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Outstanding Young Alumni Award

The Outstanding Young Alumni Award recognizes the accomplishments of individuals who have excelled in professional and civic accomplishments and have graduated from UWRF in the last 15 years. The award is presented at the Evening of Excellence each spring.

The UWRF Alumni Advisory Board selects the award recipients based on the recommendations of the Awards and Recognition Committee of the Board. Nominations for the award may be submitted by members of the UWRF community, alumni and UWRF Foundation/Alumni Board members. A written recommendation should be attached to the nomination form and is limited to two pages.

The written recommendation should address the following award criteria:

  • Excellence in one's profession(s) and service provided to one's communities
  • Continuing interest and loyalty to the University   
UWRF Section Separator

Sydney (Hall) Wittmier began her career at Mortenson Construction as a Field Engineer in charge of quality control and project management in their Wind Energy Construction Project division. Over time Sydney has become a highly-sought individual with superb technical and communication skills. This has made her a highly valued engineer at Mortensen. She has taken on the roles of Project Manager and Senior Project Manager on many important projects in the Twin Cities.

One of her largest projects to date has been as the Assistant Project Manager for the construction of the U.S. Bank Stadium. Not only has the structure received rave reviews for its translucent roof and walls, its ability to withstand and channel heavy snow loads, and a retractable wall, but it was finished on budget and almost two months ahead of schedule. Sydney has also worked on the historic Westminster Presbyterian Church on Nicollet Mall, Minnehaha Academy, and the new Family Partnership center on E. Lake Street.

Sydney also spends a great deal of personal time and capital making a positive difference for other women and BIPOC individuals. She serves on the board for The Family Partnership. Sydney also volunteers with ACE Mentor Program, Girls Taking Action and The Family Partnership’s 2022 Better Together Lunch Steering Committee. She was the 2021 Featured Speaker at the Groundbreaking Women in Construction Conference and a Minneapolis/St. Paul Journal’s 2022 40 under 40 Honoree.

Sydney holds a bachelor’s degree in Applied Physics from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls and a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Minnesota.

Brian Allen is the 2021 Young Alumni award recipient. He graduated from UWRF in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in marketing communications.

After graduation, Allen moved to California where he began working in the solar energy business. He returned to the area in 2009 and started All Energy Solar with his brother. Allen currently serves as the company’s vice president. All Energy Solar is headquartered in St. Paul and has grown their support of solar energy to Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New York, in addition to Minnesota and Wisconsin.

In addition to his work in solar energy, Allen has given of his time and energy to UWRF as well community and nonprofit organizations. He attends Alumni Day for the communication studies program, advising faculty on current trends in hiring and has hired UWRF students as interns. Additionally, he has supported a Jamaican orphanage, Random Acts, the St. Croix Valley Foundation and the Steger Wilderness Center.

Alan Kruizenga is passionate about bringing practical knowledge, application orientation, and problem solving to theoretical science to make great ideas a reality. He kindled his interest in a scientific career as a physics major at UWRF before earning a master's degree and Ph.D. in nuclear engineering and engineering physics at UW-Madison.

Currently, Kruizenga is the director of salt chemistry at Kairos Power, leading development activities on advanced nuclear reactor technology: a Fluoride-Cooled High-Temperature Reactor (FHR).

Before joining Kairos Power, Kruizenga led high-temperature salt experimental work, as well as other materials science and chemistry programs at Sandia National Labratories. During his time there, he developed a reputation as an expert in molten salt chemistry and materials performance. In 2017, President Obama awarded Kruizenga the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on outstanding scientists and engineers in the early stages of their careers, the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.

He resides in Oakland, Calif., with his wife, Kate, and son, Calvin, and loves coffee, completing never-ending renovations on his 120-year-old home, and exploring nature through backpacking.

"I am deeply honored to receive the Outstanding Young Alumni Award, as I have so much respect and admiration for UWRF, and my highly accomplished fellow alumni," he said. "UWRF fostered a lifelong desire to both learn and apply my knowledge, and this has underpinned my success in graduate school and my career. In particular, the continued investment and mentorship of Lowell McCann, Earl Blodgett and Jim Madsen both during my undergraduate studies and in the decades since, has made all the difference. I have enjoyed the opportunity to support the continued life changing work of the UWRF Physics Department and hope I am able to continue to support and mentor current students and alumni throughout my career."

