An associate communication studies professor at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, Fond du Lac campus is thrilled to be recognized with a prestigious award for excellence in teaching.
Kristi Wilkum will be honored in a virtual ceremony this week as one of four outstanding undergraduate teachers to receive the 2020 Alliant Energy James R. Underkofler Excellence in Teaching Award. The honor recognizes extraordinary teachers at UW System universities within Alliant Energy’s service area.
“My campus, and all of the UW Oshkosh campuses, are populated with amazing faculty members who are creative, engaging and service-driven,” Wilkum said. “So I was humbled and honored to be nominated for the 2020 Alliant Energy James R. Underkofler Excellence in Teaching Award. When I won it, I immediately wanted to dedicate it to all the students who have written papers late into the night, studied for exams and engaged in classroom discussions over the year. Teaching is a partnership, I could not do what I do without students who show up ready for learning.”
Wilkum receives $3,000, funded by an endowment from the Alliant Energy Foundation. She was notified of the award in an email from the office of UW System Interim President Tommy Thompson. A virtual awards ceremony is set for Friday, Nov. 6.
Wilkum was on furlough when the email came through―on her cell phone with her sister-in-law.
“I had to decide if I could break the (furlough) rules to check my email,” she said. “I have to say the temptation was too great. I opened the email, saw that I won and then quickly exited my email. After telling my sister-in-law, I sent a text to my husband. A text to my mom and sisters followed the one to my husband. I was overwhelmed with gratitude for all of my students, co-authors and mentors who have helped me to walk this path as a professor.”
Accessible to all
Wilkum said her philosophy of teaching is informed by two personal experiences: being a first-generation college student who teaches first-generation college students and the reciprocal benefits of servant leadership.
She said she has strong memories of being “out-of-step” with her peers and institutional expectations because her family and background had not prepared her for the college environment.
“Because of my experience navigating this hidden curriculum, I regularly expose assumptions, name social norms, reduce jargon and encourage questions with my own students,” she said, adding that when she notices a student is struggling, she approaches the student in a way that showcases their strengths and honors their dignity.
Jennifer Considine, UWO professor and communication studies department chair, in a letter of support, said Wilkum is very deserving and excels in three areas of qualification: she is a national leader in researching and applying high-impact practices in higher education, she displays incredible commitment to teaching and research, and she supports students both intellectually and emotionally.
During the past two years, Wilkum has delivered 18 peer-reviewed conference presentations―sharing her research on high-impact practices in teaching. She also has supervised five internships, two independent studies, one McNair Scholars project and taught 16 different classes—all while serving a pivotal role in the restructuring of UW Oshkosh and UW-Fond du Lac.
“Dr. Wilkum…immerses herself in studying, understanding and employing a variety of teaching methods that go beyond just the student in the classroom,” said Michael Jurmu, professor at Fond du Lac and geography department chair, in a supporting letter. He noted Wilkum’s commitment to the mission of the two-year campuses and making higher education accessible to all.
Martin Rudd, vice chancellor of the UWO access campuses, said he is proud of the way Wilkum incorporates high-impact practices, such as undergraduate research, into her classroom teaching and recognizes the value for students at the access campuses.
“Her reflection of what it personally means to be a first-generation student teaching at an institution committed to its access mission presents one of several compelling themes as to why she has won the James R. Underkofler Excellence in Teaching Award,” Rudd said.
Wilkum’s peers said she builds on the strengths of each individual to enrich the community. Some of her practices include writing-intensive assignments, collaborative learning, new technologies, undergraduate research, community-based learning and internships.
“…it is clear to me that making higher education accessible to all students—perhaps especially those with economic, social, identity or prior education barriers—can disrupt cycles of poverty and transform our community,” she said.
In the nine years she has been on campus, Wilkum has experienced three major restructurings of the institution. She embraced a leadership role with the most recent, pairing her two-year campus with the regional comprehensive school in Oshkosh.
Wilkum was born in Pocatello, Idaho, and finished high school at St. Mary’s Springs Academy in Fond du Lac. She earned her undergraduate and master’s degrees at St. Cloud State University and UW-Milwaukee, respectively, and her doctorate from Purdue University.
Wilkum and her husband, Greg Wilkum Jr., live in Fond du Lac with their children (Gregory III, 9, and Audrey, 7). The family has fun spending time outdoors—hiking, biking, boating, snowshoeing and gardening. They also enjoy reading, traveling, cards, hosting parties and attending Packers games (pre-COVID). She is a certified yoga instructor.
Wilkum said she took the position at UWO Fond du Lac after her national search resulted in several offers. She was impressed by the way faculty at Fond du Lac collaborate across disciplines, students earned a UW degree that is “recognizable the world over” and the cost of tuition makes the high-quality education accessible and affordable to everyone.
Wilkum said she has stayed at UWO Fond du Lac because she has a front-row seat to individual stories of transformation.
“It’s transformation rooted in newly won competence, confidence and passion,” she said. “Our alumni become our partners in building a stronger regional workforce and richer community.”