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College honors 15 at Oct. 13 Engineers' Day festivities

On Oct. 13, the College of Engineering will honor eight alumni whose personal and professional accomplishments have broadened knowledge in cancer medicine, improved healthcare information technology, strengthened the role of plastics in Wisconsin's economy, and benefited their own companies and industries in countless ways. These engineers, executives and entrepreneurs will receive their awards at an evening banquet during the college's 59th annual Engineers' Day celebration.

The college also will recognize seven faculty and staff members whose meaningful contributions continue to create a positive environment in which students and visitors can learn. The dedication and excellence exhibited by faculty and staff enhances the college reputation as a world-class institution at which to study engineering.

The daylong Engineers' Day celebration includes seminars that highlight research in manufacturing micro- and nanoscale systems, compressive sampling, musculoskeletal biomechanics and an unmanned aerial vehicle project; as well as luncheons, lectures and tours. For a complete schedule, visit the Engineers' Day website.

Early Career Achievement Award


Christine M. Schyvinck

Christine M. Schyvinck (large image)

Christine M. Schyvinck
Executive Vice President
Global Marketing and Sales
SHURE Incorporated
Niles, IL

Within a decade of her earning her bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering, Christine M. Schyvinck made the transition from engineer to business executive at Shure, Inc., an Illinois-based company that makes professional-grade wired and wireless microphones and sound systems. Due in part to Schyvinck's leadership, Shure corporate growth has reached nearly 50 percent in the last three years.

Following her May 1989 graduation, Schyvinck began work at the company as a quality control engineer, later becoming manager of process development engineering and vice president of quality. For four years, she was executive vice president of operations and in March, became executive vice president of marketing and sales, covering Shure's global territories. She manages Shure business units in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Canada, South and Central America, and the United States, and is responsible for marketing functions such as communications and research. At

At Shure, Schyvinck has a history of volunteering for difficult and complicated assignments, and then producing results that exceed expectations. For example, when Shure decided to enter the consumer market with such products as earphones, Schyvinck played a key role in communicating its strategy to company employees worldwide. She was instrumental in directing the opening of manufacturing facilities in China and continues to play a key role in implementing their long-term strategic business plans.

Schyvinck credits Mechanical Engineering and Industrial and Systems Engineering Professor Emeritus Donald Ermer as being a mentor during and after her UW-Madison education. A certified quality engineer, she also earned an MBA in engineering management from Northwestern University in 1999.

She is a member of the Northern Illinois University Manufacturers Coalition advisory board, and holds memberships in the American Society for Quality and the Society of Women Engineers.

Although Schyvinck's work keeps her busy, she still finds time to play French horn in various company bands for occasions such as ice cream socials. She is married to husband Jeff, whom she met at UW-Madison, and has two children. Son Adam is a second-grader; daughter Nicole began kindergarten this fall.

Distinguished Achievement Awards


Jan R. Acker

Jan R. Acker (large image)

Jan R. Acker
President and Chief Executive Officer
Placon Corporation
Madison, WI

Jan Acker's early technologies benefited the Statue of Liberty and the Space Shuttle. During the Statue of Liberty restoration, workers used liquid nitrogen to freeze the coating away from its surface. Acker patented the process — one of five patents he holds — as an undergraduate. After he completed his bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering in 1976, he worked at Rockwell International and helped develop the high-pressure hydrogen fuel pump that is an integral part of the Space Shuttle main engines.

His passion for engineering began as a boy. Following his father to work at John Deere in Horicon, Wisconsin, young Acker rode tractors in test fields and watched other relatives work in manufacturing and assembly. While the experience inspired him to design and build machinery, his seventh- and eighth-grade math teacher helped him set his sights on becoming a mechanical engineer.

Today as president and CEO of thermoformed packaging manufacturer Placon Corporation, Acker is determined to keep the 500-employee company independent and thriving. He launched a strategy to propel Placon into the top-10 industry companies by 2010. The strategy includes expanding operations to China, growing existing retail business and expanding into the food and medical markets, starting a research and development department that includes an alliance with the College of Engineering Polymer Engineering Center, and expanding Placon into the U.S. Southwest and Northeast. While in recent years the nation's plastics industry has been challenged, Placon more than doubled company sales in less than five years and raised the company's sales ranking in the thermoforming industry from No. 27 to No. 17. Acker also currently is chair of the major plastics industry trade association.