Vang Lo is the recipient of the 2019 Young Alumni Award. Lo earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing communications from UWRF in 2008 and a master’s degree in school counseling in 2013. Lo has been a counselor in St. Paul and Minneapolis public high schools since 2014. A first-generation college student himself, he understands the difficulties his students face. The students he supports are diverse low-income and underrepresented and are navigating a difficult process with little assistance.

Lo is also working in his community to help families pursue their dreams. He is the recipient of the Lo-Pha Leadership & Community Service Award, the UWRF School Counseling Program Student of the Year Award and the 2019 UWRF School Counseling Outstanding Alumnus award.

Torrion Amie is the 2018 Outstanding Young Alumni. Amie earned his bachelor’s degree in music from the UW-River Falls in 2005 and his master’s in education from the University of Minnesota in 2006. For more than two decades, Amie has been dedicated to UWRF, including working at the university for 15 years. He first came to UWRF in 1998, when he began working as an adjunct faculty member in the Health and Human Performance Department. Later, Amie was promoted to coordinator of Upward Bound, a college preparatory program for high school students, assistant director of the Academic Success Center and director of the Student Support Services program.

Amie became the dean of outreach and enrollment for Normandale Community College in Bloomington, Minn. in 2016. In addition to his career achievements, he is certified poverty coach with Communication Across Barriers, and he has been a member of numerous boards and organizations, including the Northside Achievement Zone and the Bloomington Rotary. Amie is the recipient of several awards including the 2016 Omar Bonderud Human Rights Award from the Bloomington Human Rights Commission and the Excellent Service Award from Normandale Community College.

Patricia Skinkis is the recipient of the 2017 Outstanding Young Alumni Award. She earned a bachelor’s degree in horticulture-professional option in 2002. Originally from Onedia, Skinkis was a first-generation college student who was accepted into UWRF’s McNair Scholars program. She went on to Purdue University and earned a doctorate in horticulture in 2006. Today, Skinkis is an associate professor and viticulture extension specialist at Oregon State University where she researches sustainable vineyard management practices, which are of particular interest to the Oregon wine grape growing industry.

Skinkis is a member or chair of numerous state and national working groups focused on the wine grape industry, including the Oregon Viticulture Working Group, the Willamette Valley Viticulture Research & Technical Group and the Oregon Wine Industry Symposium Education Committee.

She is also on the Board of Directors for the American Society of Enology and Viticulture. Skinkis is the recipient of numerous honors and recognitions including the Search for Excellence Award from OSU Extension, the Savery Young Faculty Award from the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences, the Oregon State University Outreach & Engagement Award, and Visionary Horticulturist Award from the American Society of Horticultural Science eXtension Working Group.


Dr. Bwarenaba Kautu is a medical research scientist from the Republic of Kiribati. He is currently based at Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts. He also holds a tenured professorship position at Greenville University, Illinois, where he teaches biomedical classes and supervises undergraduate neuroscience research. Kautu's research students have published research papers in peer-reviewed international journals, and received multiple awards and honors for their research. His current research (and interests) at Harvard focus on infectious disease diagnostics, artificial intelligence technology, pharmacology, and neurotransmission.

Dr. Kautu received his PhD training in cell/molecular neuroscience in the lab of Guy and Kim Caldwell at The University of Alabama. While at Alabama, he mentored and trained undergraduate students who went on to win the prestigious Goldwater scholarship, the Benjamin Cummings Biology prize, and were named to USA Today’s All-USA College Academic Team (top 40-60 students in the nation). Kautu's mentees were also interviewed and/or accepted into MD and PhD programs at MIT, Harvard, University of Pennsylvania, Oxford, and Cambridge among many others. 

