Ten successful University of Wisconsin Oshkosh graduates have been chosen to receive top honors for 2020 by the Alumni Association Board of Directors. Over the course of five weeks, we will introduce you to these 10 outstanding individuals.
Two outstanding young University of Wisconsin Oshkosh alumni have made an impact through education that reaches far beyond the campus where they got their start.
Bethany Lerch ’09 and ’20 MSE, of Oshkosh, and Tracy Wilichowski ’12, of Marathon, have earned UW Oshkosh’s Outstanding Young Alumni Awards, which recognizes those who exhibit professional and civic accomplishments and future promise within 15 years of graduating.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in German and international studies more than a decade ago, Lerch traveled to Germany as UWO’s third-ever Fulbright scholarship to work as an English language teaching assistant. Three years later she returned to Germany to work as an assistant professor of American studies at the University of Leipzig.
In between Lerch earned the first of two post-graduate degrees, this one a Master of Letters from the School of International Relations at the University of Saint Andrews in Scotland. The achievement came thanks to a Rotary International Ambassadorial Scholarship (now known as Rotary global grants).
She’s also spent time working in Palestine as a volunteer English teacher and in Afghanistan as a gender integration expert for the U.S. Department of Defense.
Here at home she’s had a strong bond with the Oshkosh Rotary Club, including as an ambassador and as founder of the young professionals group Rotaract Oshkosh. She also founded the nonprofit Able To, known casually as the Afghan Education Project, which helped Afghan women earn graduate degrees through UWO.
More recently Lerch herself earned a master’s degree from UWO in professional counseling with emphasis on clinical mental health counseling. She now works as a therapist in mental health and addiction recovery at Rogers Behavioral Health in Appleton.
“Simply put, Bethany is responsible, personable, creative, dedicated, motivated, insightful, passionate and empathetic,” said Charles Lindsey, an associate professional counseling professor at UWO. “Bethany’s enthusiasm for knowledge and growth radiates in all activities in which she participates.”
Helping teachers abroad
Tracy Wilichowski ’12, of Marathon, has spent the years after leaving UW Oshkosh working to improve education—and not all in the most traditional sense.
Working for the World Bank in Washington D.C. as an analyst in the global knowledge and innovation unit of the education global practice, Wilichowski was the lead content developer on a classroom observation program called TEACH. The tool, designed to help low-and middle-income countries track and improve teaching quality, was piloted in four countries and then deployed in more than 20.
Wilichowski graduated from the UW Oshkosh Honors Program (now the Honors College) with a double major in history and philosophy. While there she said her professors always believed in her potential and encouraged her to reach farther than she thought possible.
She went on to earn a master’s degree in developmental management from the London School of Economics and Political Science thanks to a Rotary global grant scholarship.
“Tracy is a responsible, diligent and hard-working professional,” said World Bank Group’s Luis Benveniste, regional director of human development in Latin America and the Caribbean and Wilichowski’s direct supervisor. “She is willing to take on all kinds of challenges, big and small, and delves into them with gusto.”
Before beginning the master’s program in London, Wilichowski taught English and reading in Miami as part of the Teach for America program. That experience opened her eyes to some of the challenges students face simply because of where they were born or their family’s economic status. She came to understand the benefits of her education and how so many others aren’t given the same opportunities.
“This is a realization I’m extremely proud of,” she said, “and hope to raise others’ consciousness on through my current work.”
Plans are underway for Lerch and Wilichowski to be honored at the Alumni Awards Celebration on Oct. 23, during Homecoming 2020. UWO events scheduled for fall 2020 are subject to change due to the uncertainty of the global pandemic.
Please contact the Alumni Relations office at (920) 424-3449 or email email@example.com.