Under Acker, Placon continues to be a strong community supporter. Placon is a founding member of the Madison Area Business Volunteer Network and is a perennial supporter of the United Way of Dane County. The company sponsored a Habitat for Humanity home build, provides Meals on Wheels drivers, participates in days of caring, and encourages employees to serve on executive boards of non-profits.

Acker and his wife of 22 years, Sara, have three children: Sara Jane, 18; JR, 15; and Allison, 13. He focuses much of his spare time on supporting his children's scholastic athletic efforts in hockey, soccer, track and football. An all-around athlete who played on the UW-Madison football team for two years, Acker also enjoys playing golf.


Gilbert C. Gerdman

Gilbert C. Gerdman (large image)

Gilbert C. Gerdman
Board Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
MSA Professional Services, Inc.
Baraboo, WI

Gilbert C. Gerdman's career has enabled him to focus on two activities he loves: being outdoors and building things. His father, a tool and dye maker at A.O. Smith in Milwaukee, stimulated his interest in engineering. When Gerdman learned that as a civil engineer he could work outside, his occupational goal was set. It certainly sounded better to him than working in an office.

He earned a bachelor's degree in civil engineering in 1966 and a master's degree in water resources management in 1967 from UW-Madison. Gerdman fondly remembers Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Gerard (Gerry) Rohlich, who, no matter how busy, would make time to talk with students and help guide them in their career plans.

After working briefly at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Gerdman became one of the first eight employees at MSA Service Professionals, Baraboo, Wisconsin. Specializing in environmental and transportation services, the engineering firm now has 12 Midwest offices.

Gerdman began at MSA as a municipal and environmental engineer and advanced to CEO and chairman of the board, the offices he now holds. He is particularly pleased to head a company that is employee-owned because it provides each of the more than 300 employees a chance to participate in the firm's direction, as well as to reap its benefits.

His professional honors include a Young Engineer of the Year award in 1978 and an Engineer of the Year in Private Practice award in 1989. He has also been president and an active member of the Wisconsin Association of Consulting Engineers.

A native of Milwaukee, Gerdman lives in Baraboo, where he thrives on meeting people and playing a role in the community's direction. Enthusiastically committed to improving life in Baraboo, he is a current or past member of a dozen business and civic organizations, including the International Crane Foundation, the Baraboo Range Commission, and the Boys and Girls Club. An avid outdoorsman, he hunts, fishes and camps, and was a member of the DNR Canada Goose Task Force from 1988 to 1995. He and his family have a cottage in the Door County area.

Gerdman and his wife, Lynn, a retired school teacher, have two sons: David, a civil engineer who works on DNR wastewater projects in Green Bay, and Daniel, who earned an MBA and works for Kimberly-Clark in Appleton.


Randy L. Jirtle

Randy L. Jirtle (large image)

Randy L. Jirtle
Professor of Radiation Oncology
Duke University
Durham, NC

As an undergraduate in the Department of Nuclear Engineering and Engineering Physics, Randy L. Jirtle attended a series of lectures by UW-Madison Human Oncology Professor Kelly Clifton about the effects of radiation on the human body. The lectures sparked a flourishing career in which Jirtle explored the human genome, radiation, oncology, and the relatively new field of epigenetics, the study of how genes and the environment produce their effects on an organism's visible characteristics.

Among his accomplishments, Jirtle identified the IGF2R as being a tumor suppressor, and demonstrated that its mutation increases risk of cancer and decreased intelligence. He also showed that maternal nutrition during pregnancy affects adult disease susceptibility, not by mutating the genome, but by altering the epigenome, the set of DNA instructions that controls gene expression.

His academic career began in a one-room schoolhouse in northeastern Wisconsin. He earned his bachelor's degree in 1970 and went on to earn master's and doctoral degrees in radiation biology under Clifton. Since 1977, he has been a member of the faculty at Duke University, where he is a professor of radiation oncology and an associate professor of pathology.

Jirtle's engineering background enables him to interact with computer scientists in the use of machine learning software to determine what activates or inactivates genes. The quantitative approaches he learned as he trained to be an engineer are now vital in the way he views biology. He happily straddles the fields of biology and physics, and once again is using his engineering training as he begins a project to understand the impact of radiation on the epigenome. His efforts may enable him to identify nutritional supplements that protect the body from low-dose radiation.

He has more than 150 published articles to his credit, as well as numerous book chapters and a book on liver regeneration and carcinogenesis. Jirtle was an invited speaker at the 2004 Nobel Symposium on Epigenetics in Stockholm, Sweden. The National Cancer Institute, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and the Department of Energy support his research.

