A Rendezvous to Remember

The Nelson Institute community came out in full force to celebrate the 2022 alumni award winners at the annual Rendezvous event.

It was a night to remember as the Nelson community gathered for the first in-person Rendezvous event since the COVID-19 pandemic began. More than 250 alumni, donors, and friends registered to attend the event, held at the Pyle Center’s Alumni Lounge. As guests enjoyed hors d’oeuvres and sipped on the “Rendezvous Radiance” signature cocktail, Nelson Institute Dean Paul Robbins kicked off the main event: recognizing this year’s alumni award winners.

Rising Star awardees Keefe Keeley, Breana Nehls, and Trish O’Kane accepted their award in person, along with Distinguished Alumni Awardees Margaret Krome and Robert Ribe. Robbins also acknowledged Steve Ventura and John Francis (2020 Distinguished Alumni) and Linda Vakunta (2021 Rising Star) who, due to the pandemic, weren’t able to accept their awards in person.

Dean Paul Robbins and Emily Reynolds, director of community engagement and alumni relations, pose with the alumni award winners. L-R: Robbins, Patricia O’Kane, Keefe Keeley, Robert Ribe, Margaret Krome, Breana Nehls, and Reynolds. (Not pictured is Distinguished Alumni Award winner Ashok Sarkar.) Photo credit: Ingrid Laas
L-R: Graduate student advisor Jim Miller, environmental conservation graduate student Peter Okoro, land resources alumna Jill Baum, and former Nelson Institute public information manager Tom Sinclair. Photo credit: Ingrid Laas
In his remarks, Paul Robbins acknowledged two long-serving members of the Nelson community: academic program advisor emeritus Barbara Borns and professor Steve Ventura. Photo credit: Ingrid Laas
L-R Travis Blomberg, alumnus and Office of Sustainability (Oos) campus resource coordinator; Emily Johnson, undergraduate and OoS Zero-Waste Project assistant; and Catherine Harris, alumna and pollution prevention specialist for the Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District. Photo credit: Ingrid Laas
Jeff Rudd (left) helps Tracey Holloway (center) celebrate her honorary professorship: the inaugural Jeff Rudd and Jeanne Bissell Professor of Energy Analysis and Policy professorship. Photo credit: Ingrid Laas
L-R: Dean Paul Robbins, director of international and professional programs Nathan Schulfer, and land resources alumni Rich and Katie Beilfuss. Photo credit: Ingrid Laas
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After celebrating the Nelson Institute’s outstanding alumni, Robbins recognized the faculty members who are holding honorary positions this academic year. “Over the years,” Robbins said, “the Nelson Institute has been fortunate to receive philanthropy from generous donors to establish numerous endowed professorships, chairs, and faculty fellowships.”

The current group of honorees included several inaugural positions: the John P. Holton Chair of Health and the Environment, held by Professor Jonathan Patz; and the Ken Potter Professor of Water Resources, held by Professor Anita Thompson. Robbins then acknowledged the two inaugural Gaylord Nelson Distinguished Chairs in Integrated Environmental Studies: Professors Tracey Holloway (held from 2017–21) and Monica White (currently holding through 2025). Holloway was also recognized with the Jeff Rudd and Jeanne Bissell Professor of Energy Analysis and Policy professorship.

Robbins also acknowledged Professor Anna Andrzejewski, former director of the Nelson Institute Center for Culture, History, and Environment (2019–22) who held the Bradshaw Knight Professor of the Environmental Humanities title, and awarded her successor in both directorship and professorship, Professor Will Brockliss.

With members of the Hanson family there to celebrate, Andrea Hicks was honored as the Hanson Family Fellow in Sustainability. L-R: Hicks, Julie Hanson-Kelley, Gwendolyn Kelley, Paul Robbins. Photo credit: Ingrid Laas
Will Brockliss, who was honored with the Bradshaw Knight Professor of the Environmental Humanities, shares a moment with his daughter, Bridget. Photo credit: Ingrid Laas
Jonathan Patz (left), who was honored as the John P. Holton Chair in Health and the Environment, and Emily Reynolds, director of community engagement and alumni relations. Photo credit: Ingrid Laas
L-R: Graduate students Patricia Fraley, Abby Tekiela, and Jing Ling Tan with Colleen Godfriaux, associate dean for administration. Photo credit: Ingrid Laas
Nelson alumnus John Francis (left) shares a copy of his new childrens’ book, Human Kindness, with Paul Robbins. Photo credit: Ingrid Laas
Tracey Holloway (seated), inaugural Jeff Rudd and Jeanne Bissell Professor of Energy Analysis and Policy, and Jonathan Patz (center) listen to remarks from each of the alumni award winners in attendance. Photo credit: Ingrid Laas
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During the Nelson Institute’s 50-year anniversary in 2020, two new honorary titles were established, which were also honored: the Hanson Family Fellow in Sustainability, held by Professor Andrea Hicks, and the Nelson-Hanson Chair in Environmental Studies, held by Robbins. After awarding Hicks, the room filled with chuckles as Robbins awarded himself.

Rounding out the remarks, Robbins acknowledged the retirement of Professors Cathy Middlecamp and Steve Ventura, both of whom retired during the pandemic. While celebrating Middlecamp and Venture, with great enthusiasm from the audience, Robbins also acknowledged a retiree in attendance whom many Nelson alumni will recall: Barbara Borns, former academic program advisor. “These three are servant leaders like none other that I have ever encountered,” said Robbins. “Through their efforts, they changed the Nelson Institute for the better.”