in autistic individuals. Her research has the potential to transform how we conceptualize the motor symptoms in ASD as they relate to key neurobiological functions and structures, potentially unveiling novel biomarkers and creating new pathways for clinical interventions.

Brittany states in her nomination letter “Olivia is my first doctoral trainee, and she has proven herself to be incredibly productive and promising young scientist. She is asking important questions about the neurobiological basis of sensory and motor skills in autistic individuals. While most studies use only one neuroimaging modality, Olivia is combining multiple neuroimaging techniques to elucidate what is happening in the brain to lead to motor skill differences in autistic individuals. She is the ideal graduate student: rigorous in her attention to detail, intellectually curious, an excellent communicator, and fiercely committed to science for the benefit of others. Her passion for doing science that helps the autism community is unparalleled, and she has been an exceptional contributor to the mission of our lab and to the mission of the Waisman Center.”

Graduate Student Awards

Matt ZammitIDDRC Graduate Student Award
Matt Zammit, PhD

Nominated by Brad Christian, PhD

Matt recently completed his PhD in medical physics. He was nominated for this award by Brad Christian. Matt’s research investigated the time course of neuroimaging biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease in adults with Down syndrome. His research involved detailed analysis of PET and MRI neuroimaging data acquired from Christian’s Alzheimer’s Biomarker
Consortium Down Syndrome study.

As Brad states in his nomination letter, “Matt has been a tremendously hard working researcher with an incredibly high level of productivity. His demanding thesis project
necessitated not only a deep understanding of the scientific questions we’re pursuing in a rapidly evolving field, but also required exceptional organizational skills and creativity. These attributes are something that Matt has had to work diligently to develop, as he continues to grow into a talented young scientist. Matt has been an invaluable resource in my lab
with his willingness and patience to not only train and help new students become acclimated to the lab setting, but also in contributing toward a welcoming, inclusive and overall positive lab environment.”

UCEDD Graduate Student Award
Sarah BubashSarah Bubash

Nominated by Leann DaWalt, PhD and Anne Bradford Harris, PhD

Sarah is a third year doctoral student in the special education program in the Department of Rehabilitation Psychology and Special Education. She is also a trainee in the Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (LEND) program. She was nominated for this award by Leann DaWalt and Anne Bradford Harris. Sarah’s contributions to the LEND program in the last year include a major effort in preparing and launching the “Disability Justice” modular curriculum for other LEND trainees, participating in the pilot of a Transition Consultation interdisciplinary team activity for LEND trainees and faculty to serve families (remotely), co facilitating group learning experiences for 1 st year LEND trainees, and working with the Wisconsin Integrated Transition Pilot Planning project, a one year collaborative effort with communities in Wisconsin to improve transition planning for families who have difficulty accessing services. All of this work has been concurrent and in addition to her doctoral work in special education.

As stated on their nomination, “Sarah is a gifted teacher, a compassionate colleague and advocate for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and an eager and enthusiastic team member. She is a joy to work with and exemplifies the type of student who contributes to the expertise and mission of the Waisman Center UCEDD. We look forward to Sarah’s continued excellent contributions to improving the lives of people with IDD in her future career.”

Staff Awards

University Staff Awards

Left to right: Dawna Bollig, Roy Emerson, Megan Eastwood and Maria Perez

Dawna Bollig, Megan Eastwood, Roy Emerson, & Maria Perez

Nominated by Jules Panksepp, PhD and Tracy Hagemann, PhD

Dawna, Megan, Roy and Maria were nominated for this award by Jules Panksepp and Tracy Hagemann for their work as animal research technicians (ARTs) in the Waisman Center’s Rodent Model Core. The animal research technicians are essential personnel who worked onsite throughout the pandemic. After the university announced the shut down in March of 2020, there was a scramble to order and store enough supplies to sustain the animals with food, water, bedding, and other materials for an extended period during this uncertain time. The ARTs worked long hours to meet requirements of the shut down and to subsequently maintain irreplaceable research animals for Waisman investigators over the coming months.

As stated in their nomination form, “Megan Eastwood and Roy Emerson have been employed as ARTs at Waisman for 12 years, Dawna Bollig for 10 years and Maria Perez for 3 years. During this time, there have been many changes in the Rodent Model Core, and all of the ARTs have continually taken on new tasks to facilitate research and offer technical support for investigators. There is a constant rapport between the ARTs and research staff to accommodate research needs and maintain regulatory compliance. The University Staff Award would be a meaningful acknowledgement of their dedication and important role in our research programs.”


Academic Staff Award

Clark KelloggClark Kellogg

Nominated by Jody Bleck, MS

Clark was nominated for this award by Jody Bleck for his work with the Waisman Communications team as a media specialist.

As stated in her nomination letter, “Clark’s role on the communication team has continued to expand as he has developed his skills. He showed tremendous initiative when he expanded his skillset and filled a need to broaden our digital presence and audio and video communication systems and capabilities. Clark has become the go to person at Waisman for help with AV, remote meeting/event planning and support services. He shows great patience and provides consistent and exceptional customer service. Clark is generous with his time and effort, ensuring weekend and after hour events are staffed and come off without a problem. His flexibility and willingness to never say “no” when someone needs his help means that he is many times staying late and sacrificing his personal time. He willingly gives of his time after hours and on weekends to successfully carry out the many outreach, community and fundraising events that are coordinated by the Waisman communications team. He always has a positive attitude and high level of professionalism. Clark is a tremendous asset to the  communications team and the broader Waisman Center community.”

Family Appreciation Award for Volunteer Efforts

Pam Miller & Giizhik & Mino Klawiter

Pam Miller & Giizhik & Mino Klawiter
Pam Miller & Giizhik & Mino Klawiter

Nominated by Teresa Palumbo

Pam Miller & Giizhik & Mino Klawiter were nominated for this award by Teresa Palumbo for their ongoing and dedicated efforts to raise funds and awareness about the Waisman Center’s autism research through the sale of notecards designed by Giizhik and his brother Mino.

As stated in her nomination, “Through designing and selling his art as notecards and prints, Giizhik and his family have raised autism awareness and significant funds for autism
research at the Waisman Center. Pam, Giizhik’s mother, has sold thousands of cards at locations throughout their community including grocery stores and shopping centers. At their booth sales, they include Waisman materials and information about autism research and resources to help individuals on the spectrum and their families. Pam and Giizhik are great
community ambassadors in sharing the work of the Waisman Center throughout Sawyer County and directing support to the center’s autism efforts. The family donates 100 percent of the proceeds (more than $11,000 to date!) from their card sales to autism research at center. In sharing their experiences, they hope to increase understanding and respect for individuals with autism and promote the mission of the Waisman Center.”