Jirtle lives in Durham, North Carolina, with his wife, Nancy, and daughter, Bonnie, a high school junior. His son, James, graduated from Rice University in Houston, Texas, and plans to study music and theology at the University of Durham in England. When not giving numerous invited talks or working in his lab, Jirtle enthusiastically cultivates a garden of flowers and vegetables, which he tries to keep safe from a proliferating local deer population.


Mark D. McDougall

Mark D. McDougall (large image)

Mark D. McDougall
Executive Director
Health Level Seven, Inc., and
Coalition for Healthcare eStandards
Chelsea, MI

Mark D. McDougall's 1983 bachelor's degree in industrial engineering prepared him to excel as a leader in the healthcare industry. For more than 20 years, he has applied engineering process-improvement strategies to the challenges of healthcare information systems — first as a consultant with the Chicago Hospital Council and later, as head of key professional societies that helped shape information technology resources and standards.

Throughout his management engineering career, McDougall was actively involved in the Chicago chapter of the Hospital Management Systems Society (HMSS). As a result of his contributions to this local professional association, the national office, then renamed the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, recruited him. This career move to association management enabled him to focus on serving the educational and professional growth needs of management engineers and information technology professionals.

In 1992, McDougall helped launch the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives, which serves the educational and professional growth needs of healthcare CIOs. And in 1995, with Microsoft's blessing, he launched the Microsoft Healthcare Users Group, an independent nonprofit organization.

Currently, he co-owns Association Management Group, a for-profit company that manages and serves as the headquarters for several nonprofit healthcare information technology associations. McDougall also has been executive director of Health Level Seven, or HL7, since 1991, and the Coalition for Healthcare eStandards — two key professional organizations that aim to help the healthcare industry use information technology more efficiently. In fact, under McDougall's leadership, HL7 has produced the most widely used health data interchange standards in the world.

A native of Monona, Wisconsin, and first in his extended family to attend college, McDougall grew up strongly attached to Badger athletics. A passionate basketball fan, he plays regularly in an over-30 league and occasionally coaches his children, Jack, 12, and Alex, 10, who also are passionate basketball fans and players.

McDougall's wife, Rochelle, earned a master's degree in reading from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Formerly a second-grade teacher, she now is a stay-at-home-mom. Although they live in Chelsea, Michigan, McDougall and his family attend a Badger football and basketball game each year and, with his in-laws Jim and Pat Eick, Jack and Alex have attended UW-Madison's Grandparents University each of the last four years. The family also retains its Wisconsin ties during summer vacations at a cottage in Eagle River.


Gary W. Pruessing

Gary W. Pruessing (large image)

Gary W. Pruessing
President and Chairman
TonenGeneral Sekiyu Kabushki Kaisha
Japan Chairman, ExxonMobil Group in Japan
Asia Pacific Refining Director

Gary W. Pruessing was a rarity in Japan. As president and chairman of TonenGeneral Sekiyu Kabushki Kaisha, he was one of the few Westerners to hold such a high-ranking position in a Japanese company.

In 2001, Pruessing's longtime employer, ExxonMobil, asked him to move to Japan and run TonenGeneral Sekiyu Kabushki Kaisha. Formed as the result of a merger, the new company includes four Japanese refineries, an integrated chemical company, and retail marketing.

Under his leadership, the company, which is majority-owned by ExxonMobil, improved safety practices and enhanced earthquake resistance at its refineries. It implemented a number of consolidations and restructuring activities, including a company-wide integrated computer system. On the marketing side, it took steps to increase customer service and convenience by introducing self-service stations at a pace ahead of competitors.

Pruessing says that bridging the cultural gap between the West and Japan through his work was both rewarding and challenging. In 2003, he became the regional director for all ExxonMobil Asia Pacific refineries, including those in Japan, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand. As of September 2006, he became president of ExxonMobil Pipeline Co. in Houston.

Though it has been more than 30 years since Pruessing earned his bachelor's degree in chemical engineering (1975) from UW-Madison, Pruessing still finds joy in solving technical problems in the oil refining business. Prior to his post in Japan, he worked for ExxonMobil in a variety of positions, including managing refineries in Benicia, California, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In Baton Rouge, he was active in a range of civic activities, including the local YMCA and the United Way boards of directors. He regards such activities as a natural extension of his work and views corporate citizenship as an important responsibility in addition to providing products in a safe and environmentally responsible manner.

Pruessing remembers his days on campus fondly — not only the education he received, which included many long hours and late nights, but also student life, which included enjoying the Memorial Union terrace, the Arboretum, and hikes along Lake Mendota. An avid Badger football fan, Pruessing now “watches” the Internet to keep up with the Badgers and other Wisconsin sports teams.

