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Three environmental studies seniors are being celebrated for their academic success and student activism in support of sustainability—one of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh’s core values.

Alyssa Reinke, Samantha Sprenger and Erin Thompson earned Chancellor’s Award for Excellence honors for their academic performance, University-related activities and community involvement. Reinke and Sprenger will graduate May 15, while Thompson plans to graduate next fall.

“These three women have been model citizen/scholar/activists,” said Professor Jim Feldman, director of the UWO environmental studies program. “They have been involved on campus, in the community and are all terrific students.”

Helps other students’ succeed

Reinke, who majored in environmental studies and geography, was nominated by associate professor Misty McPhee, who said she possesses high academic and leadership qualities and demonstrates a commitment to the ideals of excellence and service to others.

Alyssa Reinke

Reinke, a Fond du Lac native, has a 3.93 GPA and contributes meaningfully to discussions while not dominating them, McPhee said.

During an environmental studies capstone seminar course, Reinke organized the small group’s research project, kept classmates on task and presented their work to the city of Oshkosh Sustainability Advisory Board. Throughout the semester, she helped the other students be far more successful than they would have been without her, according to McPhee.

“She encourages other students to participate by asking questions and being genuinely interested in what her peers have to say. Alyssa is unique in that she works hard on her own education but she also works hard to help her classmates succeed.”

Reinke has been an active member of Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC), served as the Green Fund sustainability director, sat on the Oshkosh Student Association executive board, founded and was president of the geography club and conducted research on the assessment of bird-window strikes at various UWO buildings. She applied for and received funding for four students to attend the American Association of Geographers Midwest Conference.

In the community, Reinke has helped organize the annual Free School designed to provide fun, non-traditional educational opportunities to the broader Oshkosh community. She been involved in trash cleanup in Oshkosh and Fond du Lac. She is committed to shopping local and promoting local events.

Leads Student Environmental Action Committee

Larsen native Sprenger, who also is graduating with majors in environmental studies and geology, was nominated by Feldman. He described Sprenger as a “phenomenal student whose skills and interests span the disciplines, a committed and passionate student activist and a model campus citizen.”

Sprenger has been the leader of SEAC for almost three years, bringing the group back from a low point and maintaining momentum through the pandemic. SEAC has sponsored numerous Green Fund projects that have helped make UWO greener and more sustainable.

Samantha Sprenger

Sprenger devoted a great deal of time to Free School, an annual sustainability and wellness-themed set of free classes, tutorials and workshops offered to campus and community. Sprenger led a team that organized child care, food, room reservations, insurance protocols and more. Feldman noted that the event is more like a small conference, with some years drawing more than 200 people.

Feldman said Sprenger comes to class prepared and participates thoughtfully in class discussion, serves as a classroom leader and tone-setter and hands in work on time. He said her academic work rises above many others in the classroom.

A final project for nature writing was a collection of poems about the geological and environmental implications of concrete.

“I was really impressed with her ability to use her interests in earth science to inform a humanistic project—a terrific example of interdisciplinary, liberal arts thinking,” he said. “Not many of our students are able to thrive equally across multiple disciplines.”

Sprenger was looked on as a leader during a study abroad course Feldman led to Belize.

“She was so obviously the center of the group (of 16 students), the person on whom many of the other student depended on for stability and support,” Feldman said.

Committed to improving community, sustainable agriculture

Erin Thompson

Thompson, also nominated by Feldman, is described as a terrific student and a driven and committed citizen-student-activist who is dedicated to improving her community. A member of the Honors College, Thompson is described as a classroom leader who sets a tone that is contagious with other students.

An Iola native, Thompson earned a sustainability research award through the Office of Student Research and Creative Activity that combines her two majors of environmental studies and journalism with her personal passion for agriculture. She will be compiling a photographic essay documenting urban agriculture in Wisconsin. She spent fall 2020 as a student at Montana State University through the national student exchange program.

Thompson has a long list of campus activities—working for University Marketing and Communications, the Sustainability Institute for Regional Transformations, serving on the Campus Sustainability Council and SEAC. She has submitted successful Green Fund grants, held sustainable agriculture internships, and held positions at local coffee houses and bakeries.

She is a student leader of the UW Divestment Coalition—working to move UW System campuses toward climate neutrality. She spearheaded a petition campaign at UWO that resulted in more than 600 signatures, a supportive resolution from the Oshkosh Student Association and was endorsed by the Chancellor’s office.

Thompson is committed to making a more sustainable food system. She is hoping to pursue a career in sustainable agriculture.

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