Dr. Kautu was born and raised on a remote coral reef island in the Republic of Kiribati where he also completed his primary and secondary educations. Dr. Kautu is the first I-Kiribati native (born and raised in Kiribati) to receive a PhD degree in the United States. He is also the first I-Kiribati to hold a university science professorship position in the United States. He held his professorship position only at the age of 30. Further, Dr. Kautu was the very first person from Kiribati to receive formal scientific and medical research training at Harvard University. In 2017, he became the first I-Kiribati to receive a prestigious visiting fellowship award from Cambridge University in the United Kingdom. As of 2018, Dr. Kautu is the first and only I-Kiribati to have held formal academic affiliations with 3 of the top 5 universities in the world: Cambridge, Harvard, and Massachusetts Institutes of Technology(via the Broad Institute).

Dr. Kautu has received numerous honors and awards, including being named the recipient of the 2016 Outstanding Young Alumnus Award of University of Wisconsin-River Falls, his undergraduate alma mater.

Dr. Staszko, of Grafton, graduated from UWRF with a degree in biology in 2000. He currently serves as the Associate Medical Director for Emergency Services and Co-Director of Trauma Services at Columbia St Mary's Hospital, Milwaukee. While in medical school, he was awarded a full scholarship from the U.S. Navy and rose to the rank of lieutenant. In 2006, he was deployed to Ramadi, Iraq, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom where he cared for soldiers and was responsible for the staffing and daily operations of his Battalion Aid Station.

Max Neuhaus was the first recipient of the Outstanding Young Alumni Award, which was established in 2014. Max graduated in 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in political science, where he also received the Dr. Ray Anderson and Lew Garrison Coit scholarships. Prior to attending UW-River Falls, Max ran for and was elected to the River Falls Board of Education as a senior in high school, and served on the Board throughout his undergraduate career, being re-elected to a four-year term during his junior year. Upon obtaining his undergraduate degree, Max entered the Masters in Education program at UW-River Falls and began substitute teaching in Western Wisconsin and Eastern Minnesota.

In 2001, Max was hired by St. Bridget Parish School in River Falls as a middle school social studies and science teacher, where he was responsible for seven different subject areas and three grade levels. During his time at St. Bridget, Max authored and was awarded a grant through the Wisconsin Council for the Humanities to fund a public history project for the school and also served as a Fellow through the National Endowment for the Humanities. It was also during this time at St. Bridget that he served as a delegate to both the Wisconsin Non-public School Accreditation Association and the Wisconsin Association of School Boards. In 2002, Max travelled to Europe to obtain a post-graduate English-teaching certificate through an extension program of Cambridge University, and thereafter taught as a free-lance business English instructor for companies in Germany, including BMW, Siemens and Deustche Bank. In 2003, Max returned to the area to work for a senior-policy advocacy organization in St. Paul, Minnesota, and thereafter began going to law school on the weekends at Mitchell-Hamline School of Law. In 2008, Max obtained his Juris Doctor after serving as a judicial extern to the Honorable Judge Vlack in St. Croix County, Wisconsin.

Since 2008, Max has been an attorney in River Falls and is currently a partner and shareholder in the law firm of Rodli, Beskar, Neuhaus, Murray & Pletcher, S.C. During his first ten years of practice, Max was named a “Rising Star” by Super Lawyers Magazine four separate times, a distinction reserved for the top 2.5% of all licensed attorneys in Wisconsin under the age of forty. In 2018, Max was appointed to the Wisconsin Access to Justice Coalition’s Pro Bono Honor Society for a third time.

Aside from his private practice, Max serves as a Wisconsin Supreme Court appointed Special Investigator, as well as a judge appointed court commissioner, trustee, mediator, and guardian ad litem in cases where children have been injured. Max currently sits on the Editorial Board of Wisconsin Lawyer Magazine and the River Falls Economic Development Corporation, and continues to teach business law on occasion for UW-River Falls as an adjunct faculty instructor. Over the years, Max has served the community as President of the River Falls Chamber of Commerce, President of the Pierce County Economic Development Corporation, President of the St. Croix Valley Bar Association, and President of the St. Croix Valley Restorative Justice Program. He is currently an active Rotarian and Paul Harris Fellow.

Max lives in River Falls with his wife and three children and continues to enjoy cheering on the Falcons.