He and his wife of 22 years, Lisa, have two teenage children: Scott is a sophomore at Tufts University, while Rachel is a senior in high school in McLean, Virginia. Pruessing enjoys reading, hiking, sports and woodworking.


James A. Senty

James A. Senty (large image)

James A. Senty
Midwest Natural Gas, Inc.
LaCrosse, WI

James A. Senty grew up in Independence, Wisconsin, a western Wisconsin farm community of 900 residents. He earned his bachelor's degree in 1960 in mining engineering; however, the degree formed the foundation for interests that range from sulfur reclamation to banking, insurance and finance.

That variety is due in part to his UW-Madison education. He graduated with 194 credits — 30 percent more than he needed — in courses that extended from engineering and geology into areas like business and law.

Senty currently is president and chairman of Midwest Natural Gas, Inc., a public utility serving more than 15,000 meters in western Wisconsin. He also is chairman of the board of The Park Bank in Madison and chairman of Western Gas Resources, Inc., a Denver-based gas and oil company listed on the New York Stock Exchange. He is chairman of Deerfield Financial, a bank holding-company in Deerfield, Wisconsin, and was director and senior vice president of Midwest Security Insurance Companies.

Throughout his career, he has been on the lookout for interesting and challenging possibilities. One such opportunity involved environmental remediation. In northern Alberta, Canada, natural gas production generated enormous blocks of sulfur byproducts that weighed hundreds of thousands tons and wreaked havoc on the environment. In the 1980s, Senty and other engineers developed a method to melt the sulfur, make it into ingots, and sell it to Asian firms for making rubber or manufacturing pharmaceuticals.

Senty's other endeavors include developing several retirement communities in Wisconsin and Florida. At 70, he works 50- to 60-hour weeks and has no plans for retirement. He currently is chair of SWIB, the State of Wisconsin Investment Board.

After a 20-year tenure, the La Crosse, Wisconsin, resident recently retired from the Viterbo College board of directors. He also was a member and chair of the St. Francis Hospital Foundation board of directors and was active in the National Propane Gas Association, serving as its president in the late 1980s. Senty served six years with the Wisconsin National Guard and was a member of the Tau Beta Pi and Alpha Chi Sigma fraternities.

Senty is an avid hunter and fisherman and enjoys flying airplanes, riding his Harley, sailing, and working on his farms. He and his wife of 46 years, Catherine, also enjoy spending time with their grandchildren and family, and climbing Colorado's 14,000-foot mountains, where they have a home. Their two children, Paul and Amy, live in the Madison area and are involved in the family businesses.


Kenneth R. Welton

Kenneth R. Welton (large image)

Kenneth R. Welton
Welton Enterprises Inc.
Madison, WI

From the time he was a seventh grader in Washburn, Wisconsin, Kenneth R. Welton knew that he wanted to move earth and build buildings. His 1956 bachelor's degrees in civil and environmental engineering and urban land economics from UW-Madison launched a 50-year career that exceeded his expectations.

Initially, he spent about three and a half years with Madison engineering firm Mead and Hunt, Inc., working on the new Interstate Highway 90/94. He then moved to Wick Building Systems, Inc., rising from an engineer to president and vice chairman of the board. During his 20-year career with Wick, Welton built thousands of farm buildings, warehouses, factories and other structures in seven states around the Mazomanie, Wisconsin, area.

Currently, he owns Welton Enterprises, Inc. (WEI), a real-estate management, development and consulting firm that owns and manages 38 buildings and more than 250 acres in the Madison area. The properties are primarily industrial; the buildings are leased.

Among Welton's industry honors are a 1975 Marketer of the Year award from the American Marketing Association and a 1997 Middleton Business Person of the Year award.

While his first love is building and land development, he was instrumental in developing a 500-plus-acre group of homes, offices and condominiums, called High Point Town Ventures, on Madison's West Side. Within that venture, he developed High Point Estates and left his mark not only through the way he used the land, but also through the streets he named. They include New Washburn Way, Apostle Island, Chequamegon Bay, and 17 others reminiscent of places around his boyhood home.

Welton's development of that land is an example of his keen foresight. Even before land deals were completed, he persuaded Madison to install sewer lines along High Point Road during its construction, saving the city time and money when builders began erecting homes in the area.

Married for 50 years, Welton and his wife have four children. Daughter Kristine lives in Madison and is a customer service specialist for Conney Safety Products. Kurtis is president of WEI. Son Kevin also works for the firm, while son Michael is an artist in Minneapolis. The couple also have 10 grandchildren and one great grandchild.

Welton and his wife, Jean, split their time among homes at Bishop�s Bay Country Club, Middleton, Wisconsin; Grey Oaks Country Club, Naples, Florida; and a log home near Manitowish Waters, Wisconsin. The two enjoy tennis and golf and have traveled extensively. Their next trip will be to Australia in 2007.

Faculty and staff honors

The Engineers' Day celebration recognizes several faculty and staff members who received college honors at a May 2 ceremony. They include:

David Zimmerman

David Zimmerman (large image)

The Ragnar E. Onstad Service to Society Award

Professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering David R. Zimmerman is passionate about improving the quality of care for nursing home residents around the world. Through countless interactions with long-term care consumers, providers, advocates and regulators, he works to bridge the gap between research and applied efforts to enhance residents' lives. He frequently interacts with federal policymakers on long-term care issues. His research guides the policy; his practical experience has resulted in more rational regulation and advancements in nursing-home industry quality-improvement initiatives.

Debra Schiess

Debra Schiess (large image)

Classified Staff Distinguished Achievement Award

During the course of her work day, Academic Affairs Office Administrative Assistant Debra K. Schiess might encounter scores of interruptions from faculty, staff and students. She cheerfully answers their questions, then efficiently completes her other duties, which range from managing budgets and personnel tasks to coordinating schedules and checking the DARS reports for nearly 700 engineering students who hope to graduate.

Donald Woolston

Donald Woolston (large image)

The Bollinger Academic Staff Distinguished Achievement Award

Assistant Dean of Engineering General Resources Donald C. Woolston is an expert at helping new and prospective College of Engineering students feel welcome and at ease on campus. Every summer, he meets with hundreds of incoming freshmen during SOAR; every school year, he advises hundreds of students entering the college. He co-teaches a course to help first-year students better relate engineering to their own interests; to help them succeed in engineering, he and his staff implemented extensive academic support programs and now use conferencing software to chat with students online and share applications in real time.

Jay Martin

Jay Martin (large image)

The Benjamin Smith Reynolds Award for Excellence in Teaching

His students say Professor of Mechanical Engineering Jay K. Martin is one of the most accessible, dedicated teachers they have ever had — someone who instilled ethics and pushed them to do better work than they ever imagined they could. But perhaps the greatest testament to his dedication as an instructor is his energetic pursuit of ways in which he and others can improve teaching and learning. Among his endeavors, he is an active member of the UW-Madison Teaching Academy and an advocate of the concept inventory approach to teaching, which provides students immediate feedback on their comprehension of the material.

Sanford Klein

Sanford Klein (large image)

The Byron Bird Award for Excellence in a Research Publication

Based on some of his own frustrations with the small role computers seemed to play in solving problems, Professor of Mechanical Engineering Sanford A. Klein developed the Engineering Equation Solver. This software program has fundamentally changed the way in which researchers in the thermal sciences approach problem solving. It allows a user to input a series of equations, and provided that enough independent equations are supplied, the software returns the solution. In addition, it has built-in functions that provide thermophysical properties with unprecedented accuracy. More than 200 engineering departments use the software, which also is bundled with several engineering textbooks.

Regina Murphy

Regina Murphy (large image)

The James G. Woodburn Award for Excellence in Teaching

To students of all ages, Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering Regina M. Murphy is not only an enthusiastic, engaging and effective teacher, but also is a mentor valued for thoughtful, insightful input on everything from teaching philosophy to academic integrity. She transformed one of her department's introductory courses, replacing a lecture-based format with an active learning experience that incorporates in-class problem-solving and a group design project. Then, from her course notes, she developed a textbook to accompany the course. She also maintains an active mentorship program with select Madison public schools and is both a formal and informal mentor to faculty in her department and women throughout the university.

Erick Oberstar

Erick Oberstar (large image)

The Harvey Spangler Award for Technology Enhanced Instruction

Mechanical Engineering Assistant Faculty Associate Erick L. Oberstar recognized a need for greater efficiency in and accessibility to laboratory experiments for both on- and off-campus students. As a result, he developed a set of web-based experiments that students can conduct from any location, using real lab-based hardware. The experiment system is a physical implementation, with live data and video feedback. Students have access to 11 different user interfaces, or web pages; each experiment enables them to download different parameters to the system, which then uploads live performance data. Each user interface provides students with graphs of live performance data and a downloadable file of their data. Students have 24/7 access to this system.